Senior staff writer
Holly Hightower Hancock, a 2011 Southport High School graduate, and husband Travis Hancock are taking entrepreneurship to an enjoyable level.
The couple have become successful enough to leave their full-time jobs after developing a niche market in two areas – history and board games – not thought possible in today’s marketplace. They formed Façade Games (https://facadegames.com/) and are now drawing salaries from the sale of their games.
Her experiences as editor-in-chief of Southport’s yearbook and graphic arts have added to the appeal of their historic board games: Salem 1692, Tortuga 1667 and Deadwood 1876. The first two games have sold more than 20,000 copies combined.
“We do take a creative license but do utilize the history,” said the daughter of Southsiders Rick and Cathy Hightower. “He (Travis) loved playing board games with his brothers and changing the rules to come up with a better game.”
Holly and Travis met as students at Brigham Young University, where she majored in elementary education. She eventually taught second- and fourth-grade students in Utah. Travis was employed in digital marketing.
Starting in 2013, they set out to develop their first board game, Salem 1692, based on the historic witch hunt. They sought $6,000 through Kickstarter, a fundraising site for entrepreneurs, and attracted an amazing $100,000 to launch their first game.
Holly developed the rule books and artwork for the cards and contributed other aspects to the game.
Their next project was Tortuga 1667, a pirate-themed mutiny game that was launched in January 2017 after raising $400,000 through Kickstarter.
Holly recalled that each board game was tested and improved several times during game nights with friends.
“From the basic idea, board games need a lot of refining,” she said. “At first we go over the rules. Then look at what parts were too easy or too long to play. We take everyone’s feedback on likes and dislikes.”
She then remarked that the main rubric is the “noise factor” of the players when they play the game. “You can tell if the game is working when they are yelling or serious and really are in a relationship with the game.
Each game comes in a book-designed box, an idea from Travis’ mother. The couple base their games on uniqueness of play for occasional and avid gamers with original packaging and beautiful illustrations and designs. They describe their board games “simple, smart and sleek.”
In each of the games the characters are based on people who lived in the towns. Each rule book contains character biographies.
Holly recalled her years at Southport, where she played in the orchestra, played tennis and was part of a minor peer group and Cardinal Cadre.
She credited Spanish teacher Mrs. O’Connor for peaking her interest in teaching young children by working with kindergarten-age pupils.
Her younger brother, Hunter, a former athlete at Southport, is a student at Ivy Tech; a younger sister, Alyssa, is a junior at Southport.
In June 2017, Holly gave birth to the couple’s first baby, Margo, who undoubtedly has a future in playing board games. She calls Margo their biggest cheerleader.
The Hancocks moved from Utah in October to Columbus, Ohio, to be closer to his parents in Dayton and most of her family on the Southside.
With a growing daughter and working at home, the Hancocks do not want to produce more than one game per year or add any employees.
They are ready to release their third game, Deadwood 1876, based on gold in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Players work together to steal gold from three safes in the town but then suspect that all their friends are working to steal the gold from behind their backs, which leads to a final showdown with guns.
“We set out to do a gold-rush theme,” Holly said. “We did a lot of historical research and Deadwood really stuck out. Travis even met with a group of cowboy enthusiasts who pointed out some of the different guns and items.”