This blog originally posted at www.hoopcatgames.blogspot.com
I’ve loved games all my life. As a child I started with classic board games, and even when I couldn’t find anybody to join me, I’d still pull a game out and play all sides. As a teen, I moved onto Avalon Hill strategy games, and would read the lengthy rulebooks over and over even after I had them memorized. As a young adult, I was thrilled by the advantages of computer strategy games – artificial intelligence opponents who were always available, no possibility of ever mistakenly misinterpreting a rule, and boards where the map or opponent’s pieces could truly remain hidden.
And then our two sons were born, and by a few years later, I found myself wondering what we used to do with all that time. Fortunately, both sons also love games, and needless to say, they have never had to twist Dad’s arm to join in a family game. Years later, I’ve returned to enjoying the same board games I fondly remember from my childhood. Every Christmas, every birthday, we’ve looked to build our family’s game library – yet after a few years found that while there are always hot new computer and console games lining the department store and toy store shelves, the board game shelves change little from year to year. (A very important disclaimer: There are fresh innovative family board games out there, and we’ve been very pleased with some new additions to our family’s game library - but you have to know where to go to find them).
So why did we start making family board games?
This past summer, our younger son (the “T” in HoopCAT) received a department store gift card for $25 from Grandma for his birthday. He marched to the game section, and after some looking, picked out a new game not already in the family collection. Looking over the box, it was not a game that Mom or I would have ever bought for him. We questioned the value for money of the purchase. But it was his $25 gift card, so in the end agreed to the purchase (figuring at worse it would make a good life lesson). We got home, he excitedly read the rules, put it together, and as father and son, we played the shiny new game he had proudly bought with his birthday gift card.
It was one of the worst games I ever played. Movement around the board was painfully slow, with little opportunity for anything to happen, and little to no opportunity for a player to affect the outcome. The game had a gimmick that wore off before we had finished it the first time. I kept my grown-up opinion to myself, thinking if my child likes it, that is all that matters. My son never asked to play it again, and two weeks later, he placed this new game on the pile of things to give to charity.
As a parent and consumer, I was mad. If my wife or I had been foolish enough to plunk down $25 for that game, I merely would have been annoyed. If my child had only spent $5-$10 of his money, I might not have been as steamed. But here was a game that never should have seen the shelf of a store priced at $25 and targeted to children. And in my indignation, I had that wild thought – “Even I could make a game better than that!”
It started as an idea of I’ll design and make two custom games (one for each son) as a memorable Christmas present. And then the game ideas kept coming, and the whole brainstorm continued to snowball. Before that summer had ended, my younger son and I sat down early one Saturday morning to play the very first game of Fill the Barn. His first feedback was the words any new game maker most wants to hear – can we play it again? My crude homemade prototype game with clip art on self-print business cards had just beat out the gift card game. Later that weekend, Mom and older son (the "A" inHoopCAT) joined us for the first-ever four-player game of Fill the Barn. Several days (and lots of prayers) later, my wife and I made the decision to form HoopCAT Games.
Will a new family board game company succeed in the era of electronic gaming? That’s for you to decide...