Creating my 60s board game

By Carl Stieren

A sneak peek at the new game.

On February 12, 2012, it was not even seven months until a major high school reunion was awaiting me in Chicago. I was excited about seeing old classmates. But how could we bring together the hawks and the doves, the peaceniks and the veterans, from the time of the Vietnam War?

Then I thought of the most famous tagline of the 1960s: sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. These subjects were just as risky, but much more fun – and often funny—as long as you didn’t go overboard. There would be more cheek-to-cheek and elbow-to-elbow and less nose-to-nose or hand-to-hand. I could just tell the truth. I could say, “I inhaled in the 60s. Then my friend Howard, who worked for the Addiction Research Foundation of Ontario, told me, ‘You know, Carl, there are two chemicals that accumulate the most in your liver: DDT and tetrahyrdocannabinol (the active ingredient in pot).’ After that I never took another toke.”

Sex and drugs and rock ’n’ roll

And for sex, how much easier it is to say “You know the 60s slogan ‘If you’re not with the one you love, love the one you’re with’? That was dumb, dumb, dumb!” Rock ‘n’ roll was even easier– we’d be dancing to that at the reunion!

Then it came to me: I could create a board game about the 60s, with questions about college life, sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll—not just politics. People at the reunion could play the game and laugh, and they might even be able to face up to a few heavy political questions. I was on a mission. As my friend Peter said, “Carl’s off on one of his projects. He’s going to make this puppy.”

Until sometime in May, my idea was just to make one game, and play it at the reunion. Then I decided to investigate what it would take to get it created, camera-ready, and published. By fate or happenstance, at the opening reception for the Editors’ Association of Canada in Ottawa, I ran into Greg Ioannou, the President of the national association. He talked to me about his two years at a board game company, and gave me extremely valuable advice. At the same reception, I ran into Margaret McKay, an attorney for copyright and trademark law.

Writing the questions was the easy part. I had lived through the 60s and read so many books about the era. So I just wrote and wrote and when I finished, I figured I would only had the fact checking to do. But when I got to the end, it was hard – those last few questions were the most difficult. My friends helped me out by writing the last 15 questions. To edit the questions, I assembled more than a dozen of my friends from the Editors’ Association of Canada and others who had done editing to take 20 questions each.

Flying to Chicago

By the time of the reunion in September, I had a nearly final prototype. We had a superb board whose path led you through 31 states and six Canadian provinces, thanks to the chief game artist, Steve Fick. Twelve thousand words later, I had 300 cards with questions about sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, college+politics and a category I called “everything else.” Steve had done the graphics for the box cover and the cards. I had also added karma cards and trickster cards, plus hitchhike squares where people could advance one to three times the number they threw with the die. In both Canada (Ottawa and Toronto) and the United States (Ann Arbor, Michigan) I had play-tested the game and found that people really liked it. The few difficulties they had were celebrations, not setbacks. Their hesitations or mistakes told me where the problems were, so I didn’t have to guess. From their responses, I made many minor revisions and one major one.

Then came the acid test: Chicago. Surprise! People at my reunion liked the game! They even gave me suggestions for manufacturers and told me how to avoid extra printing charges by choosing two PMS spot colors instead of full-color when printing the cards. But their old friends from decades ago were a far stronger pull than a new board game, so we never actually had a test play at the reunion.

But people at my reunion looked at – and laughed at – the questions on the cards. I did have some heart-to-hear talks with Vietnam Veterans that were wonderful. Only one was confrontational, and he was not a classmate but a friend of a classmate. He greeted me – and every other male at the reunion – with a brusque order straight out of Sargent Bilko.

“Where did you serve?” he thundered. “The peace and civil rights movements, “ I replied. “I was arrested in Cambridge, Maryland for non-violently protesting segregation.”

A little help from my friends

Isabelle Yingling, my wife, as well as acting in the video, was always was the sober second thought for any major decision I made while designing the game. When she turned thumbs down on anything, it was wise not to do it. When she suggested something, it was probably worth including.

What I needed now was the funding to get a modest first order published. My stepson Elliot said “Use Kickstarter – it’s a crowdfunding site.” I checked it out. It looked good until I realized you had to be a U.S. resident to launch a campaign. (I hold dual U.S. and Canadian citizenship, but live in Ottawa, Canada.) Then I discovered Indiegogo. It’s a global platform – no restrictions on where you live.

To do a proper crowdfunding campaign you need one thing: a real blockbuster of a video, no more than four minutes long. I had written hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles. Also, I had been a news editor, the associate editor of an international magazine, had poems, short stories, cartoons and a 17,000-word pamphlet published. I had written a speech and delivered it on a tour I gave of Bronson Street in Ottawa for the 2011 Janeswalk in honour of Jane Jacobs. I even tweeted regularly. I was now the communications co-ordinator of the Ottawa International Writers Festival. But never once in my life had I written a video script!

Lights, camera, action!

Before the shoot, I had gone through 20 versions of my script, with input from my stepdaughter Mani, from Isabelle and from my videographer Damien Robitaille. From Mike Gifford of Open Concept, the go-to man for anything on the web, I got a recommendation for the video editing: editor-par-excellence Chris Brown of liquidvisual.ca. From Prolific Games in Minneapolis, I got two ideas for my video. But my acting will never be as good as that of John Doherty Harris in the video of their new game, Hirelings: the Ascent.

To do both the filming and the final box cover, I had to act, co-direct, set up the lights, the sound, create the background and the rest of the set, get the props, assemble everything and take it all down after the shoot. But after three sessions, we got a wrap. Chris did his magic with video editing, and it was done!

Finally, we were ready to face the real Dragon’s Den: the public.