“I feel like I should apologize,” Matt Calkins tells his opponent as they shake hands. It’s mid-evening in the log-lined cafeteria at the Seven Springs Mountain Resort, and Calkins, from a trailing position, has just played a decisive move in the board game Sekigahara. His opponent shakes his head at the suggestion Calkins prevailed through luck. “You sprung a trap on me,” he says.
Luck? Nonsense. Calkins is a board game whiz. That has something to do with being a business success. On the side, when he’s not designing or playing games, he runs Appian Corp., a Reston, Virginia, firm that sells software to help businesses build apps more quickly. Appian, which went public in 2017, is worth $2.1 billion; Calkins owns just under half.
The Seven Springs event last July drew 1,700 players to the Allegheny Mountains of southwestern Pennsylvania to compete in 185 games. Calkins wasn’t just a player. He created two of those games: Sekigahara, which re-creates a decisive battle of shogunate Japan, and Tin Goose, which challenges players to build one of the first commercial airlines.
And then there’s his other life. Calkins, 46, cofounded Appian 20 years ago; it initially built software tools, such as an intranet portal for the U.S. Army. Since 2004 the company has been tackling the bigger problem of making digitization less coding-intensive for programmers. With Appian software, a corporate client can create its own a