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Ashley Mortensen
LDS couple Travis and Holly Hancock met at BYU and run a successful board game startup from their home in Columbus, Ohio.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Holly Hancock was at a young single adult ward activity at Brigham Young University when her now-husband, Travis, made a memorable first impression. He walked up to her and said, “Hi. What are you passionate about?” She was surprised.

“I could tell straight off that he was different and that he cared about passion and making things happen,” she said.

While moving into their new apartment a week after they got married, Holly Hancock said she noticed an old version of a game Travis had. Travis told her how he and his brothers had tweaked the rules and ended up making their own game.

“I didn’t even know that was something you could do, just make your own game,” Holly said. “Then (Travis) started thinking about it more, and I was dabbling in graphic design at the time. We thought, ‘This would be a fun project, a good side hobby.’ I didn’t see it as anything else.”

Neither Travis nor Holly expected their gaming hobby to turn into Facade Games, a successful board game startup that has raised more than $1 million on Kickstarter with its first three games. Deadwood 1876, the couple’s latest game, ended its month-long campaign on Kickstarter earlier this week with $587,000 in pledges.

Featured by CNBC earlier this month, Facade Games continues to grow in sales and gain attention for its success. Despite offers to expand their company, Travis and Holly Hancock are keeping their focus on the most important element of their business: family.

Getting started

Travis and Holly, both members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, moved to Columbus, Ohio, from Springville, Utah, in October 2017. Travis, who is from Beavercreek, Ohio, was raised in a family of nine children who loved playing games together.

Inspiration for their first game, Salem, originally started with ideas from the game Mafia, a social-deduction game in which each player tries to identify the roles of the other players. Travis had created a Harry Potter version of Mafia with friends during one summer in Alaska and then changed it to a game called City. After meeting his wife and working on the game together, the game took on a new theme: the Salem Witch Trials.

In 2014, Travis and Holly found illustration major Sarah Keele on the BYU job board. Keele said she researched visual references and fashion trends from the time period of the game to "make each piece feel like it is in the same world." With the rules, illustrations and design solified, Travis and Holly decided to put the game on Kickstarter.

Jes Childress
Facade Games' Tortuga, Salem and Deadwood have raised over $1 million on Kickstarter.

“The first game, especially, we really weren’t expecting much and we didn’t do a lot of telling people about it,” said Travis, a graduate of the BYU business strategy program. “We just put it up and I think people really responded to it being in a book and it being a social-deduction type of game.”

Salem raised over $100,000 in spring 2015. Travis quit his full-time job at an ad agency in Provo to focus on games but continued to some digital marketing consulting on the side with his own company. The couple launched their second game, Tortuga 1667, on Kickstarter in January 2017 and raised $400,000. Travis then decided to pursue games full-time and Holly left her job as an elementary school teacher at the end of that school year.

The husband-and-wife duo went to work on Deadwood 1876, which ended its run on Kickstarter on March 22 and it will be released this fall. With over half a million in pledges, Deadwood is their highest-grossing game yet.

Family focus

Keele, who now lives in Orem, Utah, with her husband and is pregnant with her second daughter, has created almost 90 illustrations for cards and game pieces for Facade Games so far. She said Travis and Holly’s family values are evident in their work.

“It’s the dark city series, but still family friendly,” Keele said. “We can do it dark and get that spooky vibe that can be enjoyed without putting things in it that go against our values.”

Travis said he and Holly like the pace of releasing one game each year and aren’t planning to grow the company anytime soon.

“There have been lots of people who have come to us and say, ‘Hey, hire me.’ or ‘Publish this game’ or ‘We have this idea for turning your game into an app.’ There’s all kinds of opportunities which would take time away from each other,” Travis said. “We’ll keep focused on why we’re doing this and make sure we keep lots of time for our family.”

Working from home has created a lot of flexibility for the husband-and-wife duo, which Holly said has been especially beneficial now with a 9-month-old daughter. Travis takes care of the business side of Facade Games as well the concept and manufacturing part of the games, while Holly works on the design elements once a game is ready and complete with illustrations.

Facade Games
Travis and Holly Hancock with their 9-month old daughter, Margo.

“I never really wrapped my mind around what it meant to start a family and be the mom in the family,” Holly said. “Being with Travis and seeing his dream for this family business and family lifestyle has been so important to me and totally enriched my life."

Travis said creating games with his wife has been a fun experience and working together has allowed them to see sides of each other they wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

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“I’m a perpetual optimist,” Travis said. “She’s more of a worrier and she always brings up the worse-case scenario. But that’s been really good because that’s helped us charge ahead with my optimism but also be weary of potential issues. So that’s been good teamwork in that regard.”

Travis said one of his favorite parts about being a game maker is what he describes in his product's purpose: "to create fun, lasting memories with families and friends."

“It’s just so great being able to do that and be part of that process of helping people get more connected over our games," he said.