Stock market investing is nothing but a game!

Well, not really. But there are a number of board games that can actually help a player better understand investments and the broader market. Board game aficionado -- OK, fanatic -- David Gardner has zoomed in on five titles in particular that strengthen the investing muscles (and are a blast to play, to boot). One of the five is Pandemic Legacy: Season 1, and in this clip from the Rule Breaker Investing podcast, David interviews the game's designer, Rob Daviau. The two discuss Rob's history, including his time at big media and entertainment companies, and dive into how he found his way into game design.

A full transcript follows the video.

This podcast was recorded on June 25, 2016.

DAVID GARDNER:

We're having fun this week on Rule Breaker Investing. This is an extra! Yup! This is an extended interview with Rob Daviau, the designer of Pandemic Legacy: Season 1, which I mentioned as one of my five favorite board games that make you a better investor. This week Rob has graciously consented to talk a little bit more about -- well, why not? -- himself! Right? Hi, Rob.

ROB DAVIAU:

Hello!

GARDNER:

I'll try not to be redundant with what we talked about on the podcast earlier this week, but let's feel free to go back over any familiar territory, as is necessary. But since I think we're all superheroes at heart, and we all have origin stories, Rob, I want to start there. Where'd you grow up?

DAVIAU:

I grew up in Waterville, Maine, in the '70s and '80s. So Stephen King country.

GARDNER:

Wow! Really cool!

DAVIAU:

It did influence me a lot. I read a lot of Stephen King as a kid, and it gave me amazing ideas and stories. A lot of his short-story stuff.

GARDNER:

At what point did games enter your life?

DAVIAU:

I played a lot of board games as a kid, but it was the very traditional Parker Brothers, Milton Bradley games -- which are not bad. It gave me a good grounding. But in 1981, I went off to summer camp and was allowed to bring five comic books to this overnight camp. It was my first time away from home. And then when I got there, some people were playing D&D.

So for the two-week period I was introduced to Dungeons & Dragons and comic books. Pretty much my life changed from those two weeks to where I am now.

GARDNER:

This is a little bit weird -- because it's very, very similar -- but at summer camp in the 1980s (mine was in New Hampshire), we brought Dungeons & Dragons to camp. Other kids didn't really know it. We weren't allowed to play it. It was one of those outdoor camps (I'm sure yours was, too). You had to be active. But when it rained, and the counselor didn't necessarily have as many plans, out came Dungeons & Dragons. We were trying to teach some of the other kids who had never seen a game like that before. So I can really relate to what you're saying, Rob.

DAVIAU:

Yeah, the pine trees and everything like that. You're praying for rain. I found it and people were talking. And they were just telling a story. I'm like, "What are you doing?" "Like, playing a game." And they're just standing at a table. I'm like, "No, you're not!" And they were like, "Yeah, you can join us." I don't remember who it was, but he wrote me in. "Who do you want to be?" It was like Lord of the Rings. I'm like, "I don't know. The guy with the sword?" "Great!" My mind was blown. I was like, "You can just do that? Like, how does this work?"

GARDNER:

So now getting to the superhero origin moment, what mutation, or surprising incident, or injury did you suffer where you discovered your superhero ability? And by the way, what is your superhero ability?

DAVIAU:

Oh! I didn't know this question was coming.

GARDNER:

It's completely unfair.

DAVIAU:

No, it's fine. I look a few years younger than I am.

GARDNER:

Rob, how old are you?

DAVIAU:

I'm 46.

GARDNER:

Awesome. I have seen a picture of you on the internet. Handsome lad. I would have said you were younger than 46.

DAVIAU:

See? There we go. That's my ability.

GARDNER:

Well, I think of you as a superhero game designer, so that's where I'm going to head next. But before I get there -- and we did talk about games a little bit on the podcast earlier this week -- I also know you as a businessperson. You have your own company today.

DAVIAU:

I do. I have a whole grown-up C Corp.

