The Next Great American Game is an almost impossible concept to aim for, game-wise, but as a documentary and a story it turns out to be pretty interesting. Director Douglas Morse tells the story of trying to get a game published through the lens of Randall Hoyt’s experience, which makes it quite relatable and personal – 5 years in the making, Randall is taking Turnpike out to see who will help him produce it.
I must admit, I found Randall and his story a little frustrating to begin with, as a viewer who has a fair understanding of the game industry and how it works. I found it hard to believe he’d developed a game- almost in a vacuum from the industry itself (despite playtesting with friends) and that he could turn up to Gen Con without planning appointments with game companies in advance. But I came to realize he wasn’t someone who knew how to approach getting his game in the hands of publishers – he didn’t know how it worked, much like any novice game designer might not. A little like turning up to Comic Con expecting to be able to stroll up with your portfolio and see any number of industry professionals at the drop of a hat, not realizing they’re booked weeks in advance.
So it was great to see him start to adapt to the process, let go a little as time went on and he met with more and more people – he started listening, taking advice from their experiences. Despite in the beginning how stubborn he was to keep his game what he wanted, and that he didn’t want to think about designing for particular markets, he started to try those things out and tinker. As game industry veteran Mike Gray says in their conversation together, you really have to listen. Feedback from professionals and playtesters is important as a game designer, and when he finally accepted that fact, it seemed to really help with making a more accessible and interesting design – even though it wasn’t what he personally wanted, I think he could still feel as enthusiastic about it as he had been with Turnpike.
And enthusiasm was something Randall had in spades – I was really astounded and impressed with the positivity he showed in the face of criticism, and how he just wouldn’t give up on his idea and his game. He was truly amazing how open he was about his mental health struggles but also how important it was that he medicate and take care of himself for the benefit of his creativity and well-being. I think Randall – as much as I couldn’t connect with him in the beginning of the doc – was key to the story and narrative to make this an engaging film. Had it been focused solely on someone already in the industry, a veteran game designer, etc, I don’t think it would have woven together the personal and professional aspects so well.
Where this could have been a dry examination of the hobby game industry, it ended up being a well-told narrative set in the game industry. It would be easy enough for a very casual gamer to sit down and enjoy the story of Randall’s pursuits, rather than be presented with bits and pieces of interviews that try to tell the story of what the tabletop industry is. I do wish there could have been some closure to the story more than the little wrap-up at the end, I understand that it’s not a neat and tidy story where it could work like this.
I hope Randall can get his game published in some form, some day! (And I’m interested to see how he goes with the other little 3-dice icebreaker game he had developed, because that is truly a great concept!) And I also hope that Douglas Morse can keep telling stories about the tabletop industry. Like the worlds of video gaming or movie making, there’s so many people trying to get their stuff made and liked – there’s endless stories that aren’t generic, but are interesting and personal like this one. So while I don’t believe Randall’s game could be the next great American game (I don’t think any game can really do that, honestly), it’s still a fun ride to go on for a little while with someone who believes so much in what they’re doing, in a hobby industry I’m vested in. If you’re even a casual gamer (or even not, if you just like the stories of people), check this out – it’s a polished film that engages.