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Cat got your tongue made in Glyphics.Courtesy Eric Olsen

Featured Article

Messy Table for the Win

How Eric Olsen Brought a Fun Afternoon to Store Shelves

Article by Jordan Gray

Photography by Courtesy Eric Olsen + Big G Creative

Originally published in Meridian Lifestyle

Eric Olsen has been playing board games his entire life. And now, with his first game, Glyphics, available at multiple retailers, he’s a designer as well as a player.

“I never really thought of making a board game, so it was as much a surprise to me as it was just about everyone else,” Olsen said. “Although, in hindsight, it seems like a natural thing to have happened.”

Glyphics is the result of an impromptu game in the summer of 2020.

“We were having lunch and there was stuff on the table, and I just rearranged that and made a little Christmas tree. And as soon as I made it, (my kids) guessed what it was. They grabbed this stuff and then they rearranged it. We just started making stuff with the pieces and we're all just laughing and having fun. And that was really the inspiration for the game. As my one of my good friends said, ‘Messy table for the win.’”

The idea started percolating to make the game with real pieces and cards. Somewhere along the line, Olsen or his son had the idea to try 3-D printing some pieces.

“Instead of having to just use whatever pieces are lying around, we could make our own pieces,” he said. “And from there, we kind of didn't look back.”

Olsen took his new pieces, paired them with words from old Pictionary cards and online word lists, then sent them out to friends and family.

“That's what really made it a good game,” he said. “It's not because I'm super brilliant. It's because I sent the game out to a whole bunch of people, and they played it a lot and offered feedback.”

In February 2021, Olsen discussed the next step with his wife: an expensive patent search to confirm there was nothing else like Glyphics around.

“I said, ‘Look, if this comes back negative, I really want to try to make it a game.’ So that was really the point when I decided when I wanted to try to actually put it on store shelves.”

The patent search was negative and the quest was on. Olsen patented and trademarked his game, and started researching self-publishing and game publishers. He also, fortuitously, reached out to Bananagrams, Inc. for advice.

“Believe it or not, the CEO of Bananagrams (Rena Nathanson) got in touch with me and we had a couple of great conversations. She put me in touch with GPI, a large game manufacturer. They wanted to try something new in addition to manufacturing. They wanted to start presenting games to publishers in pitch meetings. And they said, ‘You're the first outside person that we want to show your game.’ So, it's kind of a unique, cool situation and they started pitching my game for me.”

Acting as his agent, Olsen said GPI helped his game get picked up by Big G Creative within a month. Then, October 2022 brought the moment Olsen had been waiting for.

“I took my kids and went to Target,” he said. “They had their cameras ready, and we walked in and all of a sudden, there it was. A year and a half to get it there. It just felt really good. You know, like not a weight off your shoulders, but kind of like a big, ‘Ah, made it.’ It's fun to see something that you put that much work into make it all the way.”

Something Olsen said he hadn’t anticipated was the public’s response.

“I'm having friends and family and people I don't even know tell me how much fun they're having with their family playing the game. I love playing games with my friends and family, but now there's people out there playing my game with their friends and their family. And they're sending me messages like ‘We laugh ‘til we cry’ and ‘We haven't laughed that hard in years.’ It's a really good feeling to know your game is going to be a game people take camping or people take up to the cabin or over Christmas when people get together. They're going to play your game and they're going to make memories with it.”

While Olsen currently teaches high school math, his passion for game design has only increased. He’s already started his own company: Messy Table Games.

“I never knew I was a game designer,” he said. “It never occurred to me. And after I designed that first game, something clicked. Since then, I've designed 10 more games and more games are coming.”

As for Glyphics, Olsen is still playing his own game. With one particular caveat from his family.

“I made all the cards, so I don't get to guess. I get to be a builder. Like I can make the shapes, but I'm not allowed to guess at my house. By the way, Dad has not memorized every single card. But that's why I'm not allowed to guess. My kids say I usually never win my own games. Which is true. But it's more about hanging out.”

  • The Christmas tree that started it all. Courtesy Eric Olsen
  • Courtesy Eric Olsen
  • Courtesy Eric Olsen
  • Courtesy Eric Olsen
  • Courtesy Eric Olsen
  • Cat got your tongue made in Glyphics.Courtesy Eric Olsen
  • Fire engine made in Glyphics. Courtesy Eric Olsen
  • Funny bone made in Glyphics. Courtesy Eric Olsen
  • Courtesy Big G Creative
  • Courtesy Big G Creative