LDS convert makes a career out of board games

By Erica Palmer

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, June 25 2014 6:31 p.m. MDT

Updated: Wednesday, June 25 2014 6:31 p.m. MDT

Al Waller's wife, Lorie, stands in front of the company's booth at the ASTRA toy convention in Phoenix, Arizona. Waller often takes his family to conventions to help sell his games and try out new ones.

Al Waller

Some say life isn't all fun and games.

For Al Waller, who is a husband, father, LDS convert and CEO of Out of the Box Publishing Co., life is just that.

Waller's company publishes family board games, the most famous of which was Apples to Apples.

"It's like family game night every single night of our lives," said his daughter Burgundy Waller, who was 8 years old when Apples to Apples came out in 1999. She remembers sitting around the table with her siblings and testing games for her dad.

But although Al Waller grew up loving board games, he didn't see it as a career path.

"In my youth, that was far from any visions that I had of being a pilot or doctor or lawyer, or anything that would earn an income," he said. "I don't think many people, when they are young, see making games as a viable business."

As he got older, games lost importance in his life, as did religion. Despite his strong Catholic roots, he began to fall away from God.

Finding religion

One day as a young adult, Waller decided to get on his knees and pray for the first time in years.

"I actually remember getting an answer," he said. "That was a turning point because I had forgotten God, but he had not forgotten me."

Shortly after this experience, Waller returned home to Wisconsin where he came in contact with a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who refused to do business with him on a Sunday. He was curious, and she connected him with the missionaries.

The Mormon missionaries answered questions Waller had always had and for which he had never known how to find the answers.

"I remember sitting there and hearing a voice in my head of Heavenly Father saying, 'These are the questions you asked back in the sixth grade,' " he said. "It was at that point I knew I had to listen to these young men that were trying to teach me something."

Six weeks from his first missionary discussion, Waller was baptized. He served an LDS mission a year later.

Permission to play

He said the two years of missionary service gave him the courage to leave his engineering career behind to become an entrepreneur, something he had always wanted to do. He began experimenting with startups and starting his own businesses.

This wouldn't be the last time the gospel led him in a new career direction. When "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" was released by the church's First Presidency in 1995, one line that really stood out to him was "wholesome recreational activities" as part of a successful family.

"I was setting goals, I was working hard, I was being a good dad, I was doing all those things I thought I was supposed to be doing," Waller said. "But when I read that, it was like, 'You're not playing enough. You're just this serious dad.' "

Waller said this got him to start thinking about games again and to consider the business world behind them.

"It was almost like the Lord himself gave me permission to go out and play," he said. "I don't know if that's what the prophet intended when they originally wrote that, but that's how it worked for me."

Waller started a board game publishing company with a friend, and although they didn't get off to a great start, they soon found Apples to Apples.

He said they met the inventor of the game at a trade show. Although they weren't there to buy games, Waller felt inspired to listen to what the inventor had to say.

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