Laid-off Funko board game designers bounce back by launching new studio

When Rummikub owner Goliath bought Funko’s board game and puzzles assets last month, there was no place in the deal for most of the 30-plus team that had created some of its most lauded designs of recent years.

Chris Rowlands, the former game development team lead at Funko’s tabletop design arm Prospero Hall, was among the raft of layoffs – and told BoardGameWire he initially believed there was no way his ex-team could possible afford to band together to launch their own studio.

Just a few weeks later, however, Rowlands has announced the launch of Tempest Workshop – a full-service board game design and development studio based in Seattle – alongside ex-Prospero Hall team members Korby Sears and Isaias Vallejo.

Rowlands said, “I had a couple of publishers reach out to me within a week of being let go and they began to sow the seeds that perhaps a new studio could be feasible.

“It wasn’t something that I was really thinking of, because I was stuck in a mindset that it would take some sort of massive investor or investment group to get off the ground.

“Instead, I saw that perhaps we could put something together with a few initial contracts and be able to avoid relying on outside investment to get things started.

“Once that was realized, I started reaching out to other people and was thrilled to hear they were eager to get involved!”

Prospero Hall put out well-received designs including Disney Villainous in 2018, Horrified in 2019 and Pan Am in 2020, as well as pop culture tie-in games including Jaws and Rear Window – being praised for its ability to create IP-centred board games which went far beyond just a pasted-on theme.

Tempest will look to continue Prospero Hall’s tradition, Rowlands said, looking to leverage its deep experience of working with licensors as well as branching out into unlicensed games.

One major change for the studio will be including the names of its designers on its creations – a divergence from Prospero Hall’s policy of presenting its games as team efforts without naming individuals.

As well as its core trio of co-founders, Tempest will be collaborating with a string of other former Prospero Hall employees including graphic designers and artists Tyler Hill, Josh Manderville and Thomas Ramey, game developers David Iezzi and Daniel Stoltenberg and project manager Estefania Rodriguez.

Rowlands said, “Obviously our work at Prospero Hall is a testament to our proficiency in working with licensors and making really great narrative-driven games, but we also will be working on unlicensed games as well, and are eager to share more of our unlicensed designs with the world – through both design-for-hire partnerships with publishers and through development of our own IP.

“Ultimately, we want to bring great experiences to every table and while licensed games are one way to do that, we don’t plan to limit ourselves.

“At the moment, we won’t be delving into self-publishing, and we’ll be looking to partner with publishers to distribute games based on our own IP.

“We have a sort of vision about what those partnerships could look like, and we feel as though the industry is changing in many ways.

“For us, it’s important to be able to spend meaningful energy on creating things that we, as a studio, own.

“We’re not likely to be pitching publishers these concepts in the traditional sense, but instead are looking for partnerships that allow us to maintain creative control and ownership of the IP while leveraging the logistical expertise that publishers bring to the table… and doing it in a way that every feels valued and taken care of fairly.”

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