Alberta designer crowdfunds $110K for Tiny Ninjas board game

What started as a hobby for a Sylvan Lake, Alta. resident has turned into a business catering to thousands worldwide.

Sylvan Lake resident with 'lots of ideas' turns hobby into business venture

Ryan Leininger says his wife Layla has helped him develop his crowdfunded board games. (Ryan Leininger)

Ryan Leininger always liked board games but he never thought he'd design one.

"I've been a gamer my whole life and I just figured one day it'd be a fun project to kind of make my own."

What started as a hobby for the Sylvan Lake, Alta. resident has turned into a business catering to thousands worldwide.

Leininger, who runs a photography and video production company with his wife Layla, completed his second successful Kickstarter campaign in late May, drawing pledges from over 2,000 people.

His first game, Tiny Ninjas, raised just over $60,000 during its 2018 crowdfunding effort .

The sequel, Tiny Ninjas: Heroes, has raised $110,000.

"It just started with a piece of paper and a pen," Leininger said in an interview with CBC Edmonton's Radio Active on Wednesday. "[I] just started jotting down some ideas and cutting out some cards and play-testing."

Ryan Leininger designed Tiny Ninjas: Heroes to be a more complex sequel to his 2018 original, Tiny Ninjas. (Ryan Leininger)

Between then and now, research has been key to development, with the internet offering many avenues to better craft games and understand the market, Leininger said.

But drawing backers to a crowdfunding campaign is just the first step — many project creators mismanage the production process and more than a few have gone bankrupt. 

Leininger said counting the dollars and cents is crucial to success, even as the pandemic has made shipping a particular focal point.

"Being able to adapt to constantly changing global conditions is very important."

He said it's likely the success of his first campaign, and the eventual delivery of the product, that boosted Tiny Ninjas: Heroes.

"Running that first campaign, there was such a massive learning curve, and I really didn't know what to expect," he said. 

"So much is learned along the way."

Leininger isn't the first Alberta game designer to find success in crowdfunding. In 2017, Gordon Hamilton's Santorini board game raised over $700,000 on the Kickstarter platform. 

Criticism is integral

Leininger said it took about two years to design the original Tiny Ninjas, and another two years to design the sequel. That includes hours of taking the game out for play-testing.

Getting a game out there can be one of the biggest hurdles for would-be designers, he said. 

"Game design is still a form of creativity, it's a form of artwork," he said. "So people are afraid to kind of show people and get criticism and feedback, but that's an integral part of the process."

His advice? Be prepared for negative feedback.

"You've got to develop a bit of a thick skin and be prepared for people to not like your game," he said.

Tiny Ninjas is a 10-minute two-play battling card game. Its sequel is more strategic but still casual. The average game clocks in at around a half-hour, far different from some board games that can take hours to finish.

"You need to kind of zero in to the audience that you think it's kind of catered to, and really focus on their feedback because they're the ones that you're eventually going to be selling it to, mostly likely," Leininger said.

With two successful Kickstarter campaigns for his company, 2niverse, he said his hobby-turned-business won't be closing shop any time soon.

"I've got lots of plans for new games in the future as well."