Game Kastle 1
Photo credit: Lukas Rowe

Game enthusiasts gather at the College Park location of Game Kastle, on Cherry Hill Road, to shop, play and compete. Game Kastle’s expansive shelves are filled with games old and new — board games and card games, including role-playing and miniature-based games.

Once a month, the franchise hosts a charity fundraiser with Break My Game (BMG), a local nonprofit board-game playtesting group. BMG hosts events throughout the DMV (and nationally, on virtual platforms) so game designers and players can meet to test games, from early prototypes through market-ready versions. 

Elizabeth Hargrave, a Maryland designer whose board game “Wingspan” is one of the most popular board games now on the market, was a special guest at the November 19 event. currently ranks “Wingspan” at No. 25.  Wingspan players attempt to attract the greatest variety of birds to their nature preserves, and take actions each turn that include laying eggs and feeding birds. 

A few lucky gamers won raffle tickets to play two new games with Hargrave, both of which she designed. 

One of those new games, “The Fox Experiment,” inspired by the Siberian breeding project to domesticate foxes, has recently been published by Pandasaurus. The other game, “Undergrove,” which Hargrave designed with Mark Wootten, is still in crowdfunding. In “Undergrove,” players are Douglas fir trees attempting to establish seedlings using a symbiotic fungal network. 

At the November event, designers observed and gained feedback as players tested their games. Discussion and laughter filled the air at the gaming tables. Creators talked about their design processes, using scraps of paper or LEGO pieces to explain how game rules evolve.

Boyd Stephenson owns College Park’s Game Kastle franchise, one of 38 locations in the country. He’s been running the monthly charity fundraiser since 2022. Boyd said that the November event brought in more than $2,200 for BMG, which exceeded expectations. He thanked donors, including Evil Hat Productions, an internationally recognized role-playing and board game company, for helping make the event possible. 

According to Boyd, games and game testing is inherently dynamic and flexible, and the design field is wide open to newcomers. Anyone with a passion and an idea could turn it into reality, and game testing events are where a lot of useful work can happen.