Interview: Cultivating Community with Tantrum House

Interview The Beat February 17, 2022

Fun and community are two key ingredients in the board game industry. Tantrum House is filled to the brim with both. You may know Tantrum House's popular Youtube Channel about board games. They also run a growing local convention. Most importantly, they are a group of content creators who are friendly and passionate. We sat down with Will and Sara Meadows, founders of Tantrum House, to hear about the community they are building and the fun they bring to their content every day.

 

Keymaster:  How long have y'all been doing Tantrum House? 

Will: I don't even know when we started… 2008? When did we start? 

Sara: We started a weekly game night in 2006. It was not called Tantrum House.  

Will: It was called Will’s house! However, I soon had 2 kids under the age of 3 who were not the quietest people ever. So, we moved into a little condo. Our neighbor actually was kind of the one that got us started into board games. We grew up in families that enjoyed all of the kind of standard classic games. 

Sara: And mine, even further than that, enjoyed a lot of hard to find board games and a lot of card games.

Keymaster: Favorite card game, go! 

Sara: ShanghaiA classic card game. There’s limited rules online, but you can find it. It’s like Rummy meets Phase 10 on steroids.  

Keymaster: Do you still play these games?  

Will: We do. Every time we go to Nebraska we play Shanghai. Her great grandmother was the champion of all Shanghai in the world passed away a couple of years ago. And so we literally play it in her memory every time we go to Nebraska and if you try to cheat in any way, then it's like, oh, Grandma Potter would never approve of such blasphemy! 

And so we both grew up playing a lot of games and then our neighbor started introducing us to Euro Games that we had never really heard of. We played Catan with him, we played Ticket to Ride… a lot of those entry level games. One of the games that he introduced us to is called To Court the King and it was like a pip manipulation game, which I had never seen dice used Besides random rolling for chance in my life. And that was really the moment where I was like, “Woah! There's so much more that you can do with cardboard and dice and paper than I ever imagined. 

And that is kind of what led us into the rabbit hole of Kickstarter. So we started finding games that had been produced by other people out there. A friend of mine was big into Kickstarter, we started finding new games and one of the games that we played is called Kitty of Iron designed by this kid who was like, I don't know, way younger than I was and he had designed the game and illustrated himself, and I played it and I thought to myself… I could totally make a game better than this. This kid raised like, $40,000 on Kickstarter. We should totally get into this!  

So, we made an attempt. We had a game that I had been playing for a number of years. It was a card game.. a ladder, trick-taking game. I took the basic mechanics of that game and I introduced these new things that I'd been introduced to in this industry like individual character powers and some additional wild cards and things like that and we designed a game called Steam Course, and we attempted to publish it on Kickstarter… And I was like, this is way better than that Kitty of Iron game… Kickstarter failed. We didn't raise any money, and I was like, oh, gosh, how am I not, like, killing it right now? This game is so beautiful!  

The main thing was that we'd not done any advertising. We weren't going to board game conventions. I worked in marketing and somehow we didn't do any marketing for it. We literally just thought, if you put it on Kickstarter, they will come… Which is true, but it takes a lot longer than one attempt at it. So we went back to the drawing board. We found a new manufacturer that was way cheaper, we added some deluxe components, and we spent a year building a YouTube channel and a Facebook page and making really crazy quality videos with our professional videographer friend.  

The second time we funded the game, it was great. We had a great time, but then we realized we have to send this game to 1,000 people who live in other countries. We hadn’t done any child safety testing and we didn't know what VAT taxes were like. None of these things were on our radar. So it ended up being this, like, bittersweet celebration. 

But what that ended up leading to was the decision that publishing just wasn't for us. However, we had a blast making the videos, putting together the content, doing the graphic design and almost immediately, other people started asking us the question, who made your guys’ video? This is like, the best Kickstarter video we've seen in forever! That led eventually into more and more people asking us and us helping more and more people and that really just kind of turned into Tantrum House.  

We try to help other content creators recognize that it's more difficult than it looks on the front end but that over the last seven years, we've been able to build up a little bit of an audience. And so we enjoy helping those content creators get a platform in front of other people and hopefully help them either make their dreams come true or realize that publishing isn't for them.

(Sara and Shantelle really got into character for this Caper: Europe Playthroughs on the Tantrum House YouTube channel)

Keymaster: So this transition to Tantrum House was actually more about helping other designers... 

Will: Yeah. So, Tantrum House originated from just a bunch of us playing games together and having a lot of fun. 

Sara: And it didn’t really start until 2014… 

Will: 2014 is when we actually decided to venture into Kickstarter. And, yeah, it really is all about helping other board game designers who are deciding to go at it on their own and they've spent all their time and resources making this game, and they fell in the same trap we did. They didn't do the marketing necessary to really see success, so giving them an opportunity to do that is why we built things like our board games launching on Kickstarter, our Facebook page, all the Kickstarter preview videos that we do. 

And even a good portion of Tantrum Con, which is our annual event, is us giving people opportunities to kind of show off their games. We do a pitch-a-thon at that event just trying to help people get some platform underneath them as they try to bring their game to the world.

Keymaster: You foster great community, promote really positive interactions, and this is sort of the sense of quality time, which is something that we are really passionate about, something that we care a lot about.

Will: Yeah, so I think as we were building the team… Fortunately, the kind of network of friends that we have are all very talented people. So, like, Melissa is a professional, full time writer, and video producer. Ben, who is one of our original partners that started off with us, was a radio television guy. He did all the video effects and shooting and editing. I'm a graphic designer.  

It's really less about, like, let's build a company and more about, we all have jobs that we really enjoy but it'd be great if we had a creative outlet that allowed us to just have fun and hang out together and make cool stuff. I think in general because we just do it because it's fun and we love hanging out… I think that is kind of magnetic to other people coming in and having a good time with us. 

