Columbia residents develop card game to stimulate conversation, meaningful interaction

Tuesday, August 19, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT
An example of the full 72-card deck of Spark Cards created by Emily Holdman, Susanne Bylund, Patrick Connor and Camille Cragin.

COLUMBIA — Name the first three words that come into your head when you hear "evil" and "good."

In identifying the greater good, how would you define "good"?

The answer to these questions depends on who you are and your perspective of the environment and culture that surround you. Your answer is based upon a unique construction of thought and how you interact with your world.

Discovering and communicating these thoughts and perspectives into meaningful dialect is the goal of a new card game being developed by four Columbia residents.

The game, called Spark Cards, is "a collaborative conversation challenge for the curious," according to its creators. It was developed throughout the past two years, and last week, a Kickstarter crowd-fundraising campaign was started to raise money to print the game.

"Think of it as a catalyst to pick at someone's brain," said Emily Holdman, one of the game's creators. "It's not just enjoyable but it's also an opportunity to learn and to think."

The idea

In the early months of 2013, Holdman and Susanne Bylund regularly held what they called "wine time." These nights were held in an effort to engage in meaningful conversations and, of course, to drink wine.

"We end up talking about a wide variety of topics, usually ending up on some that are philosophical," Holdman said.

The two enjoyed their conversations so much that they began writing questions to ask each other at their next get-together. The questions were intended to make each other think and to understand their perspectives on complex ideas.

Pretty soon, they began looking for further opportunities to create the alluring discussions in which they found themselves.

They found the format they were seeking in the form of 19th century parlor games.

"(Parlor games) were pretty much personality questions, which would spark these interesting dialogues that lead to open-ended answers," Holdman said. "So we kind of took that structure, but applied modern topics to it."

This spawned the idea to create the card game, and Holdman and Bylund, who work at the private equity firm Adventures, began working on questions and topics. About six months later, the two sparked interest in interns Patrick Connor and Camille Cragin with an early version of the cards, which was essentially questions on 3- by 2-inch cutouts of computer paper.

Connor said he and Cragin were immediately "super on board." Cragin focused on the design of the cards, and all four began adding and editing questions. They started to compile appropriate quotes, or what they call "world references," from well-known people for each topic.

This past winter and into the spring, they began playing with friends and family to get feedback, which they used to update the game.

In early July, the final, 72-card deck was printed. It included three themes, 70 topics, more than 250 questions and about 300 quotations. Soon after, the four creators met for happy hour at Room 38, on North Eighth Street, to play the finished game for the first time. 

It lasted more than three hours. 

"We probably could have been there for 24 hours," Holdman said. "We all come from different backgrounds so when you have an eclectic group together with a few glasses of wine it's really, really fun."

"At the end of it, I felt like I knew each and every one of them better," Connor said. "And I shared a personal side I most likely wouldn't have shared otherwise."

The game

The game is playable by as few as two and as "large of a group as you can tolerate," Connor said. Each card has a topic, starter question and about three follow-up questions on the front. Three to five quotations are on the back of each card.

The cards exist in three themes:

  • Orange dice are the symbol for "Friendly" cards, which include ice-breaking and easygoing questions designed to engage conversation among people who are unfamiliar with one another. These 34 cards touch on everyday subjects.
  • A red plus and minus symbol represents cards in the "Good and Evil" category, which include questions designed to raise conversation on moral topics. These 20 cards focus on the effect of good and evil in the world and are meant to raise discussion between people who know each other.
  • The third category is "Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" with a blue torch as its symbol. These 16 cards explore the role and responsibility of an individual in society.

Each card has a main topic printed at the top. The main question is in a gray box in the middle of the card. The first player reads the question, and everyone takes a turn to answer it from his or her point of view.

After all players answer the main question, follow-up questions are printed toward the bottom of the card. These questions are designed to engage players to take a different or deeper perspective on the topic. Some even lend comic relief to the conversation. On the "Culture" card, the third alternative question is "What, in all likelihood, lies in the depths of Loch Ness?"

Players take turns answering the alternative questions or responding to another person’s response, building an intelligent, entertaining discussion.

On the back of each card is "World References," or quotes by famous people, that are meant to give context or spark ideas on the given topic. On "The Greater Good" card, one quotation from the American novelist and screenwriter Sheri Holman is: "Good and evil are opposite points on a circle … greater good is just halfway back to bad."

After the conversation is exhausted on one topic, another player picks a new card and the cycle begins again.

The fundraiser

Spark Cards' Kickstarter campaign began on Aug. 12. The campaign hopes to raise $10,000 for printing and distribution costs. 

Kickstarter is a new way to fund creative projects, according to its website. Various kinds of projects use the program for funding, including films, games, music, art and design. Since the company’s launch in 2009, $1 billion has been pledged by 6.8 million people, helping to fund 67,000 projects.

As of Monday morning, Spark Cards had 69 backers who had pledged $3,340.  The campaign will end Sept. 11. A link to their Kickstarter can be found on the game’s website.

What's next

If the fundraising goal is met, the company's first step will be to print the decks of cards that have been pledged to donors. Holdman said they may chose to leave the game as a one-time-only project, with the first edition being the only version of the game available.

If the fundraising is extremely successful, Holdman said, they might make an online business around the game. They will then find a distributor to get their game on shelves and to the general public.

The company plans to price the game between $30 and $40.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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