Go big or go home If table games are so much fun, then how much enjoyment can you get from giant-sized table games?

‘Honey, I blew up the kids’ games!”

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/05/2018 (1657 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

‘Honey, I blew up the kids’ games!”

For years, Ashley Nichol and his family have had a Yule-time tradition that sees each of them put on their thinking caps by personally crafting presents for their loved ones, instead of relying on a trip to the mall — or, for that matter, a jolly, old elf — for their holiday wants and needs.

In December 2016, Nichol was still debating what sort of Christmas gifts he was going to make when he spotted online images of people at a park, taking turns tossing a set of oversized dice onto the grass. An accompanying blurb explained they were playing yardzee, a colossal version of Yahtzee, a popular dice game that rewards players for rolling a variety of combinations, such as straights and five-of-a-kind.

Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free press Ashley Nichol (left) and Steve Wesseling (right) are founders of Yard Monster Handcrafted Games.

(Who knew? Legend has it Yahtzee was invented by a Canadian couple that enjoyed playing dice games while sailing around on their yacht, hence its tag.)

Figuring yardzee would be a fun thing to do at his parents’ farm in the summer, Nichol aped the idea by fashioning sets of dice out of 4×4 cedar posts, the remnants of a backyard fence he’d disassembled at his Jessie Avenue home months earlier.

And because he had more than enough wood to go around, he also sawed and sanded a set for his neighbour, Steve Wesseling.

In January 2017, Nichol was at Wesseling’s place watching hockey, when the two began discussing what other games besides Yahtzee they could “super-size.” After mutually agreeing Jenga, a game of skill that requires participants to remove one wooden block at a time from a tower of 54 blocks before carefully placing it back on top of the pile, would be a perfect candidate, they threw on their boots and parkas and headed into Wesseling’s garage to see what they could come up with.

Using cut-down 2x4s to create a structure that, if all the pieces were properly stacked top-to-bottom, would stand close to five feet tall, they posted a picture on Instagram of themselves playing their creation. Almost immediately, people began leaving comments along the lines of “too cool” and “where can I get my hands on a jumbo Jenga game, too?”

“A beer or two later, a bell just kind of went off in our heads, and we began seriously discussing the possibility of maybe turning this into a business,” says Nichol, laughing when Wesseling corrects his math, stating, “uh, probably more like three or four (beers).”

Yard Monster Games, a name the pair settled on after “spitballing” ideas with their wives, made its official debut in April 2017. In addition to yardzee and “wobbly wenga” — to avoid legal hassles, they avoid using the terms Yahtzee and Jenga — their line of games includes three more: “sac hole,” a variation of a bean-bag toss game more commonly known as Cornhole, “chip and chug” (think beer pong with a pitching wedge), and Kubb, which rhymes with tube and is a Swedish pastime that requires players to knock over a series of wooden blocks by flinging batons at them, one at a time, from a specified distance.

Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free press Ashley Nichol (left) and Steve Wesselingplay a game of wobbly wenga.

(If you’re gearing up for the Kubb World Championships, held annually on the Baltic Sea island of Gotland, Sweden, you’ll need to be able to accurately fire your batons eight metres, but no worries if you’re simply playing Kubb in the backyard, post-barbecue, where you’re free to come up with your own dimensions.)

“It’s somewhat surprising because even though Kubb is definitely the game people are most unfamiliar with when we’re at a market or wherever displaying our stuff, it’s almost always the one that seems to attract the most attention,” Wesseling says, demonstrating his technique on a “pitch” he and Nichol have hastily set up in Enderton Park, a few blocks from where they live.

As much as possible, Nichol and Wesseling use reclaimed wood for their projects, which can be ordered through their website www.yardmonstergames.com. Last summer, they invested in a computer-operated router that enables them to customize individual game pieces, as well as the wooden crates the tokens arrive in, by engraving everything from a company logo to a team crest to a favourite saying into the surface of the wood.

“We’ve taken orders for outdoor weddings, where we can etch the bride and groom’s names onto the blocks or dice,” says Wesseling, joking one of the perks he and Nichol have enjoyed since going into business for themselves has been the ability to go tool-shopping and not get in trouble with their better halves, when they blow a wad of dough on new drills and table saws. “We’ve also done custom jobs for Fionn MacCool’s on Grant Avenue, Breezy Bend Country Club and East Side Collision, and we’re currently working on games for Lake of the Woods Brewery in Kenora.

“It’s different with every game, but we can pretty much do any customization requested. We can customize game pieces, boxes, dice etc.; it would just elevate the cost of the games, dependent on the customization required.”

The two buddies laugh and say “oh, for sure,” when a reporter asks if they’re always thinking about other games they can add to their arsenal. (Battleship, with metre-long patrol boats and submarines! Operation, with a life-sized cadaver! Trouble, with the largest pop-o-matic bubble mankind has ever seen!)

“It’s funny you should say that, because lately my mother has been bugging me to come up with a giant version of Ker-Plunk, that game with all the sticks and marbles,” Nichol says. “But I told her intriguing as that sounds, where would we put it? Sure, we could probably build it out of chicken-wire and beach balls or something, but it would probably have to be a permanent structure.”

Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press Ashley Nichol demonstrates Sachole, a game where opponents take turns throwing beanbags into a hole on a board.

 

Four years ago, Rory MacLeod made a couple dozen extra-large dice out of fence posts recovered from the creek that runs through the MacGregor Town and Country Golf Club, after one of his wife Jennifer’s friends announced she was hosting a casino-themed party, and wanted to dress her yard up with appropriate accoutrements.

“When the party was over, she told her guests to take some of the dice home with them but because not everybody was particularly interested in owning these giant, novelty dice, she ended up giving most of them back to me,” says Jennifer McLeod, who, at the time, was living in Austin, 110 kilometres west of Winnipeg.

Because there isn’t “a whole heck of a lot to do in Austin, even at the best of times,” Jennifer and Rory ended up taking five of those same dice outside one night that summer, where they proceeded to play Yahtzee, keeping score on sheets they borrowed from the Hasbro game of the same name.

A year later, by which time Jennifer had moved to Killarney, she placed an ad in her local Buy and Sell newspaper, advertising homemade yardzee sets. Overnight, she received 27 orders.

“This will be our third year in business,” Jennifer says, noting she and Rory settled on the name Yardzee Manitoba to help differentiate themselves from others in North America who market a similar product. “It’s crazy because we’ve received orders from as far away as Texas, but when that happens, we usually just tell them how to make the dice themselves, to save on shipping costs.”

This summer, interested parties can try their luck at yardzee at FortWhyte Alive, where the McLeods have left a set of five dice, along with a reusable scoresheet and accompanying set of rules.

Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press Yardzee is modelled after the popular dice game Yahtzee.

“They have an indoor/outdoor carpet they play the game on, and all you have to do is ask for it at the visitors’ centre,” Jennifer says. “We were there a few weeks ago to explain how it all works and even though not everybody was familiar with Yahtzee, everybody seemed to get it after a minute or two.

“The father of one family that recently moved to Winnipeg from Africa got all excited when he figured out it was a bit like poker… that if you got a full house or whatever, the more you score. I think his first comment was ‘I’m going to go home and make a set for myself, tonight.’”

For more information on Yardzee Manitoba, go to https://www.facebook.com/yardzeemanitoba.

david.sanderson@freepress.mb.ca

David Sanderson

Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.

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