GARDNER:

There we go. Before that, you mentioned you worked at Hasbro for 14 years?

DAVIAU:

Yes.

GARDNER:

Where else have you worked? What was your first job?

DAVIAU:

Let's see. Going back, before Hasbro, I was an advertising copywriter for about five years. And then before that, right at the end of college, I wanted to be a television sketch comedy writer. My very last internship was for The David Letterman Show. The old one back at NBC...

GARDNER:

I remember it.

DAVIAU:

...before he moved over to CBS. So was I there. I hung out at Saturday Night Live and then I hung out with The Kids in the Hall up in Toronto. I was an ambitious entrepreneur at 19 talking my way onto television sets. I had it all lined up and ready to go until I realized television was kind of a miserable business.

GARDNER:

Why? What was miserable about it at the time?

DAVIAU:

There's a lot of downtime. Success is doing a pilot here, or punching something up there, or working on a show that lasts six episodes, and then moving to New York to try something else, and then back to L.A. to pitch a few more things. Like success was doing that -- never quite having stability and jumping around. It doesn't sound so bad, now, at 46, but at that age it felt like, "That doesn't feel good. It feels like you're always out of work, and always hustling, and always looking for a job." I didn't care much for L.A. Wasn't sure I wanted to live in New York.

These all came together and I thought, "I like comedy and I like being funny. I'm not sure that this is the career for me." Which was a tough place, because I had spent years in college gearing up for it, and then I just walked away.

GARDNER:

And then fast-forwarding a little bit, I have to ask you a little bit about Hasbro. Hasbro was a company you spent 14 years at. Ironically perhaps -- yes, this is somewhat ironic -- 13 years ago (it was April 11, 2003) I picked Hasbro stock for Motley Fool Stock Advisor, and as is my wont, I've never sold it. I've continued to hold the shares and I re-recommended it once in Stock Advisor. So here I am looking and as we tape, Hasbro is up 709% since April 11, 2003. The stock market, over the same course of time, is up a couple of hundred percent, so Hasbro is basically up about 500 percentage points in pure alpha for investors.

DAVIAU:

They bought Milton Bradley. They bought Parker Brothers. They bought Tonka and Kenner and a lot of other places, and they put together this really good portfolio of key American toy and game brands. You've got Monopoly, you've got G.I. Joe, and you've got Transformers. They have the Star Wars license and they have the Marvel license. So they're not having to do anything radical to have year-after-year success.

GARDNER:

So when you presented the idea of a Legacy-format game -- and specifically Risk Legacy -- I know you described earlier this week on our podcast that you and your boss at the time were sitting there going, "Hey. What about that?"

DAVIAU:

Yeah, I thought of the idea for Clue. Like, what if you played a Clue game? I was calling Clue "The Usual Suspects." So in your game Colonel Mustard became the one with the longest rap sheet. In mine it was Miss Scarlet. I picked that and everyone thought I was a little crazy. It was among a lot of other games. So I went back, I retooled it, and I did it for Risk in a better environment, with a better pitch, and people could see what I was going for.

The then-president of Hasbro Games did this wonderful thing, where he basically gave me the "executive shield." He said: "This sounds really different. Go do it. Don't anyone get in his way."

GARDNER:

Wow.

DAVIAU:

And he basically just gave me this badge to go do something crazy. And even then, it almost died a few times. People were like: "What's going on? What is this? Why are we putting stickers on stuff? You can't do this." I was just pigheaded about the whole thing and used every trick I could. Like, how a corporation works. I had been there 12 or 13 years at the time, so I knew all the insider politics of how to get stuff done to just muscle that thing out to market. And I'm glad I did.

