BY ALEEN ARSLANIAN
LITTLE ARMENIA—Daron Kaloustian, a sophomore at Providence High School, has produced his first original board game. Fascinated by the stock market from a young age, Daron began conceptualizing HIRE! when he was only 12-years-old.
Growing up, Daron often played board games at home with his family. His hobbies include playing, as well as creating, games, gardening, and reading and writing about financial responsibility. Daron had devised other games prior to creating HIRE!, but none were developed past their mechanics. This is his first board game in production.
Earlier this month, Daron took HIRE! to GenCon at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis, Indiana, from August 1 to 4. There, he had the opportunity to not only network in this new field, but to have his board game playtested by complete strangers in the first exposure playtest hall.
HIRE!, a game where individuals compete to rule the stock market, includes aspects such as portals, disaster zones, and cryptocurrency, which you can double-up or nothing with to make a comeback in the game. After multiple playtests with his family, and the help of artist David Marzbetuny, HIRE! is now available for pre-purchase on Kickstarter. For more information, follow HIRE! on Instagram or visit the website.
Recently, Daron sat down with us for an interview at Asbarez. With him, he brought the original prototype for HIRE!. This consisted of a board, hand-drawn by pencil, on a thin white sheet of paper. He also brought the latest version of the board game, which includes both cryptocurrency and genderless characters with both male and female character names to choose from.
Aleen Arslanian: How and when did you first come up with the idea for HIRE!?
Daron Kaloustian: This game is something that came out of my passion, my hobbies. I’ve always been into numbers; I always liked math in school. But, what stuck out to me the most is that I’ve always been interested in the financial world, and I never really actually thought of doing something with it until I was 12 years-old. I thought, “Let’s start doing creative things.”
This is actually not my first board game. I mean, it’s the first one we’re going to publish officially, but I’ve done a couple of board games in the past that aren’t as good, but are still creative. I’ve always liked games, too. I told myself, “Okay, I’ve got a passion; I should do something with it.” Just because this isn’t the normal thing people my age do, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t go for it. I started drawing on a piece of paper, and I didn’t fill it out all at once, of course. I filled it out as I went.
My family has been playing board games for a long time, but when they saw, and played, this one, despite it looking very primitive and only drawn on a piece of paper with pencil, they said, “This concept is actually really cool and you can develop it.” I thought that was crazy—I don’t think my family has ever believed in me this much before. I know it’s a joke; your family is always supposed to support anything you do, but I really felt it this time. I knew I had to continue developing the game.
A.A.: I heard that you started investing in the stock market when you were 12-years-old. What piqued your interest at such a young age?
D.K.: Well, I guess you can say, as far as the financial part of it, I was always interested in money, because who isn’t, right? I liked the idea of money, but I couldn’t imagine ways to actually have fun with it. I was looking at articles online, and that’s how I discovered the stock market. Of course, my parents were skeptical, too. The idea of the stock market was cool, but I didn’t know anything about it. I liked to pretend, back in the day, that I knew everything about it, that I’d get an investment and it’d be great. But I didn’t know the first thing about it, until I asked my parents. They said that I could start saving up small amounts of birthday money here and there to try investing. It’s not really something that gets you a lot, but the real value in that—me investing as a 12-year-old with small amounts of money—is just the education. I didn’t even realize that back then, it was just fun for me. I really do believe that’s how I got my interest in the stock market. I was already interested in playing with numbers.
A.A.: At what point did you decide to use the idea of the stock market for a board game?
D.K.: I’ve always liked games, any kind of games. I like board games, and I do like video games sometimes, but I really liked thinking about these ideas and mechanics. Mechanics is the key word, because that’s what makes games what they are. When you travel around the board a certain way and this is the number of things you can do—those are all the mechanics. I realized everything in life has mechanics. The stock market has mechanics; it works in a certain way. I thought it was time to reap all the benefits—by taking all the fun stuff about the financial world and about board games and meshing them into one thing, which is something I tried doing here. And, after updating it, it turned into something that was actually pretty good looking and pretty cool. I try to look at the fun side of things in life and that’s why, even though it’s a board game about the stock market, it’s not actually exactly like the stock market, and it’s still really fun. It’s a strategy game but it’s also a party game at the same time.
