Founders: Ryan Mauk, Evan Halbert

Year launched: 2015

Game type: Euro-strategy

Flagship game: After the Empire, an epic worthy of Peter Jackson.

Portland Gamecraft's After the Empire has all the hallmarks of a high-budget hobby game blockbuster: lavish and intricate art, a classical theme and depth of possibility befitting its grand-strategy framework. Players construct actual castles on the board while dealing with waves of enemy combatants, feuds with rival lords, coveted supplies, the needs of the population, and even the passing seasons.

Despite the intimidating scale, After the Empire is the product of just two designers.

Ryan Mauk and Evan Halbert, longtime friends who have both operated their own board game shops in the past, design their games together and playtest them on Mauk's dining room table. With scraps of paper and pieces taken out of other games they owned, the pair prototyped After the Empire over the course of several brainstorming sessions.

Originally, Mauk and Halbert planned to fund the game themselves via Kickstarter. But while demoing the game at the Geekway to the West convention in Missouri, the owner of board game company Grey Fox was impressed enough to offer to publish it.

"We knew there might be a little less money in [a publishing deal], but what we love doing is the design," Mauk says. "We don't love the shipping fulfillment and warehousing and printing, so we decided to go that route."

On Jan. 6, after years of playtesting and design iteration, the first copies of Empire arrived at a warehouse in Iowa where they will be prepped for shipping.

A blog post on the company website by Halbert reads: "We are so excited to finally have it out in the world :)"

What game are you really into right now? Clank, a deck-building game in which players stealthily infiltrate a dragon's treasure trove. "It's really fun because you are a terrible thief, so you are making a bunch of noise. The more noisy you've been, the greater the chance that turns into damage since the dragon gets you. It's really zany."