Growing up, Jamey Stegmaier loved playing board games like Scotland Yard, Labyrinth and Risk with his family. More than just a friendly competition, he knew the point of playing together centered around family bonding – and he embraced that part of it. However, even as a young kid, Stegmaier knew his love for games went even deeper than that.
“I think my parents brought games to the table to have family time with me and my brother and sister,” Stegmaier says. “Pretty much as early as I can remember, I was also interested in the creative pursuit of designing games, not just playing games.”
Now, a few decades after those family game nights, Stegmaier finds himself as the catalyst for others’ entertainment as the founder of Stonemaier Games, a St. Louis-based tabletop game publisher that is responsible for such hits as Viticulture, Euphoria, Between Two Cities and the runaway success, Wingspan, which has sold 1.3 million copies around the world. Together with his co-founder, Alan Stone, his support team and several independent contractors who help develop the games, Stegmaier has created Stonemaier Games to be a purveyor of imaginative, fun, inclusive tabletop entertainment for everyone from experienced gamers to the novice player.
However, Stegmaier’s impact on the world of tabletop games goes far beyond development and production. Though he’d always carried with him a passion for gaming, he considered it a hobby until he saw an opportunity to combine it with his interest in entrepreneurship thanks to the online fundraising platform, Kickstarter. Sometime around 2010, Stegmaier began seeing boardgames pop up on the platform here and there, and he decided to explore whether that avenue might help him bring his game ideas to life. One idea, in particular, centered around winemaking – a game he called Viticulture – that would allow players to create a thriving vineyard from just a few plots of land and an old crush pad. With just a network of family and friends, he set out to gain momentum by engaging directly with prospective gamers to help bring Viticulture to market.
“This intriguing side of Kickstarter and entrepreneurship and connecting directly with customers one-on-one really excited me,” Stegmaier explains. “It was definitely challenging because board games on Kickstarter back then were pretty small. Now, it’s a huge part of the industry.”
Stegmaier launched his Kickstarter campaign to fund Viticulture nine years ago, relying on his network of family and friends to help build momentum. Because there weren’t a lot of board game campaigns on the platform, their support, coupled with the novelty of his project, prompted Kickstarter to share the Viticulture campaign with its audience. Before he knew it, he was getting the attention of people from all over who were eager to support his venture.
“I had all these strangers start to show up and back this project about a winemaking board game,” Stegmaier says. “That was delightful and surprising to me that random people from around the world would want to support this thing that I was passionate about.”
The success of his Viticulture campaign not only led Stegmaier to pursue tabletop game design full-time; it also prompted him to become an expert in the realm of Kickstarter funding for games, resulting in eight campaigns that raised over $3.2M combined. He even went on to write a book, A Crowdfunder’s Strategy Guide, that helps aspiring entrepreneurs navigate the process and understand that to build a successful business, you must focus on building community.
Stegmaier applies those values at Stonemaier Games, which has gone on to become one of the most exciting innovators in the tabletop gaming industry. Its biggest success to date, Wingspan, has become a worldwide hit; conceptualized and designed by Elizabeth Hargrave in conjunction with Stonemaier Games, the birding game garnered viral success thanks to its stunning intersection of gameplay and art. For Stegmaier, the game represents the pinnacle of what he and his team want to achieve with all of their products.
“I think Elizabeth picked a really interesting theme for it, and she is so talented at designing these bird cards where the theme of each individual bird is tied to the mechanisms of that card in a way that is interesting, but also not too complicated,” Stegmaier says. “And so, it’s a fairly easy game to learn and to teach. I think that’s the case with any game; if it’s easy to get to the table, because it’s easy to teach someone new to the game how to play, it’s going to get to the table more often – and games that get to the table more often are the ones that are going to spread like wildfire.”
Wingspan has not only spread like wildfire, but in being designed and illustrated by women, has inspired young female game players to see themselves as capable of doing the same — key representation in an industry dominated by men. Stegmaier is proud to have played a role in promoting that representation.
“I’ve heard Elizabeth share so many stories of families, mothers, fathers that have come to her and said, ‘Hey, my daughter saw that you designed this game and that the box was illustrated and designed by you. And she wants to design a game now, and she wants to get into gaming because she saw your name on the box.’ And I love that. Again, there’s that invitation; it’s an invitation to people that may not have otherwise felt welcome into the gaming hobby. And I think that’s so great. I want more invitations like that, more inclusivity in our hobby.”
Though well-thought-out and beautifully designed tabletop games are the main drivers of Stonemaier’s success, Stegmeier also credits the St. Louis gaming community with helping to create a culture that enables him and his team to do what they do. Citing the Soulard game café, Pieces, as well as the region’s annual Geekway to the West convention which attracts board game enthusiasts from far and wide, he believes that his Central West End-based business can compete with much bigger companies, as it does, because of the robust network they have helped to cultivate.
For those who are unfamiliar with today’s board game scene, Stegmaier sees the appeal of board games as simply as an opportunity for genuine connection.
“The joy of tabletop games is that they’re an opportunity to connect with each other, human to human, without the screens and digital devices that are such a big part of our daily lives,” he says. “They provide a low-stakes platform to take risks, be creative, and solve problems. “