No longer bored games

2013-10-18 11:00

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Move aside, Monopoly; make way, Scrabble. A new South African generation of board games is changing the way we socialise.

As we all know, some of the best times spent with family and friends are around the dining room table.

Bring out a board game – and the fun intensifies. But while everyone is clamouring to get the right answer, finish their drawing first or roll the perfect dice, we seldom think of who the brains behind these games are. Who are the people who devise the questions, decide the rules and deliver the excitement?

While walking to work from the Cape Town station, René van Huisteen (35) from Paarl invented his board game – Yunomi. This novel game is far removed from the traditional general knowledge format and encourages personal interaction between participants instead. In fact, the name was derived from ‘You know me’.

In each round, one player is in the ‘spotlight’ (SP) and the others have to answer questions about them. Questions range from easy (what is the SP’s dog’s name?) to esoteric (does the SP believe in life on other planets?). The player who answers correctly gets to move on and the first player to finish is the winner.

René created a rough version of the game on cardboard and invited 10 friends to play. It was so well-received, he wasted no time developing it further.

‘The most important thing to me is to spend time with friends and have a good laugh,’ says René.

‘You have to have fun. What makes Yunomi so attractive is the fact that you don’t have to be clever to play. Many people don’t like general knowledge games. This game levels the playing field – children can play it with their grandparents, or a group of friends can discover how well they really know each other.’

The game also has a strong South African flavour, with questions such as ‘has the SP ever travelled by cable car to the top of Table Mountain?’ ‘I decided to include local places and names so that players feel proud to be South African,’ René explains.

Yunomi has been available in shops for two years and is doing so well René has quit his job as a copywriter and is currently marketing and developing the game full-time. He says he will only be satisfied once Yunomi reaches the success of Monopoly or 30 Seconds, another local game.

René approached the creator of 30 Seconds, Calie Esterhuyse, for advice while he was in the early phases of developing his brainchild. Calie is regarded as a great success story in the local board games market.

He explains that the South African market is much smaller than abroad, which means a game has to be exceptional to succeed.

‘It also has to have an element of fun,’ he says. ‘South Africans like games that are uncomplicated and don’t take ages to explain. In Northern Europe and Scandinavia it is quite the opposite – complicated and strategic games are a big part of their culture.’

30 Seconds was invented in 1996 when Calie and a few friends were on holiday in Gordon’s Bay. ‘We wrote down famous names on pieces of paper and each of us had to explain who the person was without mentioning the name. We enjoyed it so much that we played it again and again.’

At that stage Calie had already developed Goldquest, a game that has been available commercially since 1993. This experience helped him to develop 30 Seconds.

His biggest challenge has been marketing the game. ‘It will always be expensive to market a game, and if you don’t have a big budget you have to really think outside the box.’

Board games aren’t necessarily financially rewarding. Marketing, development and distribution is expensive but hearing about the fun people have together and the drama it can cause is payment enough.

As Plato said: you can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.

Where can I find it?

Yunomi (R250): Checkers, Makro, Game and Toy Kingdom and 30 Seconds: most supermarkets and bookshops.

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