During the search for new items to add to our product line, we play to our strengths. Many items in our catalog are games with familiar play patterns that we customize through the integration of a license, such as CLUE®: Game of Thrones, MUNCHKIN®: Marvel® Edition, or Star Trek™ Panic. However, we also have a portion of our catalog of games that were either developed in-house or that we licensed from outside game designers/inventors.
When looking for game ideas from outside designers, we look for items that are fun, relevant, and have a natural draw or ‘stickiness’ to them. In other words, people can’t help but join in the fun once they see what is going on, and they want to share their experience. This is certainly the case for our games Telestrations®, Reverse Charades®, and Tapple®, though we also want to develop games that we can build on through brand development and marketing.
One of the things I like most about my job is that I get to meet a wide variety of people from around the world, and then I get to play board games with them! These meetings usually include a designer pitching at least one new game idea, and often several ideas depending upon the amount of time we have together.
These meetings sometimes take place in our office in Carlsbad, California. At other times, we meet in Chicago as part of the Chicago Toy and Game Fair, or even in New York at the American International Toy Fair, and recently in Essen, Germany at the SPIEL.
In October of 2014 I had the opportunity to attend the amazing 4+-day public gaming event/convention SPIEL for the first time. As that was my first time to the SPIEL, I hadn’t set up many meetings with game designers. Those I did meet with were quick to introduce me to others who might be interested in pitching games to another US company. I also spent some of my time exploring the exhibit hall floor. I wanted to see if there were any games that attendees were naturally being drawn to that were not yet available in the US in hopes of picking up new items for our line. Considering there were a number of US companies and International companies with North American branches doing this same thing, it wasn’t an easy task.
Part of my exploration brought me to the New Item Pavilion, where companies were presenting a number of high profile items with the goal of widespread media coverage. There were a few key games that caught my attention. I later sought out those that intrigued me on the exhibit hall floor to play/test myself, and to see what fans thought.
One of the highlights for the trip to Essen was finding a game that we felt met our criteria. It was also quickly becoming a media darling for all the German newspapers and magazines during the SPIEL. The game Lift It! was designed by Per Gauding, and published in Sweden as [bild’it] by the publisher Martinex. Per is a builder of exhibit booths by trade and, therefore, had a lot of spare parts, which became the genesis for his wonderful game. It was being launched and promoted as Lift It! in Essen from Carletto’s game division, Game Factory.
I first saw Lift It! in the New Game Pavilion being demoed by two women dressed in overalls. More importantly, I saw people having a blast at the Game Factory stand, all while laughing and taking photos of one another playing it. Although we hadn’t yet worked with Carletto or Game Factory, I did know the team that brought the game to them as well as the manufacturer who had worldwide rights. Therefore, we moved pretty quickly to get a deal in place to be the North American licensee. Within a month we had an agreement to add Lift It! to our line. We debuted it at the New York Toy Fair just a few months after first seeing it.
When we license a game, the amount of work that we need to put into the game design and development varies. It depends on the stage that it’s in when we license it, and the amount of work and play testing the designer has put in. Sometimes it’s a rough idea with a rule sheet written out, while other times a full prototype has been built. Another beautiful thing about the game Lift It! was that it had already been refined through lots of engineering, playtesting, manufacturing, and product design work. Therefore, what we have published here in North America is very close to the edition found in many European countries from Game Factory.
Another thing I love about my job is being able to demo our games at trade shows! I specifically love demoing Lift It! because everyone is curious about what all these cool plastic pieces are for. Even more so, the building of dimensional puzzles feels familiar, which is why it appeals to many. I usually start everyone off easy with a simple two-piece puzzle using the crane in their hand. Once they quickly demonstrate how easy that was, I show them how to put the crane on their head—this really takes the fun up a notch. After this relatively simple challenge, I have two people race against each other with a three-piece puzzle to push the excitement even more. For the piece de resistance, I put a crane on my head, hook another one to it, and then have two of us demonstrate how to build a new puzzle with two cranes connected to one hook. At this point, there is usually a crowd of folks waiting to try this for themselves.
Where else can you look like a unicorn, play a tabletop game, and have so much fun?