'King's Vineyard' a board game without board, designers say

Published: Thursday, July 28 2011 6:00 p.m. MDT

Game designers, Sandeep Kharkar, left, and Dave Haslam demonstrate their game King's Vineyard Tuesday, July 19, 2011 at the Game Stop store.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

The king is looking for a new keeper for his vineyard. He needs someone that can grow various kinds of grapes in nice even rows and keep them from wilting prematurely, but also knows when it's time to pull out dying vines and move on.

He will let you try out for the position, but will make three surprise visits to the vineyard in the course of your trial period to see how you are doing. He will reward prizes for good efforts along the way. If you end up with the best vineyard, and thus the most prizes, you'll get the job.

That's the premise behind "King's Vineyard," a new game by local designers Sandeep Kharkar and Dave Haslam, published by Mayday Games. It's debuting at a launch party tonight at Game Night Games.

It is the first published game by the design duo, although they have another six or seven games in various stages of development and review.

It also represents the fourth game this year to come out of the Board Designers Guild of Utah, says guild member Mike Compton. "And they've all been published by different companies, which says a lot for the local game scene," he says.

The guild meets regularly to play-test games and discuss various aspects of game design and publishing. "King's Vineyard" joins "Pastiche," designed by Sean MacDonald; "Trollhala," by Alf Seegert and "The Heavens of Olympus," by Compton.

In addition, local artist Ryan Laukat has done artwork for "Dominion: Cornucopia" and "Rails of New England." And guild member Brian Kelley, who has a new card gamed called "White Elephant," which simulates the classic holiday gift exchange game, is publishing his game through a website called Kickstarter. He had just received word that his funding goal has been met, so the game will be out in a couple of months.

So there's a lot going on with local gamers, says Compton, who also notes that Utah is getting quite a reputation in national and international game circles. (For more information on the guild, visit www.bgdg.info.)

But for now, all eyes are on "King's Vineyard" (with graphics by local designer Kevin Keele that make it almost worth the price of admission appearance alone).

It is actually more of a card game than a board game but has aspects of board game play. "We call it a board game without the board," says Kharkar.

What's fun, he says, is that when they first started out, the game was called the "Queen's Rose Garden," but that eventually morphed into the vineyard idea, which just seemed to work better.

It's a game for two to four players, that plays in 30-45 minutes and is good for age 8 to adult and sells for $30.

There are lots of variables in the vineyard, says Haslam. "The main mechanic is that you want grapes that are the same colors and the same length." A number of special tools — watering cans, shovels, fertilizer — to help you along the way.

There's a lot of fast-paced action, but it is also a game where, even if you don't do well in the first rounds, you still have a chance to come back and win.

"I loved the play when I first tried it," says Seth Hiatt, owner of Mayday Games. Although it is making its American debut this month, the game has been introduced in both Germany and Japan, "and it sold out almost immediately," he says.

"It has also done well at game conventions. It is very different from any other game that's out there."

So many people come up to Hiatt, and when they find out what he does, are surprised that people still play board games. "You mean, like Monopoly? they say. But there's so much more than Monopoly out there these days."

The idea for the "King's Vineyard" came to Kharkar in a dream after a board game guild meeting. "I sat up and started writing things down." He then bounced the idea off Haslam at work, "and by the end of the day, we had a pretty decent game."

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