Card game blends poker and rummy with dragons and goblins
When Darren Kisgen decided to make a game, his only goal was to entertain his family. But over the past few months, the finance professor at Boston College has seen his game selling thousands of copies around the world. And it has won a big prize.
"I'm surprised by all of this," said Kisgen, a former Wall Street investment banker who now lives outside Boston. "Frankly, it's been a lot of fun."
Called Dragonwood, the game borrows ideas from poker and rummy but blends them into a fantasy world of dragons and goblins. By drawing a strong hand, players can boost their chances of "capturing" mythical creatures in a fictional forest, which helps them win the game. It's advertised for anyone 8 years old and up.
The idea struck Kisgen two years ago. He had found that most fantasy games were too complicated or violent for his two children, who were 5 and 7.
"I felt like I was missing a game that I would want to play with them. So I decided to try to come up with that game myself," he said.
He called it Forest Quest, built with ordinary playing cards and dice. But over time, Kisgen thought it would be more fun with colorful cards illustrating the dragons, trolls and ogres. So he sent a prototype to a game publisher, Gamewright. The company provided art for the cards and began selling it as Dragonwood.
The game has sold more than 20,000 copies since summer, Gamewright said. It is one of the top-selling games from the Massachusetts publisher.
It also won a top gaming prize from Mensa, a society for people with high IQs. Once a year, members of Mensa meet for a weekend to test dozens of new board games and recognize those seen as original, challenging and well designed. This year, Kisgen's game was one of five winners out of more than 60 they tested.
Greg Webster is the event's chief judge. He praised Dragonwood for its simplicity but said it also lets players employ a variety of strategies that can lead to victory.
"It makes it interesting to play when you've got different options and you're not locked in," he said.
In recent years, Webster added, it has become more common to see popular games that started out as a casual idea in someone's living room.
"They say this is the golden age of board gaming, and I think that's true," he said. "There are so many ways for someone who has an idea for a board game to pull it together."
The game is also winning nods as an educational tool. It can teach kids about arithmetic, number patterns and probability.
Kisgen grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. He said he remembers devising games for his brother and sister as a kid. But there's little overlap between gaming and his finance career.
"To design a game takes some logic, takes understanding strategy, and this game has a lot of numbers in it," he said. "But that's where it ends."
After hearing feedback from players around the world, Kisgen said he's already thinking of ways to expand the game. But he still wants to keep it simple.