By Lauren Daley ’05
Growing up in Lewiston, Me., Tom Deschenes ’04 loved playing classic board games with his family. But it wasn’t until he walked into the lounge of O’Hara Hall one day that he got hooked.
Greg Lufkin '05, Andrew Rossi '05, and Ray Powers ’05 introduced Deschenes “to a whole new world of gaming” when he joined the group playing a Star Wars game one day in 2003.
“I didn't know there were games beyond the simple classics like Monopoly, Clue and Trivial Pursuit… It was unlike anything I had ever seen,” the former Stonehill English major and secondary education minor recalled.
“It was like going from reading an R.L. Stine horror story to reading Shakespeare's ‘Macbeth’ — the complexity and inexhaustibility of these new games was so rewarding, rich and enjoyable. I had never known that this category of game existed until then," he added.
Deschenes, who earned his Master’s degree in Liberal Arts with a Concentration in English from Harvard University in 2016, now lives in Portland, Me. and works as the Director of Business Development for Kaplan Higher Education. His passion for board games, meanwhile, has entered a whole new level.
At the start of 2011, Deschenes made a list of “10 wacky goals” to accomplish — designing his own strategy board game was one of them, although he had "no idea what my game would be about.” Literature inspired the English student.
“One night when I was reading ‘Dracula' for a graduate-school class, I was inspired as if a muse had whispered in my ear,” he said. “I dropped my book and started sketching a board and monsters and the overall objective of the game, which would focus on players being poisoned by a mad king and having to venture out across a vast and dangerous landscape to collect ingredients for their unique antidotes. I have no idea how the idea came to me, but in the span of a few minutes, I had all of the basic elements of the game scrawled in front of me.”
The eventual result, Quest for the Antidote, made its debut on the convention circuit this summer — at Origins Game Fair in Columbus, San Diego Comic Con and Gen Con in Indianapolis, and is on shelves now.
The premise: You have been poisoned by the “Mad King” and now have to venture across a vast and dangerous landscape in search of the ingredients you need for your unique antidote. In your quest for the antidote, you have to battle monsters, find treasures, and dodge your opponents' meddling along the way.
Deschenes tested prototypes along the way with the three fellow alumni who introduced him to the world of gaming that day in O’Hara.
“These guys were pros and had many more years of strategy gaming under their belts than I had, so they were able to exploit some of the game's major issues and gaps, which helped me figure out how to best balance my game,” said Deschenes, who also credits Professor Wendy Chapman Peek’s Medieval Literature course as inspiration.
“Prior to that course, I’d never read classic tales of knights and maidens and dragons and wizards like Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and Grettir's Saga,” he said. “Professor Peek really made those works come to life, and I found that I connected with the themes and virtues of epic fantasy.”
Once he had a solid prototype, Deschenes hired artist Scott Sherman to help illustrate the 50 characters, each with a unique background and characteristics. Deschenes, by the way, is a guy who knows something about creating characters — he won Harvard's “Dean's Prize for Outstanding Liberal Arts Thesis” for his paper on “Shakespeare's Paraliptic Characters.”
The illustrations — which are gorgeously intricate — took about 18 months, after which “I had a pretty sleek prototype that was ready for the public. So I took it to a series of gaming conventions…Honestly, I set out just to create a game as a fun project and something I'd only play with my friends — but once I saw the response it was getting by the gaming community, I realized I may have something special on my hands. I spent the next two years traveling the world and pitching my game to various gaming companies.”
He sold the game this year to Upper Deck, a company long known for its sports trading cards and memorabilia as well as their gaming division which has released mass-market board games for Disney, Marvel, and Universal Studios over the last 20 years.
Deschenes is hoping the game will expand into a franchise, and is working on four expansion ideas, or sequel games, for Quest for the Antidote now.
In the meantime, you can find the game online on Amazon and Upper Deck, and at Wal-Mart and smaller toy and game stores worldwide. It should be available at Target, Toys-R-Us, and Barnes & Noble in the coming months, he said.