I sat down with Ken Grazier at PAX Unplugged this year to learn a little more about him, his company Geek-Craft, and the work he is doing as an ambassador for hobby gaming with the general public.

In 2004/5, when Ken was attending Pennsylvania State University, he explored events offered by the Student Programming Association to enhance the co-curricular experience of students. One of the clubs that offered activities was called the Gaming Association of Penn State (GAPS).  

“When I showed up for the first time, they had four eight-foot tables covered with games that I had never seen before. I thought to myself – THIS is interesting. Three years later, I’m the president of the club, and we’re using many of my own games because it provides different options from what they traditionally offered.”

In addition to taking on a large role within GAPS, Ken also began offering his teaching skills to game publishers – starting with demoing for Steve Jackson Games. From that experience, a desire to work with more producers (and more importantly – more games) lead him to the creation of Geek-Craft in 2007.

“Since I wanted to work with more companies, Geek-Craft was born. With my wife’s help (she’s very crafty), we began celebrating the craft of being a geek.”

In addition to spreading knowledge about games themselves, Geek-Craft makes buttons, dice bags, and are commissioned for plenty of custom items as well.

“Whatever people need to make their game better, we enjoy doing. Whether it’s playtesting, editing, proofing, adding chrome to a game, helping publishers with merch for events…”

In addition to making physical items for gamers, Ken has also attended UnPub (the Unpublished Games Network) events for the last seven years, and loves playtesting and offering feedback to game designers to help massage their products to the next level.

“I like the idea of making my own game, but I think that everyone who plays board games at a higher level does. I work in QA for an insurance company by day; so, I guess I like breaking things. That’s why I partake in a lot of playtesting in the hobby.”

When we discussed how to tactfully offer advice about unfinished games to creators, whether though playtesting feedback or rulebook editing, Ken has a no-nonsense approach:

“I don’t tend to care about feelings. If it means that their game is going to be in front of more people, it’s worth it. If they’re hard-pressed to do things their own way, that’s fine with me. I’ll still offer feedback.”

Ken’s extensive work within the community means that he has gotten to know a lot of board game designers, publishers, and players. He writes reviews, volunteers to demo frequently for several publishers, and truly loves getting to know people and being able to see what’s coming next, and where the hobby is heading.

“In the next five years, co-ops and story-driven games are going to continue to shine. I think games that provide narrative and experiences in place of competition are going to grow in popularity.”

One of his favorite jobs when teaching at his FLGS, Critical Hit Games in Cleveland Heights, is helping new gamers find out what sort of products and experiences they enjoy.

“We’ll sit down with a curated selection of introductory games, and I’ll explain – you might not enjoy this game, and that’s FINE, but I want you to play it anyway so you can tell me what parts you did like, or things you hated, so that I can tailor my next round of recommendations. Anything that is easy to teach and learn means they can invest in playing the game and learning to understand whether it was for them or not.”

He suggests that gamers, new and old, that struggle with learning new games rely on help from outside sources without shame or apprehension.

“Find online videos. Find someone in a local group or store who enjoys teaching. If someone tells me that they want to learn something, I can sit down and teach it faster than they can teach themselves. They can then focus on the game and enjoy it, while I focus on the teaching. Finding ‘that person’ (while respecting them and their time) is wonderful. It’s helped grow a lot of connections and friendships.”

As part of his mission to bring new gamers into his community, Ken often references a practical example of gaming as a form of entertainment when speaking to customers. Instead of a family of four going out to the movies for, say, $80… they could purchase a $50 board game, order $30 worth of pizza, and have an interactive fun time with one another. The next time they want to play, all they’ll need to do is provide some food – they can reuse the game and play it again.

“We have so many options for entertainment as a culture at this point, that I think board games really need to become more of an option for the public. I want to foster that growth.”

To learn more about Ken or Geek-Craft, visit http://geek-craft.com/wordpress/.