Moving Pieces

Engineering the games that people play.

People imagine Peggy Brown working in a place like Santa’s workshop, but it’s actually a colorful Bay View house where the door to the bathroom just happens to be a bookcase. The designer of board games, lampshades, trivia, wordplay, Happy Meal toys, Pokémon and riddles is always working on something new and different for Target’s elves (among others).

People have no idea where games come from.

That’s obvious. At cocktail parties, I always try to hold off and not say what I do because, when it comes out, that’s all anybody wants to talk about. I always get, “Oh! I invented a game!” It’s amazing. I’ve seen the “Journey through Alcoholism” game and the “Finding Osama Bin Laden” game.

How did you get started in this?

I was hired as a staff designer at Western Publishing in Racine and started working on games right away. They had a “Creative Center,” an old dormitory along Lake Michigan, and we each had our own little room. There were close to 100 creatives in that building working on all their lines like coloring books and activities.

Of all the things you do, what do you enjoy the most?

I kind of like the variety. I like figuring out the game mechanics and making sure it doesn’t take nine hours to play and there’s always a clear winner. I like designing invisible and intangible things like the communication of players. Maybe it’s because I was a bossy kid. In a way, you’re orchestrating how people behave.

These games are often competitive and about beating each other.

I have a customer right now where all the games I make for them are cooperative. There’s no winner, and you actually play as a group against the game. Most of those games are for young children, and they’re becoming very popular. Parents are finding that they teach some important lessons.

How do you decide if something is too difficult?

If something is too hard, people hate it. It’s a delicate balance, but I try to be everyman. I did a game for People magazine and had to generate a list of 1,000 people. By the time you get past even 50, you’re running out of people everybody knows. You can say Elvis Presley, but if you’re 12, you don’t know who that is.

‘Moving Pieces’ appears in the December 2015 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find the December issue on newsstands Nov. 30.

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Matt has written for Milwaukee Magazine since 2006, when he was a lowly intern. Since then, he’s held the posts of assistant news editor and, most recently, senior editor. He’s lived in South Carolina, Tennessee, Connecticut, Iowa, and Indiana but mostly in Wisconsin. He wants to do more fishing but has a hard time finding worms. For the magazine, Matt has written about city government, schools, religion, coffee roasters and Congress.