German boardgames are naturally a favorite gift I’ve enjoyed giving to friends and family back in the United States. In addition to that, I used to design an original boardgame for my two nieces as a Christmas present every year. It’s not easy to shop for them when we live an ocean away from each other, and this was a way I could give them something personal. I also did try to theme many of the games around activities they enjoyed.
When my designs began to get published, I gave them those as gifts. Now that they are older—and very creative—I thought I would instead give them the materials to be game designers themselves.
A year and one-half ago I sent them a “game design kit” with materials ordered from Spielmaterial. They included a blank game box, a deck of blank cards, a blank fold-out game board, a 6-color die, one large pawn, 6 normal dice in 6 colors, and large and small wooden discs and “meeples” (human-shaped figures) in 6 colors.
In addition, I wrote up a simple checklist to help them focus by asking themselves some of the most important design questions.
On a recent visit to their home, I was finally able to see the “work in progress.” Although one of the nieces had not yet been able to begin, the younger girl had created not one—but 10 games around the theme of Olympic events!
Her father had enjoyed working on the project with her and testing the results, which included dexterity games for basketball, balance beam, diving and archery, light strategy games for tennis, boxing and rowing, and dice games for running events. What was most exciting is how she had used every physical element—including both the game box and lid—in the design.
During my visit, I was able to arrange a meeting with the MindWare company, which was located less than a half-hour away from their home. I wanted to pitch some of my game designs to them, but also asked if my niece could come and show them her game as well. Kristin Gallagher of MindWare enthusiastically agreed, and she was very encouraging after testing some of the games. My niece was given several MindWare products, which she has enjoyed thoroughly ever since. And she hung around to help demonstrate my designs for MindWare.
The best part, though, was being able to share the experience of designing and playing games with family I unfortunately do not get to see often enough.