The Little Boardgame That Could

There's a boardgame renaissance going on and the utterly addictive British game Linkee is leading the charge. Meet the guys who are about to be responsible for consuming your every free moment.

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Linkee, says its creators, is a boardgame for people who don't like boardgames. It's fast, it's fun, and it has a set of rules that takes mere seconds to convey. What's not to love?

"The game itself takes about 20 minutes to play, and so no one gets bored waiting for their turn to come around," says Tristan Hyatt-Williams, a former advertising man and lifelong boardgame geek.

This is how to play. Pay attention. It's a shout-out quiz game suitable for family and friends in which the object is to answer four questions on a card, then work out what links those answers together, at which point you shout "Linkee!"—like you mean it, please. If you get it right, you win a letter, and you keep going until you have won enough letters to spell out L-I-N-K-E-E, forcing your disgruntled opponent to concede defeat, and, if you've set things up right, get the next round of drinks in.

The men behind the myth. From left: Dean Tempest, Tristan Hyatt-Williams, and Ben Drummond.
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"It's very addictive," says Hyatt-Williams. Of course he would say that, having invented the thing, but a surprisingly high number of people seem to agree: In a world where, until very recently, successfully launching the next great boardgame could seem a little like walking up Everest backwards, or even just opening a successful book or record store, Linkee is bucking a trend. Last year, without major advertising or major funding, it sold 40,000 units. "In some British toy stores, it was outselling Trivial Pursuit," Hyatt-Williams says.

A still life inside the offices of Big Potato.

It all started out as an innocent pastime in 2012, something to make the lunch hour go by a little faster. Hyatt-Williams and his advertising partner Ben Drummond, both then in their late thirties, would play it over sandwiches in the office. Colleagues would wander over and stay, until suddenly the whole ad agency's lunch hour was dominated by the game. Then a 24-year-old psuedo-entrepreneur, Dean Tempest, joined the firm, and quickly became convinced they could turn this into a business.

Colleagues would wander over and stay, until suddenly the whole ad agency's lunch hour was dominated by the game.

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Before long, they were appearing on the British version of Shark Tank, Dragon's Den (where they declined an ungenerous offer from one of the multimillionaire Dragons in favor of retaining independence), and becoming a word-of-mouth sensation. A year later, it inspired a TV quiz show, The Link, that ran on the BBC for two years. The trio then quit their jobs—they had worked in a variety of agencies over the years, among them Iris in London—to work on its development full-time. They also have several other games in the works through their new company, Big Potato, among them Bucket of Doom, Qwordie, and one called Obama Llama, which tests your rhyming prowess.

Obama Llama. The next game sensation?

"We've been lucky because there's been something of a boardgame renaissance recently," says Hyatt-Williams. "There are now boardgame cafes opening all over the place, and it's become cool again to go around your friends' houses with some beers and play boardgames, rather than video games."

Dinkee: that would be Linkee for kids, of course.

Now about to launch in the U.S., the core of Linkee's appeal, he believes, is its retro value. We live our lives staring at phones, our iPads, but everybody needs some time off from Facebook and, you know, other social media. (You can play it via an app, too, should the idea of straying too far from your screen seem a little too retro.)

"It is surprisingly gratifying to sit around playing a game with family and friends," he says. Then, perhaps remembering his advertising background, he adds: "Try it!"

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