CYBORG MOM (by Tom Russell)

Mary Russell

Tags business

We're a small company, and that's by design. Being small and somewhat marginal allows us to take creative risks without risking our financial well-being. While we've grown our business over the last two-plus years, adding titles to our catalogue, adding components such as cards and wood bits to our games, and winning over new customers, we've also been careful to try and control that growth, and to stay small. 

Partially this is because we've seen countless other examples of small businesses that got too big too quickly, and then collapsed as the things that made it work as a small-and-scrappy up-and-comer proved incapable of scaling up to meet new challenges. Hollandspiele is the plan for the rest of our working lives, so we need to make sure it can sustain us for a long time to come. More than that, Mary and I are the sort of people that like to own our successes and our failures, and we don't like being in the position where we're dependent on someone else to do something correctly.

A quick anecdote to illustrate this. Way back when, I was acting in a motion picture, directed by a friend. I'm going to call it Cyborg Mom. That film had a cast of nearly a hundred people and a two hundred page script, and many of the cast members were press-ganged into being crew members. I remember one shoot in particular. The director had paid a fair amount of money to rent the location, and had spent a considerable amount of time getting fifteen cast members all in the same place at the same time. The shoot lasted six or seven hours. The leading lady, who was not in the scene, was running the camera. She had a pair of headphones on in order to check the sound. Before we started, the director asked, "Are we recording sound? Can you hear me alright?"

"Yes," she said. 

"How are the levels?"

"They're great." 

You probably know where I'm going with this. When the director got back home and started digitizing the footage, he discovered to his shock and horror that none of the footage had any sound. I happened to be there at the time to assist, and we determined that the headphones worked fine, the microphone worked fine, the camera worked fine. She must have had the audio set to the wrong channel - so she was there,  staring at a camera image that didn't have the sound wavelength-thing ebbing and flowing, listening to nothing on her headphones, being asked if the sound was being recorded, being asked to check the levels - and utterly failing to do the job. 

That was probably the most egregious example of something going wrong on that director's film, but it was far from the only one. Scheduling mishaps and last minute rewrites to make up for an actor who didn't show up were commonplace and it showed in the finished product, as well as the problems inherent in having inexperienced people framing your shots, running your mikes, and setting up your lights. I remember the day after the film's disastrous premiere, when over lunch the director complained that people couldn't see past the bad lighting, bad acting, bad writing, bad sound, and bad cinematography to see what a good movie Cyborg Mom really was. 

That director was a friend, but he often derided us for the smallness of our own films. He had ambition, he had a sprawling cast and dozens of locations, while we often worked with a half-dozen people in one or two locations that we could control, like our own home. And these days I do think that the films were a little too small, and I wish they had stretched out a bit more, but at the same time, the films worked and were cohesive. We accomplished what we set out to do, while our friend's ambition well exceeded his grasp. 

Part of that is that by keeping it small, we were able to control the film, to the point where our crew typically consisted of two persons: Mary and myself. And I knew I could trust Mary, and she knew she could trust me, and as a result, I can tell you, we never had a six hour shoot where we didn't record any sound. And if we had, that would be our fault, and no one else's.

Now, board games, like film, are something of a collaborative medium, and we've been blessed with a number of collaborators who we know we can trust. But like the films, it's still a small number, and it's one that we've kept small intentionally, and with an eye toward keeping most of it in our own hands.


  • I was extremely disappointed to learn that this wasn’t announcing a new Hollandspiele game titled Cyborg Mom.

    Dammit, now I have to do it, don’t I? Someone refill the printer ink and scrub the meeples…

    Erin Escobedo

  • Damn, man, now I want to see that movie….

    Brian Train

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