Underdog Games’ Hasan Hasmani talks trekking, critical feedback and getting more people into board games
Having founded and scaled a successful Amazon e-commerce business, 2018 saw Hasan Hasmani launch his own games company in the form of Underdog Games.
Fuelled by a desire to get more families into board games and Hasmani’s own love of trekking, the firm’s first game was Trekking the National Parks from designer Charlie Bink. The game won a Mensa Select award and was followed up with Trekking the National Parks: The Family Trivia Game.
The firm’s latest game, Trekking the World, is currently on Kickstarter and has already smashed its goal of $32k; currently sitting at over $93k at the time of writing, with 15 days left to go of the campaign.
We caught up with Hasmani to learn more about the origins of Underdog, and why the firm is looking to embrace the wider inventor community when it comes to future games.
Hi Hasan, so to kick us off, how did you get your start in the world of games?
Well, I started a business in college re-selling games. So for a couple of years I was one of those Amazon sellers that the industry hates! I grew a pretty large business as an Amazon seller and I started consulting with companies about how to get set up on Amazon and leverage e-commerce in this industry. Then I saw an opportunity to create a win-win for both retailers and consumers with a company that goes direct. So I don’t actually have a background in board games; my passion was always running a business.
And there’s a through-line with your games to date: Trekking the National Parks, Trekking the National Parks: Trivia and Trekking the World…
Yes! Well, one of my other passions is hiking and one day I was helping a games company out and was told about a game called Trekking the National Parks. As a huge hiking junkie, I thought it sounded cool and reached out to the creator, Charlie Bink. We had a long conversation and I ended up licensing Trekking the National Parks from him, and we launched Underdog Games together.
How would you sum up Underdog Games? What helps you stand out?
Well, we’re a very e-commerce focussed business and we wanted to work closely with retailers from the off, so we established a direct-to-retail programme and we now have around 400 retailers working with us.
Coming from the world of Amazon and e-commerce, is there anything that lots of board game companies do wrong when selling on Amazon?
That’s a very tricky question, and one that gets to the core of what Amazon is.
A lot of people believe that just by putting a game on Amazon mean you’ll sell on Amazon, and that’s not always the case. If you’re searching online for ‘onion cutter’, you might stumble across someone’s onion cutter on Amazon. You won’t stumble across someone’s board game on Amazon just by searching ‘board games’, unless you’re one of the top games out there, like Catan. So you do push marketing; hence why Kickstarter is such a popular platform for board game companies because games are a discovery product and Kickstarter is a discovery platform.
Which takes us to your most recent launch – Trekking the World. It’s just funded on Kickstarter with two weeks still to go. What would you say sums up an ‘Underdog’ game? Are there key traits a game has to have to be licensed by you?
We are highly focused on family-level gateway games. We identify who the potential consumer is and try to build games for them; we think about who the audience is before we start designing. Trekking the National Parks was created like that; we built a game for the National Parks audience. Our new game, Trekking the World, is for world travellers. We have an ‘audience-first’ focus.
We also want to introduce the hobby to as many people as possible. ‘Spread the joy of board games’ is our slogan and we want to convert more families into gamers.
And is the inventor community of interest to you guys at the moment, or are you focusing on in-house development?
Yes, we’re 100% interested in the inventor community. We’ve spent a good amount of time building relationships with designers in the hope to be the first contact when they have a great family-level gateway game. We’re working with a couple of designers now and are actively taking submissions. Nick Bentley was brought in to take submissions.
So Nick’s the guy to reach out to?
Absolutely. They can contact Nick Bentley at Nick@underdoggames.com. We’re always looking for submissions!
Finally, how do you fuel creativity at Underdog Games?
Have you ever read the book Creativity Inc?
No, but I’ll add it to the list!
Do! It’s written by the founders of Pixar and is the single best book about running a creative business ever written. I am not the creative person in the company in terms of design. Charlie is the creative director and Nick has lots of experience designing games. My goal is to manage the creative process to run a business.
Critical feedback is super important when talking about creativity in relation to running a business. ‘Brain trust’ is a common term used within Pixar. The idea is that someone can present their idea in a very raw way and as long as that person understands that any critical feedback comes from a place of love – and the goal of being better together – then this allows for the creative process to be as strong as possible. Anyone that’s trying to go through the creative process but is not open to critical feedback is going to struggle. My goal is to ensure we have an environment where feedback can be taken with love.
That’s the key to managing the creative process; ensuring feedback is welcomed, critical but encouraging and allows the company to move forwards towards a shared goal.
Great stuff. Thanks for this Hasan, and good luck with the rest of the Trekking the World campaign! If folks are interested, you can see the campaign here
To stay in the loop with the latest news, interviews and features from the world of toy and game design, sign up to our weekly newsletter here