Keymaster: On the local level, what’s some of your favorite… maybe stories that you've seen from the local game nights and getting people connected that way? 

Sara: A lot of us at Tantrum house enjoy teaching games. Some of us have a little bit of an education background, myself and Katie and Melissa, and we're very privileged (because we're media) to be sent a lot of stuff… early copies or copies of games that we normally wouldn't get to purchase. So it's really great to be able to share those with our community and share prototypes with them for games that are going to Kickstarter, and they get a chance to check it out when not that many people have been able to see it in person and actually get to try the game out before it's launched.

It's great. We have a wide variety of people that come to our game nights that we host. We've got families, little kids, and all the way up through elderly that come, and we all sit at the same tables and enjoy a board game together even though we have diverse backgrounds and ages and things that we have going on in our lives.  

Will: One of the interesting things is that we have a lot of friends who are, like, loosely interested in board gaming and so when they know we have a YouTube channel… You can tell if people want to be invited over to your game night, like, I'll be talking about it with Ryan at work or whatever, and you can see the guy over there who's like, “What are you guys doing? You guys playing games tonight?”  

There's already 15 people at my house and another 15 people that are under 15 but if you want to come, we can find a place for you at the table… and it got to the point where that was just like, there were so many people that we knew wanted to come and just have fun with us that we thought if we could do a game day and just invite all of our friends, that'd be really cool.  

And as it continued growing, we were like, all right, let's just reserve one of the local library rooms and invite people on our Facebook page and we had, like, 250 people come out! Fortunately, the library was ready to expand and we packed the place.  

So, the next year we turned that into Tantrum Con and this year we actually just switched locations because we feel like we're going to outgrow our space again so we moved it to Charlotte.

(The table-flipping tournament draws quite the crowd at Tantrum Con)

Keymaster: It’s so encouraging to hear y'all started as just a local thing and have seen such huge growth. 

Will: It definitely blew our minds, too, because we were standing outside the library, like, carrying boxes in and there’s this huge line of people to get into our event. We thought maybe throughout the course of the day, maybe like, 100 people would show up or something.  

Sara: And there's not a convention that geared towards board gaming in our area. So everyone was very excited when we decided to do Tantrum Con. 

Sara: And we've tried to move that beyond local with our YouTube channel. This year has been really challenging for a lot of people, and we've done a lot more to try and play games online that they can play with us. We try to do a lot more interactive games... We just did another 12- hour gaming marathon where the last 4 or 5 hours was the audience playing with us.  

Will: And I know it's the world we live in, too. But I would have never imagined 20 years ago that I would consider friends of mine to be people that I've never met in real life. I literally only know their username. 

Keymaster: How has the landscape of content creator-ship changed or the landscape of this ownership that you have over your community changed in the time you've been doing it? 

Sara: Well, just the board game industry has changed in general. I remember the first time we went to one of the major conventions… Origins, probably 2015. I remember walking in the door and there was, like, less than 20% of the people there were women and it was a little unnerving being there and being in the very minority. But that has changed completely. The conventions we have are open to not just adults, but also kids and families because we know that's a hindrance for some people and we want everybody to enjoy being at the table together. 

Will: I would actually say there has been one negative, being totally honest. When we first came in as content creators, everybody was ridiculously encouraging. Actually, one of the first creators we ever met was Rodney Smith, and he was like, “Oh, I saw one of you guys' videos.” It was amazing and everybody was 100% willing to share every secret they ever had. It literally was just like, let's party together.  

And I think as the industry has grown, things have become a little bit more competitive. And so it's like, a little bit more cutthroat than I would have ever anticipated and I don't think they even see us as enemies or as competition, but it's like people are looking for things to talk about now. And so anything and everything is on the table. 

Keymaster: That’s one of the things that I always tell people outside the industry that’s unique about the industry from a publisher side is that we share numbers with each other… We’ll talk about logistics, and all sorts of behind-the-scenes stuff. When you’re a booth worker at a CON, you’ll go to the next booth and play their games and be super excited and talk about it and share it, even though they're your direct competition. 

Sara: And I think from a content creation perspective that level of competition is a bit newer. There is still a lot of camaraderie in the space because we’re all just talking about something we love. 

Keymaster: As you look at the future and this landscape that's changing, Is there something that you feel like you have a responsibility for as a content creator in this community? 

Will: I think for us, the main focus has always been that we feel like games have the ability to create community in ways that almost nothing else does. It just lowers all barriers you have, like, sports. And there are lots of communities around sports, and that's something that's really great that everybody can talk over. But nobody's getting together to do puzzles with all their neighbors every week. Maybe somebody is… I don't want to say nobody is, but there's just something about the communication of playing a game that creates memories and experiences.  

Because we've been privileged to end up in this position, I think the responsibility on us really is just that we want to make sure that we are staying true to what we enjoy because we're doing it for the fun of it. We're not trying to make a bunch of money or… It's kind of weird, honestly, like when I see how many subscribers we have on YouTube and it’s like people spent 729,000,000 minutes watching our content this year! 

That's crazy, right?! And it's a huge honor that we didn't really anticipate getting. So it's really just about… we are going to do this because we're having a fun. I guess that's really what it comes down to. And if it gets to be not fun anymore, then we'll probably stop doing it.  If it gets to be really lucrative or if it doesn’t, if we're still having fun, then we’ll keep it going. 

We’re just trying to reach people that want to get around the table and have that same level of fun. That's what we want to do. It's a great experience connecting people. 

Sara: And from a reviewer perspective, recognizing that there's a variety of game types and different gamer types. So a game that I might not enjoy as much, maybe somebody else will and just recognizing that everybody's welcome to their own opinions and likes and dislikes. We want to bring people together over games.

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