GARDNER:

You know, I really do think it is to that division president's credit that you were given that shield. At its best, Hasbro is kind of how I painted it earlier. It's been a long-term market beater. You mentioned it's a company that has brands. It bought them up. But maybe at its worst, it's the company that comes out with Monopoly for Star Wars, Pokemon Monopoly. We'll just go with a Donald Trump-opoly, maybe. So it feels, often, like one of those bigger, safer...and this happens for larger companies. Got to keep the profits steady. Not that imaginative, sometimes. So I can only imagine what it would be like to be a disrupter in there and say, "Hey, what about this totally new idea?" and then have the support of a president.

DAVIAU:

It was fantastic, and like I said, I had sort of honed my pitch and really worked it. They could see the passion written all over me. And I said, "We going to do for a game board what Wizards of the Coast did for playing cards, which is it looks the same, but it acts in a completely different way." A lot of hype and a lot of promises.

I think they basically understood that I had something in my head that was ready to come out. And, yes, every time I see him I will thank him for making the second half of my career in that meeting, because if he had said no, I would have been like, "OK," and that might have been that.

GARDNER:

So, Rob, let's stick on business for a little bit more. Our Motley Fool membership -- our worldwide membership -- overindexes toward small business and entrepreneurs. People who have their own businesses. You are now one such. I have no idea how big your business is. You could tell me you're the only employee. You could tell me that you have 35 people in Western Massachusetts and you're just launching your first game. At what state are you with your own business?

DAVIAU:

It is just me, although my wife is going to be joining part-time because...

GARDNER:

Ah! Dangerous.

DAVIAU:

...I met her at Hasbro.

GARDNER:

Dangerous.

DAVIAU:

No, I know all. Trust me. This has been a long discussion I wanted to win one night over dinner. I actually worked with her at Hasbro. She was an art director and a graphic designer, and does all the things that I can't do and no longer have the resources to do. I said, "As soon I start turning a profit, this is the next thing I need to hire," but I'm married to the person who I actually worked the best with at Hasbro. So we are very aware of all the issues of mixing business and personal relationships, which is why it's going to be one day a week for her, so we're not running the business together.

GARDNER:

And I'm only partly being facetious, of course, because I started a business with my brother. I think family businesses are a great thing, and I congratulate you. It sounds like you both married very well. So it sounds great.

Let me ask. We talked a little bit about this earlier this week -- SeaFall -- which is coming out from Plaid Hat Games. A game that I personally have pre-ordered more than one copy of. No pressure. Not that you feel any, Rob. No pressure to make a great game out of...

DAVIAU:

I feel so much pressure out of this game. There have been a lot of people waiting a long time for it. Just like hearing you say "multiple copies," I'm like, "Oh, please. I hope you like it."

GARDNER:

I know that I will. Let me ask. When I think about businesses, I think about having a portfolio of properties. Or investing, I think about having not just one stock. What else are you working on? Are you going to become the Legacy game company? How are you thinking about the future? And by the way, what is the name of your company, Rob?

DAVIAU:

The name of my company is IronWall Games. This is interesting, talking about small business. When I first started out, I didn't know if I was going to be publishing my own games, or designing, or consulting. The whole world was open to me. So I spent a couple of years trying different avenues until I focused down on what I'm really good at and enjoy the most, which is designing games and then letting other people publish them.

So mostly my company is becoming just some place that I run the money through for business purposes. Oddly enough, my name is becoming the brand rather than the company, which I didn't expect, but that's where it's ended up and it seems to be working.

GARDNER:

Rob, let me ask you to do something that's probably unsafe. Project forward how influential, how potentially ubiquitous you think the Legacy format -- that innovation -- can be, obviously not just in your own work, but through the industry. I mean, I think it is a next big, potential thing (and it's not even just next, because it's already worked a few times).

You have the No. 1 rated game of all time on BoardGameGeek. Is this something like Magic: The Gathering, where we're going to have any number of copycats and imitators that even add value to you through ubiquitous, new innovation? Or is this more just like the Daviau thing?

DAVIAU:

I thought it was going to be that other people are doing it. Right now it's just the Daviau thing. Risk was 2012, which has been almost four years. No one did it. And then I put out Pandemic Legacy with Matt [Leacock], and then that shot up. And that's almost been a year since it came out, and a year and a half since it's been announced, and no one's done it.

