During last year’s lockdown, two card-playing couples invented a game of their own.
by Page Leggett
The Scotts and the Bludsworths love game night. Donna Scott and her husband, Wes, and Tonya Bludsworth played a lot of cards in college. Tonya’s husband, Chuck, was the only non-gamer of the group. You know the saying: If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Chuck was never going to beat them at cards; he had to join in or miss out. Fortunately, his teachers were kind.
“We started with Uno,” says Chuck, a video producer. “We worked our way up to Five Crowns and then moved to Spades and Hearts. But we always came back to Five Crowns. That’s our go-to.”
Game night has been a ritual for the couples for years. The Scotts often host, but they’ve also been known to take a deck of cards to their regular haunt, Sir Edmond Halley’s. (Portability is key for a good game, Wes says.)
During the lockdown last year, game night became a lifeline. Wes, the group’s technical genius, created a web portal that allowed them to play remotely. One night, Chuck — the reluctant gamer — suggested they create their own game. The idea came to him while he was filming on location and met some part-time inventors. “One guy knew someone who makes $17,000 a month off the game he invented,” Chuck says.
When film production shut down last spring, Chuck’s work came to a screeching halt. Suddenly, he had time to research gaming. The group was — Sorry! — game for his idea, but they needed to become immersed in gaming culture if they were going to be successful. So, they moved beyond cards and into board games — Scattergories, Rummikub, Pandemic. (Yes, there’s a board game called Pandemic that Wes bought before Covid-19.)
‘Us against the game’
“This is not a casual game play experience,” Wes says of Pandemic. “There are lots of pieces. It takes a while to set up. I was concerned I’d never convince anyone to play with me. But then an actual pandemic happened. And we decided we’d form a pod with the Bludsworths. It was just the four of us, and we had a lot of free time.”
Pandemic is a “cooperative game,” which means players aren’t competing against each other. They’re fighting the virus — the object is to stop the disease from destroying everything. Chuck knew he wanted their game to be cooperative.
The couples were playing Chuck’s prototype one night when Donna suggested dogs as the theme of their game. The Scotts have two Westies, and the Bludsworths have a chocolate lab. “We love our dogs as much as we love playing games,” Donna says. “We figured we needed more of both to get us through this strange time.”
The four suits in Dogcatcher are a Westie, a yellow Lab, a husky and a lovable mutt. The object is to keep the dogs safe from the dogcatcher.
Stacking the deck
The lockdown allowed time for game playing — or research and development, as the inventors thought of it. “Chuck and Tonya [a casting director, actress and playwright] were, unfortunately, out of work.” Wes says. “I was working from home. We became each other’s steady dates.”
Chuck did the illustrations and design, and everyone worked together on rules and researching a company to produce the game. They gave the prototype to some card-playing friends to test and critique. (They “stacked the deck,” Chuck jokes, by giving the prototype to dog-loving friends.) A Kickstarter campaign last September raised almost twice their goal of $1,250.
Work has resumed for all, but the four gamers now have a side business, Teenie Tiny Tiki Games, and they have more games in development. They now understand the elements of a good one.
The best games, Wes says, are neither too simplistic (Candyland, for instance) nor too complex. “Bridge sounds fascinating,” he says. “But I don’t play because there are entire books written about it, and you have to join a club. There are a lot of games you either know how to play and you’re in, or you don’t know how to play, and nobody wants to take the time to teach you.”
Dogcatcher, billed as “a strategic, trick-taking card game that’s a little bit Hearts, a dash of Spades, a pinch of Uno and a whole pack of DOGS” is neither too easy nor too hard.
The fun-loving foursome wanted a game that allowed them to deal a new person in — just in case someone walks in to Sir Ed’s and wants to play. It turns out to be a game they want to play over and over. On Saturday nights, they now reach for Dogcatcher, even before Five Crowns.
As for Pandemic, everyone’s had enough. SP