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With play test groups, board game cafes and Protospiels popping up all over the map, the game inventor community is stronger than ever! Still, there are plenty of amazing games and inventors out there not getting the attention they deserve. When Gray Matters Games founder and inventor, Joe Barron, recognized this gap in Fall 2019, he was inspired to create a design contest to help up-and-coming inventors.

Barron says “There are so many fantastic game ideas that don’t make their way to the shelf because inventors don’t know how to take the next step. This contest will allow the finalists to get in front of industry experts, get real-time feedback and potentially win a publishing opportunity.”

After receiving over 60 submissions, the judges spent a month reviewing sell sheets and demo videos to narrow the options down to six amazing games. Each game will compete in the contest finale, which will be held at Fair Game Store in La Grange, IL on May 3rd. Read more about the esteemed finalists and judges, including CHITAG’s own Mary Couzin, below.


From hilarious sayings, to life sized game pieces, to outwitting your friends and family, these games are well suited for the Gray Matters Games family. The finalists come from across the country with exciting games that deserve to come to life and earn a space on the shelf. The competition will be close! Meet the individuals behind each game:

Kyle Hanley – Great Minds – Kyle was born and raised in Allentown, Pennsylvania. In 2015, he tried a little game called Pandemic and he's been hopelessly obsessed with the hobby ever since. He currently writes and maintains a board game blog on WordPress called Boar & Arrow. His other passions include video games, craft beer and procrastinating when he should be writing.

Eric Slauson – Wacronyms – Eric is a card and board game designer interested in creating memorable social experiences that challenge what games can be. His goal is to craft experiences that give players something to take away from the table, whether it's a new piece of art, an inside joke among friends, or a bit of trivia knowledge. His games Tattoo Stories and Nerd Words: Science are available now, and his new titles Monsdrawsity and Everybody Poops are coming soon.

Emilia Zywot and David Marron – It's a Trap – Emilia and David are up-and-coming board game designers with “It’s a Trap!” Being their first co-design. After meeting at a local board game group and playing hundreds of games together, Emilia and David connected on the design, mechanics, and vision for their games. While not designing or playing board games, Emilia is completing her Ph.D. In Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of North Carolina while David works on cancer research at UNC.

Justin Aram – Big Rollers – Justin is an award-winning Creative Director in the Chicago ad agency world. He’s been lucky enough to work on some big brands like Kellogg’s, Kraft and Wrigley—so you’ve probably seen his work on store shelves and on TV. And now he’s excited to be diving into the amazing Game Design community. He lives in the Chicago suburbs with his wife Brooke and their three little play testers: Weston, Olive and Wiley.

Matt Golec and Arun Mehra – Shapely – Matt and Arun live, work, and play games in the Upper Valley region of Vermont and New Hampshire. Matt also does some freelance journalism and has one other published design (Penny Press), while Arun travels the world working for a large software company. A couple of years ago, these two friends sat down at a local coffee shop and decided to try making board games together. Shapely, their first co-design, has been shown at PAX Unplugged, Unpub, and the Gray Matters Games design contest.

Pete Carrol, Gareth Breunlin and Eric Kozlowski – Slip It In – Founders Pete, Gareth, and Eric have a collective nine wild and amazing children, three supportive and beautiful wives, one dog, one super bowl ring, three torn Achilles’ tendons, three Big Ten bachelors’ degrees, one epic half-court shot competition story, and zero prior game development experience. They have lived within a scooter ride away from each other for most of their lives and besides breeding parrots they each enjoy a good laugh, drink, dinner, family outing, or game night anytime but often within the good company of each other. No, they don’t breed parrots, but they did just Slip It In!

Congratulations and best of luck to all the finalists!


The judges consist of industry experts that are well versed in the many stages that bring a game from idea to publication. Their backgrounds include design, marketing and business; all essential in the path to publishing a game.

Joe Barron

Founder and Inventor of Gray Matters Games

Lauren Barron

Founder of Gray Matters Games

Mary Couzin

President & Founder of Chicago Toy & Game Group

Travis Linderman

Managing Director at Innovation DuPage

Eric Brezina

Owner of Fair Game Store

Jodi Meusel

CEO of The Creative Fold

Kim Grotto

CEO of Grotto Marketing


The finale will be held at Fair Game in La Grange, IL on May 3rd, 2020. Fair Game is a family-friendly, community-focused board and card game retailer. They often host events and private parties, while always offering open doors to the community to stop in and play a variety of fun games. The finalist’s games will be put to the ultimate test while a limited number of community play testers and experts alike participate. The judges will be assessing the game in several strategic categories that make a published game a success. The game with the highest score will win a cash prize of $1000, followed by $250 for second and $100 for third. The winner will also have a publishing opportunity with Gray Matters Games.

This event is an opportunity to recognize game inventors, bring together the community and have fun! To stay up to date with the contest follow Gray Matters Games and Fair Game on Instagram and Facebook @GrayMattersGames and @FairGameStore.

Good luck to all the finalists!

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