Brian Yu: On Winning the 2014 Kinderspiel des Jahres and More!

by Brian Yu | 08 Jun 2023

Biographies and Interviews


Hi Brian! You've enjoyed an incredible career doing what you love. Can you share with our readers what you are doing now for Mattel?


I’m the Director of Product Design for Games at Mattel – which means I oversee all design on physical games at Mattel. I started out as a Game Designer working on new games for all of these awesome brands and now I get to chart their trajectories into the future.


Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?


I really have to thank my brother, Dale, for my interest in board games. When we were growing up, I was still into cartoons and action figures, but he dragged me kicking and screaming to play board games with him. We would play Axis and Allies all weekend long with some neighborhood kids, just taking over our dining room table (much to our Mom’s chagrin). I fondly remember a summer vacation where we got both Scotland Yard and Guillotine. Every night, we would play those games with my parents. 


So an interest in board games was pretty much always there.  It wasn’t until college that I discovered there was an actual paying job for designing board games. One of my best friends took an internship at Hasbro and got to work on games. He came back telling me how he just found my dream job. I applied for that same internship the next quarter, but was denied because I was a Digital Design major and not an Industrial Design major. After that, I assumed it just wasn’t in the cards and after graduation moved to San Francisco to work at a dot-com.


Then I guess I got lucky. I had a different friend from college call me up asking if I still watched Japanese anime and still played board games. I luckily still did both and was hired to work on the Yugioh board games for Mattel. I started working on licensed games (Batman, Harry Potter, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen) and eventually moved on to Mattel’s core brands (UNO, Scrabble, Pictionary). I switch departments at Mattel for a couple of years and worked on connected toys and apps, but eventually found my way back to run the Games Design team.



What has been your biggest achievement?


Designing Ghost Fightin’ Treasure Hunters and winning the 2014 Kinderspiel des Jahres, the German Kid’s Game of the Year. It was a crazy experience to design a game as a side project in-between “real” work and then to have it come out and win such a prestigious award. I really love meeting people at conventions that love the game. It’s truly inspiring to be part of their board gaming history.


This was a pipe dream idea that I dabbled with on and off when I had free-time. I really loved cooperative games and thought it could be a great mechanism in a family/kids board game. I had originally designed it as firefighters saving people from a burning house. You can still kind of see that inspiration in the design of the hauntings, but when someone asked me what the story of the game was and what happened when you ultimately lost the game, I felt like it was too morbid to keep it so grounded, so I changed the theme to Ghosts and Treasure Hunters. 



What advice can you give to inventors who are presenting new toy or game ideas to you?


For games specifically, always start with the object of the game. It’s so much easier to follow and learn a new game concept if you know where you’re heading. Everything you explain should point back to the object of the game. Seems simple, but I can’t tell you how many people just jump into the meat of the rules and end up bungling a pitch by making things confusing or going out of order. Figure out the smoothest/most logical way to explain your concept and rehearse it. 


What advice would you give a young adult graduating from high school or college today?


Figure out what you love to do. Don’t take a job purely for the money. It sounds trite, but find something that you love to do and it won’t feel like work.



Tell us about your hobbies?


During the pandemic I picked up a couple of new hobbies. First, I taught myself how to solve the Rubik’s Cube, finally. It just felt like one of those things I should know how to do and is oddly relaxing to me now. Second, I started learning how to restore and maintain Japanese arcade cabinets. I have 2 that I’ve got up and running and it’s a blast tinkering with old machines and then getting to play classic arcade games on them with my wife and daughter. My most recent arcade game addiction is Elevator Action Returns from Taito.


game designer Mattel Japanese arcade cabinets

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