December 15, 2017

Webster professor John Coveyou leads company in creating science-based tabletop games

To create a new board game, John Coveyou needs the following: cells, viruses, amino acids, ions, molecules and gases. Not literally, but figuratively.

Gaming went from a hobby to a business for Coveyou, an avid gamer. Coveyou wanted to play more science-themed games, so he thought about creating one. He ended up making six.

“A board game is a wonderful opportunity to gather friends, to have fun, to interact [and] to meet new people,” Coveyou said.

In 2014, Coveyou founded Genius Games, a game design company that publishes high-quality tabletop games based on hard science topics.

Coveyou received his undergraduate degree in Environmental Science with an emphasis on Biology from Washington University where he later completed his Master’s degree in Energy, Environmental and Chemical Engineering.

Coveyou teaches classes on game design and crowdfunding at Webster University as well as running Genius Games full-time.

As a child, Coveyou said he played a lot of popular games like Clue and Monopoly.

“It’s not just like the family game night anymore, it’s an entire booming industry now,” Coveyou said.

Genius games

Cytosis: A Cell Biology Game is Coveyou’s sixth science-based game. He launched a campaign on the crowdfunding Kickstarter website to help fund the project.

Junior video production major Erin Dean is a student in traditional game design, taught by Coveyou, and works as an intern at Genius Games. She is working on a docu-series with 10 episodes about the design on the game for the campaign.

“Working with John and Genius Games and seeing his hobbies and his love for board games become his professional career [has] inspired me even more to continue to pursue film, which is my passion, and know that you can make it possible,” Dean said.

Coveyou’s games have a focus on chemistry and biology, and he said they are branching out into physics topics. He has also written children’s books with different science themes.

“We haven’t yet made any games that are not hard science-themed, although I do work with other [gaming] companies,” Coveyou said.

Coveyou designs games and pitches new ideas to other gaming companies that are not science-based.

Cytosis is a “worker placement” game. Players have little “workers” and they select actions or resources by placing those workers in certain spots. Players compete to build enzymes, hormones and receptors and fend off attacking viruses.

Genius Games team member Shelley Spence said she is a big fan of worker placement games and how they can stir up competition without necessarily getting too cutthroat.

“I also think that worker placement was a really great way to gamify something synthesizing hormones and enzymes and things that happen within the cell,” Spence said.

Coveyou said creating all the details of a game can take a long time, depending on how big the game is.

“The real tough part is developing that game into a finished product that somebody would actually purchase,” Coveyou said.

Coveyou said developing the gameplay itself could take six months up to a year or two. He said they have been developing Cytosis for about two and a half years, from the idea to the point it is at now.

“We made sure the game was solid and ready and smooth and balanced and easy to play before we ever put artwork on it,” Coveyou said.

Coveyou said it took about four months before they actually had the artwork just right and preparing for the Kickstarter campaign, which took about three months.

“One of the things I teach my students at Webster is that the game design process is a process… you don’t just think of an idea for a game and turn it into a game a week later, it is a long process,” Coveyou said.

For more information on the company, visit www.gotgeniusgames.com.

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