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

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

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."

It took several more versions to get it polished and perfected, and they credit the guild for a lot of input and help. "It is kind of cool that this supportive community is there," says Haslam. "They take it to the next level."

Kharkar and Haslam have been friends and partners since they both started working for a video game designing company. Theirs is a true partnership, they say. No one worries about who had this idea or who had that idea. "We put our friendship above anything, and split it all equally," says Kharkar.

Although they have expertise at video games, there are a lot of things about boards games that they prefer. "A big part is the tactile feel of the game," says Haslam. "I love manipulating the pieces. And if they are produced well, as this one is, that adds to the experience."

But the biggest thing is the interaction with other people, he says. "For me, gaming is all about the social aspect. Even with video games, I don't like the ones for a single person. I love the interaction over a table. I love playing and talking with other people."

It's also a great way for families to connect, says Kharkar. "With such busy lives, it's one of the few times to connect with my kids. It's a time when we don't turn the TV on, we talk about their days."

There are valuable lessons to be learned, as well. "Games teach math skills, risk assessment," says Haslam. "They teach subtle lessons that can be learned in harder ways with direr consequences. Games offer a set space with a set of rules. A lot of spaces in life function in the same way with their own sets of rules."

The Hiatt family plays games all the time, both to keep up with what's new and to enjoy time together. "I love it when we have time with the family, when we turn off the phones and the computers. Games have taught my 8-year-old how to lose with dignity, and my 10-year-old to win without getting in your face."

Another benefit, says Kharkar, is that "games teach you it's not all about instant gratification. You have to set up, plan ahead, think of consequences. There are lots of critical thinking skills."

The fun, the benefits, the experience. They all entwine like grapevines in a vineyard.


If you go …

What: "King's Vineyard" release party

Where: Game Night Games, 2030 S. 900 East, Salt Lake City

When: Friday, July 29, 7-11 p.m.

How much: free