Now I'm working on two or three things that in various forms could be called a Legacy game. Part of me is thinking: "Do I put all my eggs in that basket? Am I only known for one trick, or do I diversify?" I do talk this way and do like some small games, and some card games, and some language-independent, and some shorter games. Basically, I'm looking for a whole portfolio of games giving me royalty income, and then if some go out of print, I design other ones to replace them. Some will fail, and some will succeed more than I wanted, but I'm usually trying to project how much income I can get from each game I make.

GARDNER:

You bet.

DAVIAU:

Right now I'm the only one doing it, but I think with Pandemic Legacy reaching No. 1 on BoardGameGeek and having a lot of sales, we'll be seeing other ones coming out next year. It would be fun to play one, as opposed to just make them, but right now it's just what I'm doing. My brother was the one who told me to keep doing it. I said, "I don't want to be known for one thing." We're New Englanders, and he said: "Look, David Ortiz doesn't bunt. If you're known for one thing, just keep doing it until it doesn't work anymore."

GARDNER:

[Laughs]

DAVIAU:

I'm like: "All right. Good point."

GARDNER:

That's great. Who are a few game designers that you admire?

DAVIAU:

It's this interesting thing. I admire a lot of old Dungeons & Dragons authors, because I feel like they were doing this pioneering Wild West sort of thing. Would this work? Would this work? I love people who did it, like Richard Garfield with Magic: The Gathering. I've always said I like people who find a new corner of design space to play around in, which is probably how I ended up doing a similar thing myself.

I admire a lot of European designers who do these traditional Eurogames, mostly because I can't. If I try to design a European-style game, and then I get in the middle and it's not working, I'm like, "I don't know how to do this." So I admire them because they can design in a whole way that my brain's not capable of.

GARDNER:

Well, a longtime friend of the Fool is Reiner Knizia, and one of my five favorite board games that teach people to become better investors is his Modern Art game, which is just a really fun auction-oriented bidding game. Is Reiner somebody you've ever met?

DAVIAU:

I have -- I think so -- at a convention. I don't know him well. Like, I'm not sure if we were in the same room, I would recognize him. I don't know if he would recognize me. But we are in sort of the same circles. Yes, he's exactly the type of person. He's so mathematical and so analytical. He's very German, it feels like, and I'm very American. I'm all about a lot of words and loud noises, and he's very precise.

GARDNER:

Well, I do see one potential similarity between you and Reiner. Reiner at least came on my radar 10 or 20 years ago. One of the first game designers who really could do that full-time. He's made it a business -- his Knizia Games. He has a bunch of designs, as I'm sure you're aware of, out there, that are published in multiple countries. He's really as much an entrepreneur and a businessperson today as he is a game designer, and I could see that happening for you if you wanted it to. Or maybe you hope for that.

DAVIAU:

Yes, that's the plan. My goal is to get up to the point where I have five to 10 designs in the market at all times, and then hopefully some of them will become these evergreens, like he has, where they're just always in print. He is fast. He is good. He can produce a lot of things. But yes, he's very much a model of how I'd like to run my business.

Matt Leacock, as well, my co-designer on Pandemic Legacy, has all the Pandemic games. He also has Forbidden Island. Forbidden Desert. He has Roll Through the Ages. By having these brands, and then doing extensions from them, he's able to do it full-time, as well. Reiner, Matt, and a couple of other people I've modeled my entrepreneurial plan around to see if I can follow the same path they're following. Because for the past couple of years, in start-up mode, it's been crazy, and it's nice that it's finally stabilizing.

GARDNER:

Wonderful. Rob, what are your favorite non-Daviau games? A few games that you love that you didn't design?

DAVIAU:

That's a question that I spent many years not knowing the answer to, and then I figured it out, which is, it's always going to be first-edition Dungeons & Dragons, even though it's a really clunky game, because it hits me emotionally. Other than that, I just tend to play everything, but I like games that tell a story.

