The Life of a Game Designer – Part 2: The Hunt for Nicole Amato

 Without a paddle, I embark on a new journey down the river of life. 

For 50 years I have been adrift through life. I’ve managed to stay afloat and keep my head above water, but often I feel like I’m just treading water. But a tremendous wave of change is looming and I am unable to alter its course. I must simply ride the swell until it abates and deposits me on a brand-new shore. I just pray I don’t get swept away in the process.

It is 5am on Sunday, December 8th, 2019. Not a day that will live in infamy, but certainly a date that I will never forget. There are but a few moments in life that will completely alter your destiny. I don’t mean the standard big moments, like graduating school, getting married, or having children. Those are momentous occasions sure, but they are planned and come from a logical sequence of events.

I’m talking about the out-of-left-field moments that take you completely by surprise and forever change the course of your life. I have had three. The first was when my mother died abruptly when I was 13. The second was when I got on stage the first time ever, in my underwear no less, for the Rocky Horror Picture Show. And the third was Sunday, December 8th, 2019; I had just decided to become a board game designer.

Pax Panel
This is all their fault.

It seemed like a perfect culmination of all my varied passions and unused skills. I love board games and run a website reviewing them. I studied and worked in film and television and love creating and telling stories visually. I previously studied graphic design and love blending style, theme, and tone into one perfect expression. I’ve worked in Real Estate and direct sales and love putting the right product into the hands of the right buyer. And I’ve worked in advertising and marketing, and while I loathe everything about that corpulent, vapid, soul-crushing business, I do know how it works.

Unfortunately, I don’t know how anything works in the game designer business. But I did just meet some people who did. I just need to stalk them, track them down, and convince them to tell me everything they know.

I was manic with energy and enthusiasm, but with hours to go until I could hunt down my prey. We were at PAX Unplugged in Philly and the people I needed to talk to were all in there but I couldn’t get to them until 9am. Unnnnngh.

On the plus side, my wife, Diane, and the friends we were with, Wendy and Jim, were all very excited with the new prospect. I expected Diane to be a little apprehensive about it, given my tendency to not follow through on my projects. Just ask her about the finished trim in my house; eleven years and still procrastinating. But, bless her heart, she is very understanding and supportive, and is behind this thing 100%. Provided I don’t screw it up, of course.

PAX Badges
Good thing we bought 3-day badges.

Finally, after hours of anticipation and dealing with the dreaded PAX Checkpoint Charlie, I’m inside. “Love you, Hon. Bye.” I abandoned my wife to hunt my quarry. My only problem is that the one I want is nowhere to be found.

There were five women who ran the panel discussion the changed my life. They were and still are Jess @ikantkoan, Liz @gatherroundgames, Gwen @runawayparadegames, Carla @weirdgiraffegames, and Nicole @cardboardfortressgames.

All of the women were great and the panel was awesome, but there was one woman to whom I gravitated toward most. She was passionate and sincere, forthright and frank, and she had and almost desperate desire to help others who shared her dream; to give birth to a brand-new game and share it with the people. Clearly, someone had helped her, or perhaps no one had, but whatever her impetus, she needed to pay it forward and help all that she could to achieve their own dreams.
The woman for whom I now hunted was Nicole Amato.

Now all five women from the previous panel were all on the floor today at their various game company booths selling their most recent games. Except one. Guess which one.

Pax Banner
She’s out there somewhere, I can feel it.

To make a long story short, I found the other four women, thanked them profusely for the panel and my new lease on life, and bought one of their games. But it wasn’t until the last one, Liz, who knew where I could find Nicole. She was helping some other random dude sell his random games at his random booth. And it was just two booths away.

I was very nervous, when I finally approached the end of this quest. What if she was a jerk? What if I come off like a jerk? What if I had read far more into my first impressions than was true? What if she tells me to piss off? What if this becomes just another letdown; rejection; useless, pathetic attempt at something better?

My apprehension was unwarranted. Nicole was awesome. I was gushing when I told her about all things that had happened in the past 24 hours, and I think I cried during part of it. She was kind, polite, and patient. And didn’t make fun of a middle-aged man crying in the middle of PAX. I don’t know if I would have the restraint.

She asked where I was from. I said Boston. She asked if I knew of the Boston Game Makers Guild. I said no. She looked around frantically, and incredibly, who she was looking for just happened to be walking by. “Tim, Tim! Get over here!” she cries out into the crowd.

And that is how I met Tim Blank, which is the subject of the next chapter of my Game Design life. But back to Nicole.

Our meeting was anti-climatically short. I had so many questions, but I didn’t have any cohesiveness to them and it would not be fair of me to inundate her to my ramblings here. We exchanged contacts (I had one or two crumpled up cards left in my coat) and she offered to help me if she could.

I bought one of the games at the booth she was at, and it wasn’t even hers. Not until after did I realize that I never bought anything that she had invented. I felt like a heel. I have since bought two of them on Amazon and I am waiting for them to arrive. They are called Resistor and Centipede. I hope I like them. It would be way too ironic if the woman who inspired me to make games, made games that I didn’t like. Fingers crossed.

The rest of the day was a blur. I honestly have no idea what else we did that day, except get on a plane a head home. Tomorrow, I’m going to my first meeting of the Boston Game Makers Guild and we’ll see how far down the rabbit hole I go.

As always, go after the things that inspire you, and Game On!

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