How Underdog Games Got Its Start

How Underdog Games Got Its Start

Hasan Hasmani

It wasn’t until I was 22 that I got to experience the wonder of sleeping under the stars for the first time. It was at that moment, at the bottom of Grand Canyon National Park, that a spark was ignited which would eventually lead to the creation of Underdog Games.

The Grand Canyon will change you. 

During this time, I was working as an entrepreneur selling board games online and advising others how to do the same. I had a trade show to attend in Las Vegas coming up in a few weeks and as I was booking the flight, the stories of friends who had gone on outdoor adventures in the Southwest ran through my mind. I had never slept outdoors, never been to a national park, and didn’t even know how to pitch a tent. I decided to book a guided backpacking tour of the Grand Canyon. This was too good of an opportunity to pass up.

I was on this bridge at the bottom of the Canyon, and when I looked up, I was awed by the amount of stars. Growing up an hour outside of NYC, it wasn’t something I experienced much. It was breathtaking and one of the most magical moments in my life. Actually the whole trip was—just hiking the Grand Canyon was amazing.

Fast forward a few weeks, and I was in the office of a board game company for some consulting work. In passing, they mentioned a game called Trekking the National Parks, which had been created by local game designer, Charlie Bink. I had this realization that the same awe I felt at the Grand Canyon was shared by millions across the country. Here was this game that allows people to connect and share that emotion while potentially sparking new adventures.

I convinced Charlie to meet me before I had to leave town. We met up at a local coffee shop, bonded over our mutual love of mochas, and several hours later we knew there was an opportunity here to combine my expertise in ecommerce and marketing with the game that his family had poured their heart and soul into.

We weren’t sure what the next steps were. After all, we both had full-time jobs of our own. Plus, Charlie had already been down the journey of trying to launch Trekking the National Parks with his parents for a few years. Yet, I saw an opportunity to grow the game into something more. I loved everything about it and knew others would, too. 

Let's give this thing a try.  

After a few months of chatting and meeting Charlie’s parents (John and Terry Binkele are the ones who started the game in the first place—read more about their story here), we struck a plan. We would license the rights for the game and use it as a launchpad for a new company. 

Right away, we got to work in developing the second edition of Trekking the National Parks. Charlie was confident it was a solid game, and he knew exactly what to do to make it even better. 

Unsure of what to call the company, we had this massive spreadsheet of more than a 100 different names until one finally seemed right—Underdog Games. It was perfect and really embodied who we were and what we were trying to do. 

Shortly after, the team of two became a team of three, as we added on marketer Dave Cisek. Together, we launched Trekking the National Parks as a pre-order on a simple website that we built in a single weekend. We put up our first ad and waited. That first sale will be a moment I’ll never forget. Within weeks, we sold 5,000 pre-ordered games before we had even shipped the first one out. 

At that point, we were off and running. We sold out our first holiday season and then ramped up the new year by hiring the grand canyon tour guide that led me on my adventure to be a full-time traveling sales rep for a year. From there, we put together a plan to launch our second game, Trekking the World, and hired game designer Nick Bentley to join us and run the Kickstarter campaign. 

We're just getting started. 

Today, Underdog Games has more board games in our lineup and plenty of others on the way. With more than 10 full-time employees (and growing), we’re proud to create games that help busy families and friends enjoy quality time together. 

It would be easy to say the success of the company is unexpected or surprising. (Ask my parents—they were patiently hoping he’d get a real job.) But the truth is that everyone who comes across Underdog Games knows it’s something special. The company has big goals to bring new people into the hobby while creating games you’ll want to play more than once. Based on the success so far, it seems like we're off to a great start. 

By the way, I’ve since slept under the stars many times. My passion for hiking and travel has taken me on many adventures, both of which will surely inspire future games. 

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