In a case of life imitating art, Mayfair Games has created a real-life version of Cones of Dunshire, a fictional board game invented by Adam Scott's character on NBC's comedy Parks and Recreation.
A mammoth version of the game -- that is, a version that's played on the floor because it's too large to fit on a table -- debuted in August at this year's GenCon in Indianapolis. While hundreds watched, 37 players had the honor of being the first to test it out.
On the show, the game was incredibly complex. According to Bob Carty, vice president of sales and marketing at Mayfair, that was the point. When NBC approached Mayfair about creating a fictional game that would be featured on Parks and Rec, the network asked for a prototype that was "complicated and over-the-top," Carty said.
In about a month, the team at Mayfair had outlined basic rules and structure, and created some components. The rest is television history.
And now, that piece of television history is becoming reality. Carty says that there are plans to bring the game into stores. Discussions about a Kickstarter campaign to fund the making of a "super-deluxe version" began last week. After that, the company will introduce a "regular" version. "We're doing everything backwards," he said.
There is no word yet on what the crowdfunding goal will be, but Mayfair CEO Pete Fenlon says the campaign will have a "charitable component" to it. "We want to continue to support charity and keep it within the bounds of cross-media storytelling because we want to be in sync with Ben [Adam Scott's character]. We're just putting details together for Kickstarter, but we think it'll resonate well with the Parks and Rec community and with the gaming community, too."
Right now, the company anticipates the deluxe version will retail for over $100 and the regular version will retail for somewhere between $60 and $70. "It's an expensive game to make no matter what, because 90 to 95 percent of our components are made in the U.S., and we're proud of that," Carty explained. Since the company owns the rights to the game, Mayfair Games, not NBC, will be getting the profits.
While Mayfair Games products have been featured on shows before -- the wildly popular Settlers of Catan game was featured in CBS's The Big Bang Theory and SyFy's Alphas -- this is the first time the company had been approached to create a new product for television. "We've provided samples [of games] for folks but that's the first time anyone had done this on a TV project," said Fenlon. "You have to throw it out to the creative team [of Parks and Recreation] and Adam for doing this. It's a really cool idea."
The gaming company got involved in the project through some personal connections. In a way, one could say that Cones of Dunshire came to be because of another game: Six Degrees of Separation."Our art director knows Rich Sommer, who's on the cast of [the AMC drama] Mad Men," explained Fenlon. "There's a group of people in the Hollywood community that enjoy games and Adam Scott is one of those folks." Fenlon said that one of the producers on Parks and Rec got in touch a while back to ask for samples of board games that could be put in Scott's character's apartment for an episode featuring a bachelor party. When that went well, the producer, Morgan Sackett, called again in August of 2013, hoping to expand on the gaming thread for the character.
Since the storyline for the show was that the character Ben had made the game himself, Fenlon and team kept the materials from looking too polished. "My wife and I spraypainted these cones, and we ended up building this crazy prototype. It was on two levels so that it reflected the imagery of the script, and we wanted the game to be in keeping with the story."
Through photos and Skype meetings, the gaming company and television crew collaborated to find a model that worked best, scaling back components or changing color schemes to be more camera-friendly.
When the Cones of Dunshire storyline continued, NBC needed a more polished version, which meant more collaboration and feedback."We ended up with a nice box and nice game board, and we scaled back the pieces and sent them the finished game in both a series of PDFs and some physical objects," Fenlon said. "The [Parks and Rec] props team took the objects and imagery and built the game for the TV show."
Exposing TV audiences to board games has given the board-game industry a bit more street cred. "I think it helps all games," Carty said. "It makes analog games cool. Celebrities aren't shy about it and there's less stigma."
Not only is there less stigma, there's encouragement. Carty called the crowd's reaction to Cones of Dunshire's GenCon unveiling "overwhelmingly positive," noting that there were several hundred spectators.
The event was also karmically positive. A total of $20,000 was raised through sales of tickets to participate in the game, t-shirts and matching donations from both Mayfair Games and GenCon. The money was then donated to a charity called Gleaners, an Indianapolis-based food bank that provides meals for kids and families in need.
Parks and Recreation begins its final season this fall on NBC, and Carty says that Cones of Dunshire will be a part of the show.
"Cones of Dunshire has really taken on a life of its own at this point," he said.