POWELL — The idea for a strategic family card game came to Mark McKenna when most of the best ideas do — in the middle of the night.
In a nutshell, players assume the role of a royal family member and then have to scheme, steal, cooperate, wheel and deal to shore up their positions.
Now nearly three years later, that game — Royal Turmoil — is for sale nationwide. It was a challenging, but worthwhile process for McKenna and his family of Powell, Wyoming.
“I woke up at like 4 in the morning and my brain just turned on and the wheels started turning,” he said. “To take an idea and turn it into something that you can hold in your hand, there's something magical about it.”
Building The Game
Not long after the early morning brainstorming session, McKenna, who is a professional artist, created a simple prototype for the game that the family — which includes wife Sheena and children Jamie, Lexi, Macie, Natalie, Grant and Hailey — could start playing and tweaking.
“I know some graphic design, so I put the card layout together and then put it on cardstock at the local print shop, cut everything out and we started playing it,” he said.
The family worked on fine-tuning the game over the next two and half years, playing it for a while and then putting it away when they got tired of it. McKenna said the distance from the game was beneficial to the process.
“We had enough time to get away from it emotionally, so when we played again after a while of not playing we could recognize what was working and what wasn't and we were able to cut and slash where we needed to,” he said.
Writing The Royal Rules
About a year and a half ago, the family thought the game was far enough along to take the next step.
McKenna connected with an illustrator and hired him to create the characters. McKenna’s kids were instrumental in coming up with names for the characters. Each name has two words, and the first letter in each word is the same. There's Velvety Viking, Silver Samurai, Zigzag Zebra, Grumpy Grasshopper and Macho Mango among several others.
“The names were the prompts we gave to the illustrator, which was really fun,” McKenna said. “The illustrator's stuff is just hilarious. It's so fun to look at and is engaging. It was then I really felt like the vision of what I originally had was coming together. The whole process became pretty addictive. It just really lit the fire and helped that momentum to carry through.”
With a much nicer prototype in hand, the McKennas wrote up the rules for the game and had some friends play to gather more feedback. They then added a few dynamics and additional strategy to the game before deeming it complete.
In Royal Turmoil, which is for two to five players ages 7 and up, there are three kingdoms with eight royals in each. Players earn points by claiming, stealing, settling and uniting as many royals as possible.
“The whole idea originally was to have these royals who needed things to complete their kingdom,” McKenna said. “So, you have these different cards in your hands that are resources that match the icons on the cards of the royals.”
Some of the royals require up to seven resources to be settled. The game takes about 30 minutes to play.
“Our family enjoys a good game together and we can get kind of crazy,” he said. “You're playing against others and trying to steal cards and defend them. It goes back and forth. The name Royal Turmoil becomes pretty fitting at that point.”
The Next Step
Up next was manufacturing, which McKenna said was a whole new learning process. After prices in the U.S. proved too high, he began to look at various countries including China, Vietnam and India before eventually finding a manufacturer in Mexico.
“Figuring out and just understanding all of the terminology wasn’t easy. There's a whole set of lingo that you have to understand when you’re dealing with companies outside of the country,” he said. “I did a lot of YouTube University.”
With each item checked off the list, there were more challenges to tackle. McKenna began researching how to sell the game on Amazon. He luckily discovered early on that anything that's available for children under the age of 12 must go through specific testing for harmful chemicals. The manufacturer had to send a few of the early copies of the game to a testing facility that had to certify it met the requirements.
The McKennas also trademarked the game name, as well as the business name McKenna Games.
“Needless to say, it's been a massive learning curve, coming from this original idea of having a fun game to a lot of nitty gritty details that we didn’t initially realize,” he said. “But it's been pretty awesome. I think a lot of people have been really excited and supportive, especially when they've seen the physical product.”
The family ordered a batch of 3,000 games to start and launched it on Amazon in September. McKenna said sales continue to increase each month. So far, Royal Turmoil isn’t profitable, but the McKennas are playing the long game and hope to be in the black in the next six months.
“At this point, with how the numbers are coming in and all the excitement that's around the whole thing, we're really hopeful and optimistic that this is going to play out well and allow us to pursue some other games,” he said. “We've got at least two other games we want to get off the ground.”