Writer / Suzanne Huntzinger
Photographer / Jamie Sangar
“It’s the golden age of gaming,” says Max Michael of Stratamax Games. But Michael doesn’t mean video games. In a surprising twist that points to the need for more human interaction, the trend for the 20 something to 40 something age range is toward playing board games and card games.
While no one is telling moms and dads globally to start expecting to see their children abandon their Xbox and online games, Michael says there is a shift in adults to go back to the bridge party style traditions of our parents’ generation.
“You’re seeing it locally in places like Books and Brews, but it’s caught on globally,” Michael says. He says the trend began with a European gaming invasion about 20 years ago, similar to the British invasion of music 50 years ago.
Hardcore gaming aficionados may be familiar with the difference between American style games and European style games. Most American style games are designed for head-to-head competition with winning the game largely based on luck and chance. But European games are designed for the players to compete for resources with multiple scenarios and solutions possible to win. The European gaming invasion has been made possible largely because of a strategic difference in Europe’s gaming industry.
“In Europe, their gaming houses have people who design the games, but they contract out the printing and manufacturing of the game to independent companies,” Michael says.
The business model makes it more cost effective for smaller gaming companies to get their games to market. That means you don’t have to be a giant like Milton Bradley, Hasbro or Mattel to get your niche game on the store shelves.
Michael knows a little about niche games. He started Stratamax Games in 1989, as a part-time hobby. He says he grew up playing a lot of games as a past time, and gaming has always been his hobby. But one day, several years after college graduation, Michael decided to write a book, Max’s Advanced Rules for Axis and Allies. The popular war game capitalized on two of Michael’s other hobbies, history and war. The book’s publication opened up a whole world for Michael. His book got noticed, and eventually he designed and licensed his very first game. Not surprisingly, it was a war game.
Michael continued developing his company and feeding his part-time hobby while raising a family and working his full-time job with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management in the Emergency Response and Preparedness team. Although he recently retired from the job, he still consults on emergencies part-time.
Through the years, Stratamax Games, has developed dozens of games including Airborne Commander, Credit Mobilier and the hit political game, Tammany Hall. Not only has Michael seen Stratamax’s presence in the niche market gaming industry evolve, he’s seen the Indianapolis gaming market evolve. Local shops like Game Preserve, Family Time Games and Saltier Games are all new to the Indy gaming landscape. All shops have friendly and helpful staff and are well stocked with niche market games. Saltier Games even has rooms available for gaming themed birthday parties. Good Games, Australia’s largest game store, just opened a shop downtown Indy.
The gaming revolution is unmistakable at the major gaming industry trade shows like Gen Con and Spieltage in Essen, Germany. Gen Con, in Indianapolis, is the gaming industry’s first and longest running gaming convention in the world. Gen Con is so popular that tickets for a four-day pass to the August convention are completely sold out.
While gaming fans take front and center at Gen Con dressed in their costumes and playing a variety of interactive games, Spieltage, coming up in October, makes the games the star of the show. The convention, which Michael calls the Oscars of the gaming industry, is a true trade show with exhibits featuring new game releases and booths with the latest in the industry. Most importantly, there are awards including best kids game, best family game and best strategy game.
With the boom in the gaming industry, Michael and Stratamax have endless possibilities and opportunities in store for the future.
“Playing a game is more than just having fun,” he says. “You learn how to take a turn, take a chance, think critically, use resources to your advantage, how to analyze data and plan ahead.”
Catch the gaming craze. Go to stratamaxgames.com for more information about their games.