Make a Venn diagram of startup life, add the strategy of role-play games, and you get UPSTART! The board game provides a fun and engaging way for people to try their hand at entrepreneurship — sans the actual investment of time and resources.

“It allows those who are more averse to risk to take bigger chances in a safer environment,” explains Richard Dacalos.

He developed the game with his team at Social Play and Innovation Network (SPIN), a startup that consolidates multiple disciplines to address social issues through entrepreneurship.

“I think one of the biggest inspirations was after I played a game of Cashflow 101 by Robert Kiyosaki,” he recalls. And while it taught him a lot about managing finances and accounting, he was looking for a more immersive experience simulating the actual process of starting a business.

“As an entrepreneur, I thought it would be great to experience all of the success and failures of running a business through a board game,” he says, adding “That way I could accelerate my own learning.”

A fun learning tool

Dacalos and his team spent a year and a half testing and developing UPSTART to make it market-ready and to strike a good balance between reality and fun. In fact, some scenarios in the game are inspired by their own experiences in setting up ventures at Social Play and Innovation Network.

They’ve tested UPSTART with a diverse set of players — these include career corporate employees, athletes, high school students and even development workers — but the game really targets those who want to learn more about running a startup, including students and young professionals. “The game is mainly a learning tool but in many ways it can be played just for fun,” says Dacalos.

Even those who already have their own business can use UPSTART to become more aware of the routines and mindsets they practice when it comes to running their own venture — a way to hack into their habits. “Looking at the various actions you automatically take […] can allow a player to get valuable insight into [their] strategies,” he says.

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How to play

“One of the most unique things about UPSTART is that it allows you to role-play,” says Dacalos. In the same vein as Dungeons and Dragons, UPSTART lets players choose their character’s background — the developer suggests picking one that’s close to a real-life situation — which will impact their starting conditions and available options in the game.

Players then take turns pulling out various cards such as breakdowns, opportunities and life cards, and taking actions such as expending hours and money that will affect their character’s life and business.

Victory is yours if your character raises enough capital to scale up the startup, acquires a large user base or amasses huge personal wealth.

With the standard rules, two to five players can participate in UPSTART. But with a skilled Invisible Hand — the UPSTART equivalent of a Dungeon Master in Dungeons & Dragons, who manages the game and controls the rules and conditions that affect players — the rules and scenarios can be adjusted to accommodate as many as 10 participants.

“For example, you might lower all conditions to simulate an economic recession or make everyone skip the incubation phase so the risks are higher,” he explains. “In fact, I think one of the most attractive things about the game is that we also have a campaign mode, where you can play with bigger goals,” he adds.

Crowdfunding goals

Currently, UPSTART is available through its campaign on The Spark Project, with a PHP 300,000 (US$6400) goal. Through crowdfunding, UPSTART’s Founders not only hope to raise funds for the first mass production run but to connect with the local business community.

“Our plan is to work with the community to help develop UPSTART events and workshops locally. […] After delivering the boards to our backers, we will be strategising our next steps and distribution
channels for the remaining boards,” says Dacalos, anticipating an international launch for the game in the near future.

The highest donation tiers of the crowdfunding campaign come with the title of ‘UPSTART Ambassador and Entrepreneur’. These backers – apart from receiving the board game below retail price – will also get to attend a seminar where they will learn how to use the board and maximise its potential as an Invisible Hand. However, this is a limited-time offer, as Dacalos and his partners expect licensing rights to rise after UPSTART passes its first-year mark.

UPSTART Ambassadors and Entrepreneurs will also be granted a year’s worth rights to hold their own UPSTART events, which Dacalos describes as a combination of networking sessions and game nights. “[They] can charge participants to join — much like what they do with Cashflow 101 events — and earn from hosting these official UPSTART nights,” he says.

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“[For example,] if you have one board and licensing rights, you can invite five people to play the game and then charge them PHP 500 (US$11) each for attending the event. After two game nights, you have already earned back [the cost of the board game],” concludes Dacalos.