Kickstarting Your Little Game Designer

by Amy Kraft on April 17, 2014


I recently reaped the rewards of two board games that I backed on Kickstarter, both of which caught my attention as a game designer mama.

The first is Robot Turtles. With a goal of $25,000, the Kickstarter for this game closed at $631,230. Not. Too. Shabby. That money shows incredible support for a game designed to get kids 3-8 to learn the fundamentals of programming.

To play the game, you play a set of instruction cards (like left, right, forward, etc.) to get the robot turtle to the match robot jewel. But I’d argue that that’s not the real game. The real game is setting up the board. You lay cards that feature a variety of obstacles anywhere along the open grid of the game board. Of course, I say this because I do a lot of level design, and in setting up the board, Olive and I had great conversations about how we’d set up the board for players of different skill levels. We could make a super easy version for Ozzie, and then a nearly impossible one for Daddy. (*sniff* My little girl understands scaffolded design.) And then, to the game’s credit, there’s a certain amount of “debugging” that needs to happen, like when a crate slides to where you didn’t expect it and it blocks a player’s path to the jewel.

If you’re reading this and are bummed that you missed out on the Kickstarter campaign, I have some great news. The ever-awesome ThinkFun Games picked this up for distribution. They’re making some enhancements to the game and are taking pre-orders now. The games start shipping in June.

The next game had one of the most intriguing Kickstarter campaigns I’ve ever seen. It was developed by GeekDad Jonathan Liu, a name I knew I could trust as I gamely kicked in some bucks to go along for the ride. The name, The Emperor’s New Clothes, indicated that it would indeed be some kind of ride. Sure, the descriptions were always a little cagey about how the game actually worked. And the Kickstarter page boasted the help of an amazing list of my favorite creators, like Tom Angleberger, Bob Boyle, Raina Tegemeier, and Adam Rex. Every update had something a little eyebrow raising, like “Doctor” Mac Barnett describing amazing technology that makes game elements only visible to certain people.


The game arrived, rather fittingly, on April Fool’s Day. Inside a completely blank white box were a slew of blank white playing pieces — dice, tokens, cards, instruction booklet. I loved it, but even better than that, Olive’s eyes completely lit up with possibility when she saw it. The game did come with stickers and possible instructions, but the blank pieces were too big of an invitation.


Olive asked several times to “play” the game. I’ll admit that since I’m a game designer by day, it felt a little too much like work and I kept putting it off. Then came the first day of spring break. Olive needed something to do besides watch the iPad and loom rainbows, but I had a ton of work to get down. She again asked to “play” the blank game, so I pulled it down and suggested that she get started designing her game and I would play it when she was finished but offer any help she needed along the way.


Cut to time-lapsed video of a clock as hours passed, with Olive laboring happily over her game. She decided to base it on her recent comic book, Seed & Strings Do Not Like Each Other. It’s worth noting that my girl starts many a comic book, but this is the first one she’s finished. It’s a hilarious tale of seed people and weed spiders that are out to get each other.


In her version of The Emperor’s New Clothes, you get to play as one of her characters. The spaces on the board feature her characters, too, and the instructions tell you what to do when you get to one of those spaces. Often you move forward or back or you get an extra turn. But, when you land on the special spaces of the pony-tailed girl, you draw the Emperor’s clothes. Now, there is no information on who this Emperor is or criteria about what his clothes should look like. Rather, the game invites you to be a fashion designer. You grab one of the notebooks that she made and draw whatever comes to mind. Then, your fellow players vote on whether these clothes are good or bad, and you move forward or backward accordingly. (The goal is to be the first to the finish line.)


Her game is a lot of laughs as everyone tries to have the most outlandish Emperor’s clothes. We still have a completely blank deck of playing cards, so I can wait to see what the next game will be. I highly recommend giving your kids blank playing pieces. Also, give them blank comic book pages.


10 Things I’ve Been Doing Instead of Blogging

by Amy Kraft on April 17, 2014

Dang, I’m seeing that I’m about to hit two months without a post. Sorry ’bout that! Here’s what I’ve been up to while I’ve obviously not been blogging.

[UPDATE: This post mysteriously vanished from my blog, so I am reposting it thanks to my lovely Feedly archive.]


