Cortland Mercer, Co-Founder of Well Played
GET TO KNOW WELL PLAYED
Well Played is a board game café in Asheville, N.C., that offers a robust selection of more than 500 games ranging from old classics like Sorry, Guess Who and Battleship, to modern favorites including Catan, Pandemic, and Ticket to Ride. Well Played strives to provides a relaxing and fun café atmosphere while also serving a wide variety of comfort snack foods, desserts, and beverages.
Board game cafés have been popping up in cities across the country in recent years. In a digital world, people are finding new ways to have an analog experience and connect the good ol’ fashioned way, in person. A great alternative to the bar or hosting a large group of friends in your home, board game cafes offer the comforts of home in an environment where people can connect, socialize and compete.
With the emergence of crowdfunding services such as Kickstarter, game designers are able to gauge the interest and feasibility of prospective customers before producing new games. According to industry trackers, board games sales have been increasing by 15-20% per year and the specialized board game industry (excluding old favorites, like Monopoly and Trouble) brought in roughly $700 million in 2013.
MEET CORTLAND MERCER
Cortland Mercer is the Co-Founder of Well Played and a Communications Consultant for the High Lantern Group (HLG) in Asheville, N.C. Originally from Charlotte, Cortland was drawn to Asheville for college and the rest, as they say is history.
Cortland developed the concept for Well Played in collaboration with Kevan Frazier and Steve Green in early 2016. At his “day job” with High Lantern Group, Cortland focuses on strategic positioning for businesses, brands and individual leaders by shaping the environment in which they operate.
LET’S DO THIS
LDT: How did you find yourself in Asheville?
CM: The first time or second time…? (laughs)
So originally I went to college here. I went to UNC Asheville… I started in 2006.
After graduation, I left for a few years and was living in LA, working for the firm I work for now. It turned out that one of the partners of the firm was living in Asheville and excited that, one, I knew where Asheville was and, two, I’d be interested in moving back.
LDT: What was the path led you to High Lantern Group?
CM: I was out in Los Angeles participating in a fellowship program called Coro.
Coro’s mission is to train ethical and effective leaders for civic engagement, with a focus on drawing connections between the public, private and nonprofit sectors. Historically, there’s been a talent pipeline from the Coro fellows program to High Lantern Group, and that’s how I was introduced to the firm.
LDT: What kind of work do you do? What is a typical day in your life?
CM: At HLG my job is to solve client problems.
So my day-to-day involves a lot of conference calls, a lot of written deliverables, and a lot of collaborating with other team members, both in Asheville and our other offices to think through the problems we’re solving, and the most effective way to produce good work.
With Well Played, I spend a lot of time building excitement in the community. Talking to partners, running our social media accounts, and connecting with folks who are excited about the concept.
LDT: What’s your rose? Thorn? I.e. what frustrates or challenges you in your work? And what is the most valuable, exciting part?
CM: My rose for HLG is that the work is intellectually stimulating. I work across a lot of different industries, and each client has their own unique set of problems, so it’s fascinating to help clients solve these complex challenges.
The thorn is… it’s a deadline driven environment, and often a demanding workload. I like the fast pace, but it’s really important to set clear expectations and stay organized to keep from getting overwhelmed.
My rose for Well Played – the whole thing is a passion project. It’s fun. It’s something I’m excited about. I love board games and being able to contribute to board game culture. What we’re trying to do is create an amazing fun, environment for the community and being able to share that is really exciting.
The thorn is that it’s terrifying to start a business! There’s a ton of uncertainty – it’s exciting but it’s scary.
LDT: What do you feel most proud about in your current role?
CM: For Well Played, I’m proud that we’re going out and doing it. It’s not easy to make a small business successful. It takes a lot of guts to wake up and say, “Hey, I’m going to do this.”
LDT: What is your target audience? Who do you work with on the daily?
CM: One of the things I really like about Well Played, is how we attract customers from different generations. We have a lot of families and kids. We also attract a ton of college-aged adults, young professionals and young families. Board game cafes really attract a broad clientele.
LDT: What is your outlet from work?
CM: Starting a board game cafe (laughs).
LDT: How do you maintain work-life balance?
CM: I’ve got a wonderful, loving, and supportive wife. I rely on social time with friends as a way to blow off steam and, of course, exercise is critical.
LDT: What kind of connections are you looking to make or need?
CM: We’d love to connect with community partners who would like to co-promote Well Played. We’d love to connect with folks who would be interested in working on our staff and on our team. We’d love to connect with people in the community who are really passionate about board gaming or a have a specific type of interest in board gaming.
LDT: How do you think your industry is going to change in the next 5 years? 10 years?
CM: I think we’re inundated with screens and data and digital. It’s isolating. I think people are yearning for connection. The beauty and power of board games are that they serve as a tangible connector. They’re a common conversation piece. They’re a universal language. Board games provide an opportunity for people to come together through a similar experience.
In American society, there aren’t a lot of mediums that allow for connection. I say, let’s get together and play some board games! I think the board game movement benefits from the slow living movement. People are prioritizing slowing down. They’ve favoring fulfilment over busyness. With board games, you have to make a conscious decision to put your phone away and be in the moment.
Each interview on Let’s Do This features a guest question from a previous collaborator. This question comes from Evans Prater, Founder of Mount Inspiration, an outdoor lifestyle brand that uses organic and recycled materials in their garments, in addition to donating 5% of profits to environmental causes.
Evans Prater: If you could have dinner with three people, living or dead, who would they be and why?
CM: I would have dinner with my mom because she passed away at an early age and I miss her. But beyond just being my mother, she left an impressive legacy as a female leader in her community. She was part of the first generation of women who succeeded and thrived in the corporate world – shoulder-padded suits and all. I have deep respect for her intelligence, determination, and legacy.
I would also have dinner with Diocletian. He was a Roman emperor in the 3rd century AD who, upon taking the throne, inherited a huge mess of an empire. Through sensible and sometimes radical policy reforms he was able to right the ship. He is most famous for introducing the tetrarchy as a political and government institution, but I find his reforms to monetary and tax policy far more interesting.
Without getting too wonky and in the weeds, the Romans had a monetary crisis. Essentially, they didn’t understand the way inflation worked, and the entire financial system had collapsed. Overnight, Diocletian created an entirely new way to collect taxes based on goods and services, rather than money. Every person’s labor, every crop, every mineral, every refined good in the largest empire the world had ever seen became valued on a credit, and everyone was responsible for giving their share to the state. I.e. if you built walls, you would have to spend XX numbers of hours building walls as a tax.
This wasn’t a perfect system, and it created other problems later, but it provided stability and more or less worked. The audacity and complexity of Diocletian’s undertaking were remarkable, and to my mind, unparalleled.
The third person I would have dinner with would be Dean Smith because he’s the godfather of college basketball in North Carolina. More than that, he was a man of deep integrity. He was a key leader for the integration of college basketball. He was a great coach, a great leader and a great man.
LDT: What do you want to know, what’s your question for the next interview?
CM: What is your favorite hidden hike in Western North Carolina?
Let’s Do This! Stop, Collaborate & Listen
If you’re interested in a future collaboration or learning more about Cortland Mercer and Well Played, you can connect and follow their journey using the links below.
Don’t snooze! The One Year Anniversary of Well Played celebration is this weekend. Check it out and go get your game on with your bad self.
Friday, March 30
58 Wall St
Asheville, NC 28801