How Matt Leacock Succeeded at Board Game Design

Pandemic Goes Viral and Game Designer Matt Leacock Quits His Day Job

Forbidden Island
Forbidden Island. Image courtesy of Gamewright

Matt Leacock is best known for the cooperative board games Forbidden Island (2010) and Pandemic (2008). He lives in Sunnyvale, California

Games by Matt Leacock

Other games designed by Leacock include the dice game Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age (2009) and the race game Lunatix Loop (2000). He has also designed an expansion for Pandemic, On The Brink (2009) and its successors, including Pandemic Legacy (2015) with Rob Daviau. He designed Forbidden Island (2010) and Forbidden Desert (2013) before deciding to go full-time as a game designer and quit his day job. Thunderbirds (2015) follows the exploits of International Rescue. It was funded by a Kickstarter campaign that raised over 1000 percent of its funding goal. Knit Wit (2016) is a social game of word entanglement where you use loops and clothespins to design word categories.

First Published Game

Leacock's first published game was the limited edition kingdom-building game Borderlands (1995), which was published by his own company, Locust Games, and sold only in a few local hobby shops. His friend Glen Proctor did most of the artwork and Leacock says he often was only paid in beer for his efforts.

Awards Leacock's Games Have Won

Pandemic was named the 2008 Family Game of the Year by Games magazine, and it was nominated for a 2008 International Gamers Award for Multi-Player General Strategy Game. It was also my pick as the best overall game.

More About Matt Leacock

According to a biography on his website, Leacock started designing games as a teenager. "Typically, I'd get some lame mass market, tv-show-of-the-year game, get frustrated by its mediocrity, then try to do better on the reverse side of the board with a magic marker," he said. He formed board game clubs in high school and college. He grew up in Minnesota.

Leacock moved to the San Francisco Bay area in 1997. There, he met his wife, Donna McKeown, and they married in 2000. He had a career as a user experience designer for the community and communications products for several companies, including Apple and AOL. During that period, he designed games on his personal time. He became a full-time board game designer in July 2014 and works as an independent designer, licensing his work to publishers.

In 2008, Leacock spoke about the design of Pandemic at a Google Tech Talk, a lecture highly recommended for anyone interested in the process of designing a board game.

Leacock donates five percent of his royalty for Pandemic products to Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres. This charity provides medical care in underserved communities around the world. He is proud that Pandemic players raised $50,000 to support the work of this charity during the Ebola crisis in Western Africa in 2014. An appropriate charity, given the name and focus of the game.

He also donates five percent of his royalty for Thunderbirds products to International Rescue, a charity that responds to humanitarian crises to help restore services, whose name matches that of the fictional rescue organization in the game.