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No monkeying around: board game designer scores a success

Mark Sellmeyer with a celebratory Spin Monkey cake on the eighth anniversary of the St. Louis Board Game Meet-Up Group.
Provided by St. Louis Board Game Meet-Up Group
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This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 24, 2013: When you play a board game, you don't expect to win every time. Well, maybe you hope to; but you don't. That's also true when you design a board game.

Mark Sellmeyer, a 49-year-old graphic designer and St. Louis native, kept trying, however. Now he has earned international recognition as a board game designer.

"I've played them for as long as I can remember," said Sellmeyer. "Me and a group of friends started off on magic, but burned out on that and continued with board games."

Sellmeyer, sporting a a ponytail that puts Willie Nelson to shame, got hooked during the renaissance of the mid-'90s. The market began to absorb new concepts flooding over games from Europe that differed from traditional American games that focused on player elimination. Think Risk or Monopoly. The European model was more structured, with time limits and players able to stay in for the entire game.

Sellmeyer's first foray into game design came in 2004.

He and some friends "decided to publish a card game together called Dustbunny games," said Sellmeyer. "Of course it failed. Never put up your own money when self-publishing a game!"

The design process starts by looking at ways to improve existing models. A concept is refined and play tested a lot, until eventually it's ready to hit the shelves.

Inspired by childhood favorite RoboRally, Sellmeyer produced Spin Monkeys, a game that has proven successful, receiving international success.

"After play testing it for a few years, I decided to enter it into the 2009 Rio Grande Games Design Contest," said Sellmeyer.

Spin Monkeys, in which a monkey-driven bumper car drives around on a fruit-hunting expedition, beat out hundreds of competitors from across the country. After winning the local round in St. Louis, Sellmeyer traveled to Chicago where he again trumped the opposition, earning Spin Monkeys a spot among the finalists.

"We all had 30 minutes to pitch our idea to the publisher of Rio Grande Games Jay Tummelson," said Sellmeyer. "You went into this big room with just a table, a couple of chairs and him sitting there. He chose mine and bought a two-year contract for the game starting last year."

Sellmeyer also helps out with the local board-game scene along with girlfriend Kathleen Mercury.

The St. Louis Board Game Meet-Up Group, founded by British ex-pat Timothy Hunt, recently celebrated its eighth anniversary. A honey pot for game lovers, the group consists of members from a variety of backgrounds and ages, from high-school students to senior citizens.

Meeting up primarily at various local game stores or coffee houses, gamers delve into the world of cards, euro-games and traditional pastimes such as Scrabble and Monopoly.

"It depends on who brought what and what people want to play with," said Sellmeyer. "If there's something specific, just post it on the message board and bring it with you."

There's no registration fee or monthly dues;, the group's welcome to all would-be rookies.

"The only thing we ask members to do is give a little back to the community," said Sellmeyer. "If we're playing at a game store, we'll try and buy our games from there."

Now an established designer, Sellmeyer is working on a new piece, which he hopes to pitch to Tummelson at the upcoming Gen Con Indy in August, the world's longest running game convention.

For more information visit www.meetup.com/St-Louis-Board-Games

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