In 2019 Mike Belsole and Grace Kendall put their money where their mouth was and established the Tabletop Mentorship Program. It does two important things; it connects industry experts to tabletop creators, and it provides micro-grants to people underrepresented in the hobby.
I spoke to Mike and Grace about how and why the Tabletop Mentorship Program started.
Why did you decide to carve out the time and money to set up the Tabletop Mentorship Program?
Mike: When I first started designing games and going to conventions to playtest it was a lot of fun, but I really didn’t know a lot about the industry. I got lucky that there were a couple of experienced professionals that took a shine to me early on and helped show me how the industry worked before I made too many rookie mistakes. We’ve had a pretty informal mentorship since then and they are absolutely responsible for where I am right now and how validated I feel. I know it’s tough to find your way in a new industry, especially one that’s built on networking and conventions. My intention was to strip those barriers away and make it easy for people to get a helping hand. This is why the program is online and free. It really didn’t take that much organizing. I threw it together in just over a week using free resources.
Should publishers in the tabletop gaming space do more to tackle diversity?
Grace: Obviously yes. Everyone should be doing more to work towards greater diversity in this industry, and publishers have a lot of power to make meaningful change.
Mike: Exactly. Start a focused grant program, scholarship, etc. Hire people of diverse backgrounds and identities and make them a part of your executive board. Start moving the needle from diversity to inclusion.
Grace: And hiring people really is the key. Pay them! We’re trying to learn how to do that and we don’t make any money through our projects. Publishers are in a unique position to pay individuals for their work, and should do so fairly.
Can anyone apply to be either a mentor or a mentee?
Mike: Yes! Anyone can apply for either role. We’ve had mentees who were veterans of their field and mentors who only just got started. When we match people we make sure that mentors are at least “a page ahead” of their mentee so that they can navigate them through the pitfalls and obstacles they went through.
If someone is struggling to progress their game idea, what three things would you recommend they do?
Grace: The first thing is to talk about it with someone else! It helps so much to talk through something out loud and get a new perspective. When I have a hard time moving forward on a project, I talk things through with Mike. You don’t have to be looking for advice, even – sometimes it’s just enough to try and explain your challenges to someone else. A mentor, friend, or playtester can be a great person to chat with.
Mike: Work on something else! Flex those design muscles on a different game for a bit and when you come back to the other one you will be better prepared to clear that hurdle. And for #3, PLAY GAMES! When you are struggling with your game, see how someone else solved theirs. Play published games, playtest unpublished games, play new games, play old games, and play digital games. Heck, even just reading the rules can be beneficial and may spark something for you.
Are there any examples of things that the micro-grants have achieved?
Grace: The program has just gotten started, so our first recipients have only had a month to put their funds to good use. Still, we’ve seen folks purchase software, cover living expenses, and feel validated in their efforts to focus on their game projects. We can’t wait to see what more people do as the program continues!
ou’re doing a fantastic thing with the Tabletop Mentorship Program but have you had to deal with anyone who doesn’t think so?
Mike: More-so when we were starting out. I would get feedback from some participants that was really fantastic constructive criticism and helped to shape what the program is today. We send out surveys at the end of every session and that helps us improve the next one. I really feel like it gets better every time.
If anyone reading this wants to donate to your micro-grant fund is that a thing they can do? Who should they get in contact with?
Grace: People can donate any amount to our Paypal (TabletopMicrogrants [at] gmail [dot] com), which is only used to fund the micro-grants, or they can reach out to us directly at the same address if they’d like to sponsor an entire month for $300.
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