A.A.: What was the inspiration for the name of the board game?
D.K.: I thought about the stock market, but also realized that it can’t just be a board game about stocks randomly going up and down. That was something I thought of a little later. For a while, I thought there had to be at least one extra thing, one thing that really stands out, because there have been stock market games before. Some of them were pretty successful, some of them not so much. Those all seemed too realistic to the stock market, because it has to be a game. I thought I’d try something new. I created little spaces on the board, next to the companies, because the way it works is, if you land in a certain spot, you draw an imaginary line and you combine sales, so that’s why I put the buildings in. I thought I could add more. I added what’s supposed to be streets in between, but then realized I wanted to include floor traders, so you can actually hire them—they’re the bulls and bears, because that’s stock market terminology.
Also, there are three different leveled bears and three different bulls. Bulls take the stock up and bears take it down, but you can actually influence the stock company of your choice if you have one of these on the board. And you can only have one on the board at the same time, so if someone else lands on a HIRE! space, your floor trader actually goes away. So, you have to keep it in strategy and you have to keep it in mind, but this is the only way to influence stocks of your choice. And of course, it didn’t come to me exactly like this, right away.
In the first version of it, you could actually pick how much power this guy has and how much shield he has, but then that was too complicated. I actually didn’t know the game was going to be named HIRE! I tried to think about what the most important part of the game was. Well, it’s a stock market board game, but unlike no other stock market board game before, you can “hire” bulls and bears. The original name was supposed to be “Bulls and Bears,” but that name was already taken. The good part about the name HIRE! is that it’s catchy, fun, and simple.
A.A.: What age-group does the game target, and how many players can play at once?
D.K.: You can play it when you’re younger, but it’s probably better to play it when you’re 10 or older, so you can at least understand a few basic ideas. It’s not that complicated. 2 – 7 players can play at a time, if you play a standard game (90 minutes). That could be customizable, too. What you can do, too, is, you can actually choose how many round turns to play, so it could be 10, it could be 20, and it could be 25. If you want to play with a lot of people and just have it be a fun party game, that’s a little bit more random, you can play with less turns, or more turns. You roll the dice to see who goes first, and you all start on this “Opening Bell” space. And every time you pass it, you can collect another set of your dividends. Your stocks give dividends at the start of each of your turns. But if you pass this—and portals might help you pass it, too—you can get extra dividends, which is cool. Of course, each time you go around the board once, it represents a year of investing. But it’s all about thinking of small little ways to better like that.
A.A.: You came up with the concept for HIRE! three years ago, can you tell us about the process?
D.K.: At first, when we were playing with this board, we had no actual pieces—we’d just take pieces from other games. Because there are so many different things to keep track of, there isn’t actually money in this game. We had a bunch of calculators that we were typing numbers into as things went up and down, but it was taking way too long. That was the one thing we knew had to be fixed. It was a cool concept, but we had to make it shorter. So, what my dad does is, he makes a spreadsheet that has our player names, our money, and the stocks. That was a little faster, but it was still way too slow, but we had that one for a while.Then, my brother, he actually knows a thing or two about coding, was able to make a basic kind of calculating software that was a lot faster. You did have to input stuff, but it was way faster than the spreadsheet and the calculators. It was good, but not professional.
Here’s where it gets interesting. We thought, “Maybe we can find someone or somehow develop an app for this game.” It was crazy to us at first, but after a while, we found a couple of friends. They said, “Okay, just tell me a few basic things of how you might want it to look.” We described it, and now we actually have a demo version of the app running. It keeps track of everything for you and everything’s done in a click of a button; it’s really easy. So after playing with that, we really believed it’s the best it could be now. And that was the biggest part. Now all you need is some spaces, you need these portals which you place here in these black semicircles (which is a part of the game), you need the characters, and you need all that. But you don’t need paper bills that are all over the place. It’s not going to take that long. It’s going to be pretty quick and easy, actually.
