CUDO exhibit brings board gamers together
A dragon battle game where the dragon is the hero, aliens stealing cows, a struggle with the deadly Titan prison ships, a daunting memory test and a chance to evolve as something very different from Homo sapiens.
These were the games that premiered at the Champaign-Urbana Design Organization's Grand Exhibition last month, with Heifer Heist the winner of the competition.
The selection was based on criteria that included quality of design and run. There were also prizes for best in an individual category,
The winners got a prize that could make Heifer Heist a commercial product — a Kickstarter funding campaign.
In Kickstarter's game category, donors have pledged $214 million to 2,912 projects, according to its web site.
Champaign's Catedral Consulting is working with the winning Heifer Heist team to produce a professional production value campaign, said Josh Cooper, one of the exhibition organizers.
Heifer Heist deals with aliens who are trying to steal the most cows without alerting the wily farmer and his wife.
Longtime friends Jessica Chu and Katie Khau, both University of Illinois students, turned tables on the usual scenarios with their creation, making for a crowd around their game.
Heifer Heist was among 10 board games in the competition, which CUDO started in October.
In the case of Heifer Heist, planning began even earlier.
"The idea was originally created for a game design class, but Katie and I further developed the game when we heard about the competition because the game had memorable characters and fun mechanics," Chu said.
Cooper said the inventiveness of the games as well as attention to detail were important considerations.
"The event went really well; we had over 150 people cycle throughout the day, and everybody seemed to enjoy the games," Cooper said.
Patrick Ralph of Champaign test-played Heifer Heist and co-created another game, Dragon Raiders.
The game is meant for three to eight players, ages 12 to adult. It was created by Cheron Fitzgerald, Sean Roberts and Ralph. It appropriately goes medieval on the players, with its fantasy plot line, crenellated castle towers and rocky settings.
It took 32 team members to produce the exhibition's version of Dragon Raiders — but only one 12-year-old to come up with the general concept.
After creators learned about the competition in October, Fitzgerald's granddaughter told her family and friends that she "wanted to play the dragon, and fight the knights."
"It took us by a bit of surprise," Ralph said of the 12-year-old's remark, but the idea immediately took hold.
The friends "have played games regularly on Tuesday nights for the last few years," Ralph said. "We are board game fiends.
"We've all played good and bad board games in our lives."
But Ralph said the creators are committed to continuing to develop Dragon Raiders, but that work is on hold until summertime.
"We might need better artwork, but the rules are in pretty good shape," he said.
No art problems for the creators of Brain Freeze, which features a glowing top half of a brain.
It was created on a three-dimensional printer, but at $22 a pop, the real problem is trying to find a less expensive technique for putting together the board game.
Cathy Anders of Mahomet and Rob and Doug Law, both of Champaign, created Brain Freeze after a discussion about how many examples of any type could be spoken in a prescribed time, say 10 seconds or 35 seconds.
If you can't come up with the answer, Brain Freeze lights up with an alarm and the next player gets a chance.
"It's good for teaching how to come up with creative answers under pressure," Doug Law said.
Keith and Cora Hays of Mahomet created Evolve, which teaches about evolution, "over a lot of plates of pancakes," she said.
Cora Hays, a biological illustrator, majored in life sciences, and felt that her experience in learning how life works was splintered by different approaches take by professors.
"Even in my college courses, I wasn't hearing a lot of about evolution as whole; instead, in one class I heard about it from point of view of a marine biologist, in another from a geneticist, but never about the interaction of all these things," she said.
Evolve takes a wide range of species and environments, and plays out which species will survive and which won't.
In any board game, surviving is a learning experience — and more importantly, fun.
"I want this to be a game kids like," Cora Hays said.
Observations from the CUDO board game exhibition
Seven-year-old Matthew Hartnett of Champaign summed up a dark-timbered hall for board game players at the Urbana Landmark Hotel: "There's something to play on every day here."
If you thrill to the idea of peril, you might want to try Cabin Full of Monsters. If Stephen King has ever written about a monster, it's likely to come after you in this game, which has vampires, werewolves, sentient computers and killer cars.
Men outnumber women among gamers, but Kathleen Fuller of Champaign said that's changing as more learn about the possibilities of games that aren't about shooting. She "enjoyed the idea of playing as the dragon" in Dragon Raiders, where the supposedly mythical beast tries to make off with the king's crown jewels.