PLU professor adds ‘board game inventor’ to his résumé


Discovery 1024 427 Kari Plog '11

For Galen Ciscell, graduate school was a time for work and play, but not in the way you’d expect.

His work earned him a doctorate degree and, subsequently, a role as visiting assistant professor of sociology at Pacific Lutheran University.

His play — which turned out to be a lot of work, too — earned him the title of board game inventor.

Ciscell created the cooperative board game “Atlantis Rising,” which was released by Z-Man Games in 2012 after being accepted upon first pitch.

“I’ve been into gaming since I was a kid,” Ciscell said.

His personal collection of board games amounts to about 200, including expansions, and many of them are displayed prominently in his home.

When Ciscell decided to create a board game in 2011, his plan was simple: “I’m just going to make a game that I would want to play,” he told himself.

(Video by Rustin Dwyer, PLU)

He wanted it to be cooperative. He wanted it to take up a relatively short period of time. He wanted it to have a fantasy theme. “Atlantis Rising” has all three components.

In the game, each player is a citizen of the stricken island Atlantis. The objective is to save the island, before it sinks, by way of a mystical portal. Players also must contend with the escalating threat of their Athenian enemies.

Plato, the philosopher who documented the only account of Atlantis, is quoted in the rulebook. “That bit of literature and philosophy actually informed how I designed the game,” Ciscell said. “The players all win or lose the game together.”

Unfortunately, players were on the losing side one recent game night at Ciscell’s Tacoma home.

“It’s hopeless! There’s no way we’re going to win,” Andrew Austin ’06 said.

Still, wine kept flowing and dice kept rolling as Austin and several other Lutes gathered around the board for a good time with good friends.

Austin and his wife, Kaarin Praxel Austin ’07, brought their 6-week- old baby to the game night, a regular tradition. It was a balancing act keeping her comfortable between turns, but they managed.

Praxel Austin, director of gift planning at PLU, said the group has been getting together for at least three years. Even as babies are born and lives are increasingly busy, they are all good at sticking to the every-other-week schedule, she said.

“It’s half because of the games and half because of the people,” Praxel Austin said.

With crying babies around, the games take a little longer to get through, she acknowledged, but “that’s part of the story of our gaming family.”

Andrea Shea ’06, an academic advisor at PLU, and Amanda Sweger, associate professor of theatre, also joined the fun.

“I only pretend to know this game,” Sweger said jokingly, as Ciscell explained strategy. “We are up against the gods!”

While the cooperative game relied on everyone, Ciscell was leading the way as the expert.

“I did design the game,” he said, laughing, as some of his fellow gamers questioned him on the rules.

Ciscell says his wife, Chelsie, deserves credit for sparking his inventive spirit. She encouraged him to join her in setting a personal goal to accomplish within a year, while Ciscell was in graduate school at Colorado State University.

Within that year, after what Ciscell calls a “very scientific” data-collection process of playing his game about 100 times with friends-turned-critics, “Atlantis Rising” was finished.

Ciscell used his contacts from gaming conventions and sold the game to the first company he pitched it to, New York-based Z-Man Games. The company hired a designer from the Netherlands to create the tiles and other pieces.

Atlantis Rising

(Photos by John Froschauer, PLU)

Several thousand copies sold during the game’s circulation, Ciscell said. It even sold internationally in countries such as France, Belgium and Canada.

“There are copies of it all over the world,” he said. It’s no longer in circulation, but copies are available to purchase online, he added.

Ciscell said board game companies are much like book publishers — they look for inventors, pay an advance for production and provide a cut of the profits. “It’s not a lot of money,” Ciscell said, adding that he made about $1 for every copy sold at the retail price of $60. “I did not do it for the money.”

The most fun aspect of the process was play testing, he said, especially with people playing it for the first time. “Seeing people have fun playing it,” he said. “That’s the best part.”

Despite all the hours spent playing in the past, Ciscell still plays “Atlantis Rising” semi-regularly on game nights, primarily with folks who have never played before.

His advice for aspiring game inventors: “Design a game you love. You’re gonna be playing it a lot.”

And, of course: “play test, play test, play test.”

Kari Plog '11

Kari Plog, digital content manager at public radio station KNKX, spent five years as a reporter and copy editor at The News Tribune in Tacoma. In 2015, the Society of Professional Journalists named her Western Washington New Journalist of the Year. She returned to PLU as part of its communications team in 2016. She joined KNKX in 2018.

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