Mary Couzin is the brains and muscle behind the fastest-growing and perhaps most important game convention in the United States, the Chicago Toy and Game Fair, aka CHI-TAG. There are long-established trade fairs for toys and games, such as the ones in New York or Dallas, as well as player conventions for hobby games, such as Gen-Con and Origins. What there wasn’t, until Mary came along, is an American game fair – classics, mainstream, and hobby – for families, such as the one held yearly in Essen.

Mary started out as a game designer. Through the course of marketing her own games, she met other lone designers who were reinventing the wheel in terms of finding suppliers, dealing with contracts, and trying to market their games, and whose power as individuals was rather weak. She formed Discover Games in 1997 as a cooperative project to collect the wisdom of these designers and to market the group’s games as a group. Rio Grande Games and R&R Games are sample companies that got their start through Discover Games.

Mary drew her inspiration for CHI-TAG from Essen, which she attended in 2000. She spent a few years trying to build up support in the gaming community. Early support came from Rio Grande Games, R&R Games, and Out of the Box Publishing (a Chicago-based company), who formed the core of her first event in 2003.

The 2009 fair had 11,000 visitors, support from major game industry players such as Hasbro, celebrity guests such as Daryl Hannah (pimping her line of board games), and important people you’ve never heard of, such as Reuben Klamer, the inventor of Hasbro’s edition of The Game of Life. The fair also had sit downs with the publishers, toy and game awards, and a whole lot of family-friendly entertainment.

In person, Mary is amazingly sweet and charming. Yet beneath that sweetness and charm lies the determination to forge a national convention out of nothing that now has major entertainment players (yeah, bigger than Hasbro or Mattel) coming to her to find out how they can participate.

She has also founded initiatives for games in education.

Mary Couzin and Yehuda Berlinger

Mary Couzin and Yehuda Berlinger