Torrance brothers build board game success

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Chris and Johnny O’Neal at the Gen Con game convention in Indianapolis.
Chris and Johnny O’Neal at the Gen Con game convention in Indianapolis.

For two Torrance brothers, board games have become more than a hobby. They’ve become a business.

Chris and Johnny O’Neal attended the Gen Con game convention in Indianapolis this month where they sold copies of Boss Monster, the game they created together.

“In this game you play the role of a video-game style boss building a dungeon out of cards and luring heroes into your dungeon to destroy them,” said Johnny O’Neal.

When players destroy adventurers, they take the adventurers’ souls. When they fail, the adventurer wounds the player. The first player to collect 10 souls — or the last one standing — wins.

At Gen Con, Boss Monster fans surrounded the brothers’ booth. The pair set aside copies of the game to sell all four days. On the final day, they sold the last of their copies in less than two hours.

The card game Boss Monster borrows heavily from 1980s-era video games.
The card game Boss Monster borrows heavily from 1980s-era video games.

Gen Con drew a record 56,000 attendees this year, and the hobby game market it serves has roughly doubled in size since 2008, according to ICV2. In 2013, game publishers sold roughly $700 million worth of hobby games and supplies in the U.S. and Canada, about $75 million of which were board games.

Publishers like Hasbro, Fantasy Flight and Mayfair Games control the bulk of that market, but Chris and Johnny O’Neal skipped traditional publishers with Boss Monster.

Instead, the brothers asked members of crowd-funding website Kickstarter to pledge $12,000 to let them take their game from prototype to production.

“Within just a little over 24 hours we had that entire goal met,” Johnny O’Neal said. “We were ultimately able to raise over $200,000 which was enough not just to start this card game, but to really seed the development of an entire business.”

Across the convention hall, Robert Carty, vice president of sales and marketing for Mayfair Games, said he worried that upstart game companies like the O’Neals’ Brotherwise Games misunderstand the business. Many new companies, he said, focus too narrowly on internet sales and ignore specialty game retailers and distributors.

Gamers at Gen Con try out Boss Monster. Photos by Matt M. Casey.
Gamers at Gen Con try out Boss Monster. Photos by Matt M. Casey.

“Those are the guys who actually handle all the financial payload for them,” Carty said, “and without their support you may not make it.”

But the O’Neals have already expanded beyond internet sales.

“We knew the game would have to survive the first jump into the retail market,” said Chris O’Neal. “Fortunately some [distributors] were willing to take a risk on it.”

“There are any number of products that look great on Kickstarter but fail once they’re out in the real world market,” Chris added.

But Boss Monster succeeded so well at retail that the brothers were able to sell many fans an expansion box of additional cards.

Now, they’re designing Boss Monster 2, which will be playable both on its own and together with the original Boss Monster.

They also started another Kickstarter campaign to fund the creation of a digital version of their game.

Both brothers have day jobs and run Brotherwise games on the side. If their success continues, though, it could become their full-time jobs.

“I think both of us get a real thrill out of working in this business and working with each other,” said Chris O’Neal.

Matt M. Casey is a freelance journalist and founder of CleverMoveGames.com.