Through most of my life, I have viewed educational games as the lamest type of entertainment — even below cow tipping and chicken hypnotizing. (Yes, these were practiced in my home town when I was growing up, in between bowling a few frames and hanging out at the DQ.)
When I started designing games, I had decided to try creating a lot of different styles of games. 4th Corner is an abstract strategy game, Samsara is a pure strategy game, Master Spy is a memory and strategy game, and I have a war game, a cooperative role-playing game, and a card game in development. Coming from a family of educators, it seemed natural for me to try to come up with an educational game that was actually fun to play and didn’t make you feel like you were learning.
I met the challenge with Star Hopper, a race game for players age 6 and above with a little dice rolling, a little strategy, a space colonization theme, and a 48-page book. You only need to read the first two or three pages of the book to learn how to play the game, but the rest of it is there in case you want to learn more about the stars and space travel. It includes more details about all of the 107 real stars that are part of the card deck and game board, as well as articles on specific topics, including the relative sizes of stars and planets, how we can detect planets we can’t see, and what happens to stars when they die.
Each of the cards in the deck gives the name of a real star system in our galactic neighborhood, and they are numbered in order of their distance from us. In addition, there is a small graphic on each card that attempts to show the features of each star system, such as the relative sizes and positions of the stars in a binary or trinary system, dust clouds and rings, and known sizes and positions of orbiting planets. I am betting that using the cards in the game play will get players to check out the book and eventually explore on their own.
I have been a bit hesitant to bring the Star Hopper prototype out with my adult gaming friends, because it is so simple it can be played by a 6-year-old, and the game is around half luck, half strategy. But I am bringing it out more now, because when I have, I have been surprised how much even adults enjoy the game. Some really enjoy the suspense of the die rolling and the race aspect, some really enjoy the space travel theme, and the board is colorful enough and the components interesting enough and the play time short enough (about 30 minutes) that it is a pleasant break from some of the heavier strategy games we play.
So we played a 5-player game of Star Hopper last night, and my friends were teasing me that I had won simply because I was the game designer. I also managed to get another investment this week to pay off the catalog ad space, pay the German publisher royalties for The Climbers, pay the production and shipping costs for The Climbers, and pay for my hotel and airfare to Dallas for Toy Preview in October. Still no solid release dates for any of the new games, but if The Climbers takes off enough this fall, we hope to get Samsara, Hedge, and Star Hopper out before Christmas.