GARDNER:

What are a few crossover games that every family should have, even if they're not really gamers and don't know it yet?

DAVIAU:

I think Pandemic. Or one of the Forbidden Islands, is good, for a co-op game. I really like Splendor, which came out last year. And Love Letter.

GARDNER:

I own them all, and all are purchasable on Amazon. Let's go to Rob Daviau, the investor. Rob, do you own any stocks?

DAVIAU:

I own no stock individually.

GARDNER:

And why is that?

DAVIAU:

I'm a little bit risk-averse. It's also because of life circumstances. I ended up getting divorced at 35. Finances were tough, and I'm only now getting to the point where I would consider it.

GARDNER:

Awesome. More broadly, then, what has been (and we really use this term loosely on this podcast) your best investment?

DAVIAU:

My best investment has been, quite honestly, just believing that if I want to do something interesting, it will actually turn out well. Like I just do things now like, "That sounds like a fun idea," and I just do it. And whenever I've done that in my life, it has worked out.

GARDNER:

What is a site that we should all visit somewhere within 100 miles of you?

DAVIAU:

Just the city of Boston. Fenway Park. I'm a big baseball guy.

GARDNER:

Wonderful. Red Sox fan all the way through, I'm assuming.

DAVIAU:

Yes, I grew up in New England.

GARDNER:

What an incredible transformation you've seen in that franchise over the course of your 46 years.

DAVIAU:

It has been amazing, and I very much recognize that New England sports have had a hell of a run in the past 15 years. I still think of us as the lovable losers that can't win anything, and the rest of the country really detests all the success we've had. And I have not caught up to that.

GARDNER:

Outside of sports and games, I know a diverse thinker like you -- a brilliant, intellectually curious guy -- has other interests. What's a hobby we haven't talked about?

DAVIAU:

Cooking. That is my No. 1 hobby.

GARDNER:

What?

DAVIAU:

I cook everything and anything. I usually don't cook the same thing twice. I love learning about cooking. I mean, my friend and I built our own homemade water circulator so I could do sous vide cooking. I've taken cooking classes in Italy. I've taken cooking classes in France. That is the thing I do at the end of the day to relax and I find a lot of inspiration. There's actually a lot of parallel between Legacy games and cooking, in the sense that it's more about an experience than a repeatable thing. Even if you come back the next day and try to make the same dish, it comes out differently. But I'm a big fan of cooking.

GARDNER:

Awesome. Rob, it sounds like you're a father?

DAVIAU:

Yes, I am.

GARDNER:

A father of teenagers?

DAVIAU:

Yes. I have a 17-year-old daughter and a 13-year-old son.

GARDNER:

Awesome. What's a talk that you might have given that I, as a parent of teenagers, would benefit from knowing? Something wise that I can say to my kids?

DAVIAU:

Usually I just ask them what they think the outcome is going to be of something, rather than tell them what I think the outcome is going to be. I've had a very open parenting style. OK, well, you're going to do this. What do you think is going to happen?

GARDNER:

Wow. It's kind of like they're building a legacy.

DAVIAU:

There we go. That's a word I can't use anymore, unfortunately.

GARDNER:

Is that true?

DAVIAU:

Sorry. Just in the sense of when I say, "Well, my legacy in this game..." And people are like, "Aha! I see what you did." Everyone goes, "Aha!" and points it out. So it's a word I've had to ban from my vocabulary other than when I'm talking about the games I make.

GARDNER:

I understand. OK, we've got to cut it right there. Rob Daviau, a true pleasure connecting with you. Congratulations in all your success, and thank you for all the fun that you've added to my family's life, both with Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 and with SeaFall coming out, and many others. Continued Foolish best wishes to you.

DAVIAU:

Thank you very much. Thanks for having me.

David Gardner owns shares of Amazon.com. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon.com and Hasbro. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.