A.A.: Are there any differences between the original board and what it is now?
D.K.: Sort of. At first, you can see there’s no art here. I didn’t have portals. Then I thought, since this looks futuristic too, we can have futuristic elements, like portals. Basically, after this was all filled in—I did have most of the basic mechanics. I had high rank floor traders, I had portals, I had running around and buying stocks based on your location, and I even had these disaster spaces, too. It’s kind of like a big effect on the stock market (disaster zones like there are now, different types of big influences). The mechanics were all there. It just took a while for me to express it in a way that was more professional and cleaner looking. I never thought I could get this far. I thank everyone that helped me. Shout out to all of them, my family and my friends that helped me, because there’s no way I could have done this myself. It would look like this and it would be fun, but it would be way too slow, and it’d be way too slow.
Also, one thing you’d notice is there’s a few mystery spaces here. I took those out eventually. On this board, there’s actually crypto-coin, which is this game’s version of cryptocurrency, which is cool, too. That’s a very unstable element of the game, but it makes it fun. There was no cryptocurrency at all or crypto-coin on this version. So, it took me a while to also add that extra element. But I thought, every extra element I could add, that didn’t make it feel too burdened, would be really cool and I should go for it; I should try to see how it looks. And that really is just a couple of the things that I hadn’t thought of at first.
A.A.: How do the portals work? Do you keep the crypto-coins on the board? Or do you give a certain amount to each player?
D.K.: You give all the same colored ones to their respective players. And there’s more of course in other boxes. Each player gets 15. But what they do is, throughout the course of the game, if you pay a little extra, you can buy a portal on the space you were on. And what that does is, if you have two or more of the portals (three or more though would be best), once you go around the board at least once and you land on another portal space or one of your portal spaces that you’ve landed on before, you can teleport to another one of your portal spaces instead of rolling the next turn, which could be useful especially in a game that takes a little longer. Maybe you don’t want to do it in a 10-turn game, but that’s the fun part. Every game is different. There are so many strategic things that go on. It’s pretty random, too, and it keeps you interested.
A.A.: What was the most challenging part of the process?
D.K.: There were a few obstacles along the way. Most of them were small, thankfully. As far as the biggest challenge, I would say it’s sometimes having a space or something on this version or the original version that I really liked but I knew it wasn’t going to work, and I just had to discard that concept or even just discard a couple spaces that I really liked, because they were cool and random. I like random. But, some of the times, it just doesn’t work. For example, these mystery spaces, I wanted random things to happen, and I’d like to have “roll again” spaces. And on this board, it was change floor traders’ health to 1; at first, they actually had health, too. I liked that concept.
One of the biggest challenges is just accepting that sometimes you have to discard a few things. But, it’s all worthwhile in the end, because you know it’s better now. That could be hard for a lot of people when they’re doing anything creative. Sometimes, even people who write books, if they write a chapter and they realize it just doesn’t fit, discarding the whole chapter’s hard. But you can still store it and tell the story. Eventually, it just adds to the whole story. So, even though it’s hard sometimes, actively thinking of ways to replace certain things you’ve created, it all ends up turning out well if you mean well, I would think.
A.A.: You just got back from AYF camp and you’re preparing for your sophomore year of high school, how are you juggling everything?
D.K.: I just find time, and I want to keep everything in moderation. I don’t necessarily want to stick with extracurricular activities I don’t like. Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t get involved; I just keep it in moderation. I make sure school is good, and it keeps me challenged, but not too much. And this keeps me challenged, but not too much, of course. That’s the way to keep it in moderation. And I’m glad that, my parents too, know that that’s a good way to do it—the balance. I had an hour or two each day to work on this, unlike some kids who don’t have time at all. Because they want to grind so hard, they forget what’s actually meaningful. Because of that, I was able to make this by myself, with the help of some people, and I’m able to make this Kickstarter now. I’m so thankful for that moderation and balance in my whole life, because it keeps you good, but it doesn’t make your schedule too empty to keep you sluggish. It doesn’t overwork you, and all of a sudden you want to retire at 24.