Bellwether Games

By Clint Kimberling
Dennis Hoyle has always had an interest in board games and card games. Even from a young age, he knew that he wanted to make a career out of designing and making games. He grew up playing classic strategy games like Risk and Shogun, but as he got older, he began to think of concepts for his own games. He even designed his own board game while he was still in high school.
Most people think that, due to the proliferation and popularity of video games, analog games have died off. Not so, says Hoyle. The board game industry has shown growth recently, due in part to crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter. He explains, “Games take off when people share them with each other. Kickstarter is a great community for that.”
The Illinois native majored in English and Public Relations at Mississippi State, and before leaving Starkville, he received an MBA—a program he completed with the goal of starting a business and publishing games.
In 2011, Hoyle designed a working prototype for a strategy card game he called Drop Site. Drop Site won the Carta Mudni special prize for the best card game, for which he earned 1,000 copies manufactured for free. “It was a real great feeling, to get positive feedback on something you created.”
Based on that success, he decided start Bellwether Games. His first goal was marketing and selling the 1,000 copies of Drop Site. Hoyle acknowledges that his MBA degree came into use almost immediately. He also received support from the MSU Entrepreneurship Center.
In 2014, Hoyle launched a campaign to fund a game called Antidote—the first game he published on his own. Hoyle met his goal, raising over $45,000 through Kickstarter to manufacture the game. Antidote is now one of their most popular games now and will get even more exposure as Hoyle recently learned that Antidote would be mailed to Bento Board Game subscribers as part of their monthly subscription.
In Antidote, 2-7 players act as laboratory scientists working for a giant chemical research conglomerate. When the lab is suddenly exposed to a deadly toxin, players must work quickly to share their research and discover the antidote before it’s too late.
Antidote is similar to Clue in that it uses deductive reasoning. Players must engage in a battle of wits to deduce the correct antidote before the deadly compound takes its lethal effect. However, as players begin to solve the puzzle, it becomes clear that maybe they shouldn’t share everything they know with others.
Eventually, all but one of a player’s cards will run out, and that one card is the one that they must “drink” and hope it’s the antidote. If this card is the true antidote, the player is cured and lives! If not, then they die, at least until the next game starts.
At the heart of Antidote, Hoyle says, “Is the concept of telling vs. showing. How can you tell what’s true? And with your conviction in place, how do you act? People tell me, ‘This game really resembles decision-making you see in real life, that I use in my job.’ You have to make some guess as to what other players think and the ending can be a total surprise.”
This summer Hoyle decided to make Bellwether his full-time job. He’s taken on more projects, working with other game designers to manufacture games, and is currently running several Kickstarter campaigns to make new games.
At the heart of each game is discovery—one of Bellwether’s tenets for making games. Hoyle says, “Every game we produce endeavors to be new or unique or to ask you to look at the world a little differently than you have before.”
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