1. The biggest thing going on is that my longtime friend and collaborator, Sharon Bilman, and I have started our own business. Monkey Bar Collective is going to be in the business of making great games and other media for kids.

2. I’ve just finished up one of my most favorite games I’ve had the chance to work on. With Scholastic, I designed I Spy Challenger for Intel’s AIO devices, like the beautiful Lenovo Horizon. They’re like giant tablets that when laid flat provide amazing multiplayer opportunities, something all new for I Spy. If you have such a device, please check it out and let me know what you think! 


3. Also in the Scholastic/Intel lineup, I helped out on Clifford Reading Adventures. This is really cool because in addition to touch activities, if you have their Creative camera, you can use gestures to play the game. It’s such a thrill to think about how new platforms like these can work for kids.


4. I made these cupcakes. You can totally tell they’re Daniel Tiger, right?


5. I started playing Frozen Free Fall. I almost hesitate to mention it if you don’t already know it because you and your kids will be hooked. Hooked! (The trick is to play your provided turns and turn it off, not giving into all the possibilities for micro-transactions. Be warned!)


6. When not on Free Fall, I’ve been playing Threes. The simplicity of this game is amazing: just build threes and multiples of threes. Olive digs this one, too.


7. Oh, and the Future levels of Plants vs. Zombies 2 are now unlocked. I’m doomed.


8. I’ve had some boring medical stuff going on that justifies sitting on the couch playing games. (And watching SherlockScandal, and True Detective.)

9. You can always find me on Facebook. I try to post goodies several times a week.

10. Oh, and Twitter, too.

I’ve been to a bunch of cool events lately that I’d really like to tell you about, so blogging resolutions…. start now!


Pterosaurs Take Flight at AMNH

April 16, 2014

Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs is a great new show at the American Museum of Natural History, great for dinosaur lovers young and old. I recently attended a preview of the exhibit, where paleontologist curators Mark Norell and Alexander Kellner talked about pterosaur fossils and the formation of this new exhibit. The first […]

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Shhh, This NYC Theater is a Secret

February 8, 2014

UPDATE: There’s been a change of dates, and Ghostbusters is happening on 3/23! When you live as far uptown as we do, you have a certain acceptance that the true gems of New York City are a subway ride away. We recently discovered we have a secret, wonderful gem of a theater uptown, the United […]

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Exciting New Books from Little, Brown

February 7, 2014

Earlier this week I went to one of my favorite semi-annual events, the Little, Brown Books for Young Readers picture book cocktail party. Yes, it does combine two of my favorite things, picture books and cocktails, but it also offers a rare behind-the-scenes look at these books in the making. At previous parties I’ve enjoyed […]

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Year of the Horsey

January 31, 2014

I am strong little ox. Olive is a chatty little rooster. My husband and Ozzie are brave little tigers. These are the cutie versions of the Chinese zodiac in the new book My Lucky Little Dragon by Joyce Wan. Each page has an adorable illustration of the animal. It ends with a bit of good […]

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Symphony Space is Great for Kids: Just Kidding

January 16, 2014

My family and I were recently invited to attend a show at Symphony Space, part of the Just Kidding series for families. We have never been disappointed with a Just Kidding show, and this was no exception. Lunch Money, one of our favorite family bands, made a rare NYC appearance so we naturally jumped at […]

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Awesome, Revolting Children

December 29, 2013

What… this? This is the key to my superlative cabinet, which is now being opened because Olive and I have seen Matilda on Broadway. To describe the show I’ll need most of the superlatives I have. Wow. First, let me set the stage. I’m not a big fan of musicals, and I’ve passed that on to […]

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Todd McHatton’s Christmas Present to You

December 21, 2013

Time to get merry, people. Todd McHatton let me know that he’s giving away free downloads of ALL of his albums between today and December 25th! This includes his Christmas Songs album! Here for further merriment, is a video for the song “Santa Flying in Your Sleigh.” Merry Christmas!

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Three Books with Christmas Cheer

December 19, 2013

If you’re looking to expand your library with some Christmasy books for the kids, here are three picture books that put a new spin on the holiday. The Smallest Gift of Christmas by Peter H. Reynolds I’m not gonna lie, little Roland, this book’s protagonist, is a bit of a brat. He raced downstairs on […]

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