Tween creates Mermaid Beach card game | Interview
When Emily Ehlers and her family took a year-long boating trip on the Atlantic a few years back, expert sea legs and nautical memories weren’t the only things that the middle schooler took away from the adventure. While seafaring, she developed a card game, Mermaid Beach, as a pastime for her and her two brothers, Jake and Drew—and in a rare development, a game manufacturer bought the idea and put it on the market. Gamewright, a Massachusetts-based company dedicated to creating family games, released Mermaid Beach earlier this year. That means Ehlers, now 12, is officially making waves in the gaming world.
In our current gift-guide roundup of favorite (analog) games, our Time Out Chicago colleague Frank Sennett and his seven-year-old son dubbed the game an entertaining cross between Old Maid and Go Fish. (In addition to four thumbs-up from TOCK, it's been getting enthusiastic notices from other young game-testers.) We wanted to learn more about the girl who invented this beachy-keen game full of colorful characters, so we called Emily and her mom, Joanna Ehlers, at their Portland, Oregon, home. (An edited transcript follows.)
Time Out Chicago Kids: What was the inspiration for Mermaid Beach, Emily?
Emily Ehlers: There’s a game called Sleeping Queens that was my main inspiration. It was invented by an eight-year-old girl. At the time, because I was eight, I thought, ‘Well, if she could do it, maybe I could [too].’ … We did a lot of test games: We tested the game out with my cousins; we had a lot of our friends test it. We played it as a family, too, to work out some of the kinks.
What drew you to mermaids?
EE: I have a certain love for more mystical creatures. I’m a big fan of unicorns, mermaids, dragons and things like that. Especially since we were on the water, on a boating trip from New York to the Bahamas, I guess that’s what drew me to mermaids.
When you were submitting the game, did you submit to several different game companies?
EE: We mainly focused on Gamewright. We emailed them, and they responded back.
Joanna Ehlers: Gamewright was actually the only place we submitted it to because we’ve always been big fans of their games. Fortunately, things worked out really well.
What was the process like of getting the game on shelves?
JE: She invented the game kind of early on our trip. We didn’t actually get around to submitting it until we were back in Portland, in October 2008. They told us it would be about 6 months before we would know anything.
EE: It was almost my birthday. My birthday is May 12, so it was somewhere in May. They emailed my mom. That day when she came to pick me up from school, she told me. I just stood there frozen with a giant smile on my face. She said it was getting published.
How much of the game stayed true to your original work?
EE: When we did the mockup for the game, I mainly focused on drawing the mermaids. I made them all have a personality.
JE: That was really natural because she likes to draw. We were really excited when we saw the final game because they very much stayed true to Emily’s intentions with the personalities of the mermaids. Even though a professional artist took over, they stayed very true to what she intended and envisioned.
Have you participated in promotion for the game?
EE: I’ve been to about three or four game signings now at different places that are just local. Two were in our neighborhood. We’ve played the game with other people a couple times [at the signings]. It’s really cool to see their reaction to it. There [were] two little girls who had never heard of it before they knew I was there. They came by, and when they played, it was really cool because one of the little girls got really into it. She was more in the age group for the game. The other girl was my age. She was twelve. She was more quiet about it, but she liked it too.
I read that you’re working on a game about growing vegetables. How’s that coming along?
EE: It has to do with vegetables, but we’ve changed it so the main draw is gnomes—garden gnomes. You grow their garden. But we still have to work out a lot of the kinks.
Is game invention something you’re thinking about a career in someday?
EE: I like game inventing a lot. It’s really cool, but I’m more focusing on a fashion-design career instead of specifically game invention. I’m sure I’ll invent a few more games, hopefully, but these days I think I’m going to go for more fashion design.
JE: Emily’s really artsy, so anything that involves projects where she can draw, that’s something she gravitates toward. She has two brothers, and our family plays a lot of games. That’s where the game invention comes from.
Why do you think it’s important for kids to continue to play board and card games as opposed to only playing video games?
EE: I think board games are important, and card games and things like that, because video games are sort of solitary. You can have a video game controller, and it’s just you in your basement, sitting there for hours. But with a card game, you have to be more social. I think that’s one of the good things about it. You can play board games and card games anywhere. You can only play video games in your basement or something. It’s better to be more social.
Do you have any advice for young game inventors?
EE: I guess, play lots of games. I know there’s lots of people out there who like games. I’d just say do your best. And try hard. If you have an idea, really go with it.