Board With Life creator Chris Bryan brings comedy to board gaming

by Jay Egger on Friday, April 03, 2015

Chris Bryan

Hobbies like board gaming take off and become a truly rewarding experience when there is a sense of community. Board gaming has had plenty of access to news, reviews and event coverage, but something was missing for quite some time -- comedy. Comedy showcases the lighthearted nature of gaming and reminds us that it’s really all about having fun. Texas native Chris Bryan decided to bring a comedic viewpoint to board gaming with Board With Life, a web series centered around board games. But before creating the fan-favorite board game web series, Bryan got his start toying around with game design.

Chris Bryan was born and raised in Dallas, a city that has a population of about 1.2 million people with plenty of access to gaming, even if it isn’t known as a major city for the hobby. By the age of 7, he had found a group of friends to play Dungeons & Dragons with and was instantly hooked. From that moment on, tabletop gaming was a vital aspect of his life.

"We all had a month and a small box of components..."

"That night [that I first played Dungeons & Dragons] I immediately went home and tried to create a game based on my VERY limited understanding of what we had played," said Bryan. “So I guess I’ve been designing little games on and off for most of my life.”

Bryan continued to design little tabletop games as he was growing up, although he didn’t think about doing it at a professional level until about a year ago. DFW Nerd Night, an organization with the goal of building better local communities through gaming, was hosting their first annual game design competition and Bryan decided to give it a shot. 

"We all had a month and a small box of components from Panda GM, [the game manufacturing company that put out big titles like Dead of Winter and Terra Mystica], to design a game," said Bryan. “In the end, I wound up with a game that was actually -- to my surprise -- pretty good.”

Instead of working in complete privacy, Bryan vlogged his design experiences on his personal YouTube account. This vlog began with him opening up the package of components for everyone to watch the surprise with him. At the end of the two-week-long competition, Bryan turned in a 30-minute engine building game called Echo Alchemist

The judges are currently reviewing the 24 games that were turned in on Feb. 20. The winners of the competition will receive games from the many sponsors, such as Stronghold Games and Days of Wonders, as well as some other prizes that are currently shrouded in mystery. Of course, the biggest prize of all is being on the center stage, with the designers having full control of the copyright of their game.

The Great Beginnings of Board With Life

While attending the University of North Texas, Bryan met a group of like-minded students that he began hanging out with. They began shooting various film projects, but their projects weren’t getting the exposure they were hoping for.

"We had grown a little frustrated with putting a ton of work, time, and money into creating content that only a few people got to see via film festivals," said Bryan. "We started toying with the idea of doing a web series, just as a means of getting people to actually watch what we were doing.” 

The friend group knew that they wanted to create a web series, but couldn’t come up with an idea they all agreed upon. Around that time, they had become friends with Ashly and Anthony Burch, the creators and stars of "Hey Ash, Watcha Playin?", a comedic web series about video games. This relationship helped them become motivated to turn their web series dream into a reality.

"...we all currently work normal nine-to-five-type jobs and shoot on the weekends..."

"Meeting them really solidified that a web series could be really a great launching platform and we started to consider a variety of ideas," said Bryan. “At first we just wanted to make a sort of sad/funny sitcom about a relationship, but we knew we needed to connect to a fandom on the Internet, because you’re basically shouting into a void on the internet and it’s better to shout towards something.” 

After months of constant brainstorming, they came up with an idea that felt painfully obvious -- a web series about board games! The group of friends had a weekly game night and decided to make their group a loose theme of what would later become Board With Life. The group felt that the board gaming community was underserved and that a sitcom-style comedy would fit perfectly with board gaming. There was a plethora of podcasts, news blogs and playthrough videos, but there was a lack of entertainment in a hobby that revolves around strong relationships. Once they agreed that board gaming was going to be theme of their web series, production was quick and painless.

"After we had everything planned out, we just started shooting on weekends -- production took around 3 months," said Bryan. “We mainly cast ourselves in the roles because we had learned it’s really hard to get firm commitments from actors for long periods of time when you can’t pay them.”

Board With Life opened up with a six episode season, which included the team-favorite Halloween special. The series has a beautiful blend of comedy, drama and gaming. The series even hits on some drama that can relate to plenty of our lives. Each episode has a title that notes the game the episode will be centered around, from the backstabby area-control game Tammany Hall to childhood classic Fireball Island. Instead of focusing exclusively on the main series, the Board With Life team decided to build a network called MoonRat Media that would later include short films, board game news, podcasts and short comedic bits.

"We decided to create MoonRatMedia as a larger umbrella for content we created so we could make different web series, podcasts and maybe even publish games under one unified brand," said Bryan. "We have even toyed with the idea of publishing games under that umbrella, but we haven’t decided if that’s a bridge we wanna cross at this point.”

Bryan is currently continuing to boost out content for MoonRatMedia. He hosts a weekly video that goes over news both in the board game world and in his small media company. He also produces an occasional comedic board game bit with the team that includes recently released board games like Splendor. Bryan told me that his biggest goal at the moment is to increase the production value of videos on the channel. He hinted to me that the next season of Board With Life will be big when it comes to quality, including an insane car chase scene. More than anything, he'd like to turn his hobby with his group of friends into a full-fledged career.

"In a perfect world, Board with Life could be our day jobs, because we all currently work normal nine-to-five-type jobs and shoot on the weekends," said Bryan. "It's still not something any of us individually make any money on -- we just feed all our earnings back into the show."

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