New card game for birders to debut at Wings Over Water festival

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By Jami Makan

Two friends from Washington state have created a new birding-themed card game, which they plan to launch at this year’s Wings Over Water festival.

Jeff Morgenroth and Jeremy Schwartz have created Backyard Birding, a card game that celebrates birding and is designed to be fast-paced, fair and rewarding for players of all ages and skill levels.

Backyard Birding is a simple resource-collecting game where players attract birds to their “yard” with cards that represent different backyard features and food items, such as wetlands and seeds. Birds are attracted for points, and the player with the most points at the end of a round wins.

Backyard Birding grew out of another game that Morgenroth previously designed. The old game was an animal rescue-themed game that featured animals of all types. Morgenroth later met Schwartz, his coworker in Bothell and an experienced birder, and decided to rework the initial game after the two became close friends.

“I thought to myself, ‘Could I change the animal game to be bird-themed, and if so, would Jeremy be interested in helping?’” said Morgenroth. “So I approached Jeremy and told him about the game, and we played the original version. That same night, we ended up changing the rules and figuring out how to transform it.”

Whereas Morgenroth is relatively new to birding, Schwartz is a birding enthusiast who keeps a running “life list” of the rare birds that he has seen. “I have always been into nature and natural sciences,” said Schwartz, a former editor of The Northern Light. “There is something appealing about the treasure-hunting aspect of birding – you never know what you’re going to see.”

After testing the game and revising it several times, the pair decided to introduce the game to others. During summer 2018, they hosted a barbecue and invited 25 friends and family members. Five or six groups played the game on separate tables, while the pair sat quietly and watched people interact. “It was encouraging to see people who have never played the game before, and never would have been into birds get really excited about it,” said Morgenroth. “That was a pretty gratifying experience.”

After fine-tuning the game even more, the pair are finally ready to release it to the public. They have decided to do this by means of a Kickstarter campaign. Kickstarter is a crowdfunding platform that allows people to make pledges to back creative ideas and inventions.

“If we get enough pledges on our Kickstarter page, we’ll have the funds to take the game to our manufacturer, who is on standby,” explained Morgenroth. “They will then push the print button, and we’ll mail out the game to our supporters.”

For every pledge, the team plans to donate one dollar to the Seattle Audubon Society to further the group’s conservation efforts.

The game includes 38 bird cards representing many of the most common species of the Pacific Northwest, eight surprise cards that will come up during play, 50 backyard cards representing the habitat and food sources birds need, four season cards that tell which birds are in season and worth the most points, two reference cards to help with the essential rules and a rule book. A six-sided dice is also required for play, but is not included with the product.

Their goal is a short run of 500 copies. “We don’t want to promise 20,000 copies and start a small business. But if this is successful, we’re totally ready to have a second run printed,” said Schwartz. If there is enough public interest, they are also willing to design regional variations of the game, for example adding a “Southeast” version featuring birds from that region of the United States.

Morgenroth and Schwartz will be at the Wings Over Water festival with a booth on March 16. “We’ve got some space lined up and some demo copies of the game, and the plan is to have a laptop so that people can Kickstart right there,” said Schwartz. Later in the day, at 3 p.m., the pair will also be hosting a small panel to discuss ways to get more people into birding.

The pair are excited about the game they have created. “At the core we wanted this to be educational,” said Schwartz. “We wanted to make people more aware of the birds that they see every day, and that these wonderful little creatures are everywhere if you look hard enough.”

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