“The scope of the problem was far larger than I realized”: How the Tabletop Game Designers Association hopes to give creators a stronger voice

The high-profile designers of Wingspan, Space Cadets and Mind MGMT have teamed up to launch a professional organisation to fight on behalf of tabletop game designers.

Elizabeth Hargrave, Geoff Engelstein and Sen Foong-Lim say they created the Tabletop Game Designers Association to support independent and publisher-attached designers across areas including contracts, advocacy and professional development.

Engelstein told BoardGameWire that the need for TTGDA first came to him when he learned about “how Disney was trying to strong arm famed writer Alan Dean Foster over book royalties”.

He said, “Ultimately the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers went public on his behalf, and together they were able to (somewhat) rectify the situation.

“Even though I have a bit of a ‘name’ in the industry I have had my share of issues with collecting royalties in a timely fashion, and have been presented with contracts with ridiculous clauses. 

“Talking with other designers more well-known than I revealed that the scope of the problem was far larger than I realized.

“And if these people were having problems, what was happening to the new designers looking to break into the business?

“Tabletop designers need an organization like the SFWA that can fight on their behalf and expose bad actors.

“There are existing organizations out there including SAZ, SAJ, and AL in Europe. SAZ reaches most beyond their geographic center of Germany (Alan Moon was actually president for a bit).

“We talked with them about expanding into NA, but all agreed that a separate organization would probably be more effective.”

Engelstein said that at its launch in Q1 next year TTGDA will be focusing on the core advocacy activities of reviewing contracts for members, and interceding on their behalf with publishers.

But it plans to roll out more benefits for members over time, including providing model contracts, peer mentoring, online seminars and media relations support.

He said, “We’ve even had some people hope that an organization like TTGDA could pressure Amazon and other online retailers to include designer names on game listings as they do book listings.

“So there are a lot of opportunities to advocate for the needs of tabletop game designers.”

Engelstein said TTGDA would be open to members from all over the world, but the group is initially focusing its efforts on North America, particularly for contract review. It also plans to partner with organizations in other countries, like SAZ, to assist with contracts and disputes originating there.

Launch supporters of the association include Pandemic Legacy designers Matt Leacock and Rob Daviau, Magic: The Gathering creator Richard Garfield, Root designer Cole Wehrle and Ticket to Ride creator Alan Moon.

BoardGameWire spoke to a pair of long-time board game designers in the wake of the TTGDA announcement, who described a horror-show of interactions with publishers around contract law, overwork and unprofessional communication and attitudes.

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