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Life is a game

The four friends who own the Sherwood-based Sunriver Games know that making it in the gaming world is not easy, but it certainly is fun
by: JONATHAN HOUSE, The owners of Sunriver Games typically participate in gaming nights, such as the one held at Matt Gagan's apartment last week. Most of the time they use these meetings to bounce ideas off one another and playtest new games.

If you are ever invited to join KC and Rita Humphrey, Carey Grayson and his wife Linda, and any number of their friends at a boardgame night, be prepared to have your head handed to you on a platter.

I learned this the hard way when I accepted an offer to participate in a Friday night gaming get-together last week. Like most everyone else in the world, I grew up playing Monopoly, Life and Uno, but a working knowledge of these games doesn't even compare to what is needed to match wits with these gamers. Not only was I soundly beaten at one of Carey's games that was being play-tested that night (tentatively titled 'Claws,' and a whole lot of fun), I was also clueless about the ins and outs of the very large boardgame world.

But unlike me, KC, Rita, Carey and their friend Chris Brooks know all about the gaming culture: As the owners and operators of the Sherwood-based Sunriver Games, they themselves are a part of it.

Their privately held company has been in operation since 2004, and though the foursome forms a tight-knit partnership today, Carey was only recently brought on in August when Sunriver acquired New Classic Games, a gaming company that he had purchased just prior to the Sunriver transaction.

'It didn't make sense for us to try and do it on our own,' KC said. 'So now it's sort of like three companies.'

The inventory of Sunriver is expanding, but at this time it includes Abagio and the history-based card game, HAVOC: The Hundred Years War.

'Some people buy (HAVOC) because it looks good, some people buy it because it's historical,' said KC, who designed HAVOC after hearing a quote from a Shakespeare play and decided it would make a great premise for a game. He used the line (which he said he heard repeated in a 'Star Trek' movie) to create a game where players compete to win victory points through battles. After eight skirmishes, a final battle ensues and the winner is crowned king based on total victory points.

HAVOC was released in October 2005, and KC said it took about a year to get the game produced and ready to sell. This includes having all the elements made and shipped from different parts of the country and then putting them together for shipment.

Rita said the Sunriver group, along with their friends and family members, must have spent four solid weekends just assembling HAVOC. Complete production required them to fold and glue the insert, fold the box, put the cards and other pieces in the correct places inside the box and shrink-wrap the entire thing. After this was all done, they took more than 300 copies of their games to the Essen Spiel convention in Germany, which is the largest game convention in the world.

The reception at Essen was very positive, and the success of HAVOC continues to this day, with the game sitting at No. 291 out of the thousands of other boardgames listed on the BoardGameGeek Web site (www.boardgamegeek.com). The game is also No. 1 right now at the Ashland online and retail gaming store, Funagain Games, which KC said is kind of surprising after being out on the market for so long.

The Sunriver Games crew hopes to once again find success at Essen Spiel later next month when they unveil their new addition, 24/7 The Game. 24/7 was created by Carey, who said it was his 'dream to design a game about time,' but he didn't know much other than that.

The point of Carey's game is to score with combinations of numbered tiles which add up to seven and 24, and form sets and runs on the 7- by 7-inch board. Carey said the game really came to life when he and his wife Linda were at the beach during a spell of foul weather and they decided to actually construct the game pieces using felt from a fabric store and playing cards. They then painted the lines of the game on the felt with a fabric pen.

With the debut of his game looming on the horizon, he said he is feeling both excited and nervous.

'I'm feeling pretty excited in terms of prospect,' he said. 'But you just don't know if … (the game) will strike the public's chord to the extent that they want to buy it.'

The initial play-tests of 24/7 revealed that the game was actually too simple, so Carey changed it. And he changed it again. Then he brought it to one of the owners of the Aloha gaming store Rainy Day Games, who gave him some good feedback on it. Carey said play-testing is integral to producing a game, 'otherwise, you can spend a lot of money' on a bad game.

'There are a lot of people who get in the game business and maybe don't get very honest feedback on their games,' he said.