FAIRBANKS — As in hunting, success in the new card game Gut Pile is a matter of preparation and getting lucky breaks.
Players score points by assembling the elements for a perfect hunt while avoiding their opponent’s attack cards like hypothermia, beaver fever and the always-dangerous People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals card.
It’s a Fairbanks-designed product with national ambitions. Sportsman’s Warehouse sells the game at its 35 Pacific Northwest stores, and the game has one multinational advertiser, RAM Trucks.
The first version of the game, the 188-card Alaska edition, came out this fall. Its creators plan to grow the game with regional variations and additional product-placement ads. Each card comes with a QR code on the back that can be scanned by a smartphone to take players to either an advertiser’s website or a quirky hunting YouTube video made by the game’s creators.
Delta Industrial Services co-workers Jim Clark and Tim Hanson started working on Gut Pile about 18 months ago. The idea for the game came out of a series of conversations about what gear is needed for different kinds of hunting.
“I moved up from Los Angeles about six years ago and I want to do this, but it takes time to gather all that gear,” Clark said. “That’s kind of how the game formed. This is what you need to go out and this is how you build a gut pile.”
Hanson is the most-experienced hunter in the group. He’s a certified assistant guide in Alaska who hunts every year.
Clark, a newcomer to hunting, has honed his skills by hunting with Hanson. Clark brought his experience in entrepreneurship to the team. In 2010, Clark and his wife had an explosive but short-lived success with iMaxi, a maxi pad-shaped case they built for iPads that debuted when the tablets first were being introduced.
A few years later, they created the Mugtuk Monster app, a series of digital monsters that interact when tickled them or turned upside down. They were sold with plush cases that turned phones into stuffed animals.
Mugtuk fell just short of being a profitable business. Clark is hoping he’ll have better luck with Gut Pile.
“We didn’t plan good enough. We had Australia, France and Germany wanting it, but we needed more money for dubbing voices, translation and stuff. So that kind of fell down,” he said.
During development, the Gut Pile team was expanded. City police officer Nate Werner joined, as did Aaron Rhodes, a human resources administrator at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital. Rhodes owns the Lathrop Building, where Gut Pile game has a small office on the fourth floor. In addition to their card game, Clark and Werner are working on a more high-tech hunting invention, a laser sight.
The group didn’t have experience with designing card games, but it worked out the rules by compiling lists of hunting equipment and writing rules on Uno game cards. They used a mixture of their own photography and stock images to illustrate the cards and hired a graphic designer who Clark knew in Utah. Look closely at the cards and you’ll spot Werner and Clark in a few. The game inventors wouldn’t say whose likeness appears on the card “Hank,” which represents the worst possible hunting partner.
A Tanner Cessna airplane card is a tribute to Jon Tanner, a North Pole pilot and dentist who was a friend of the game creators and died in a Fairbanks plane crash in 2013. Place names such as No Name River are a reference to the names old-time hunters give to their hunting places to keep them secret. “Subsistence” is a card and an idea that might not be familiar to Lower 48 users. In the game, it lets players kill animals that don’t have sport hunting tags.
The group approached local dealership Gene’s Chrysler Dodge Jeep RAM about sponsoring the pickup card. Staff at the dealership pointed out that a Gene’s card wouldn’t make sense for a game with a national audience. They put the game designers in touch with corporate staff at RAM Trucks.
Friends and family play-tested the game and suggested some additions, but the basic rules didn’t change much from their original thrown-together concept.
The group was pleased with their first game review. The website FatherGeek.com gave the game a thumbs up from “child geek” and “parent geek” play testers but a thumbs down from lovers of complicated games in the “gamer geek category.”
Besides being a way to pass time at moose camp, the game has educational value.
For example, Clark plays the game with his 7-year-old daughter and was out moose hunting with her this fall when he fell out of a boat and into an icy river. His daughter is familiar with the game’s “Hypothermia” card and knew what equipment was necessary to prevent it.
“She was laughing. I said, ‘this could be serious stuff. I could get hypothermia.’ “She said. ‘You need a space blanket,’” he said.
For now, Gut Pile is an Alaska-themed game that lets players hunt animals like moose, sheep and bears.
The designers plan to get a wider hunting audience interested with the game’s first expansion, a set of hunter-submitted photos called a Killpack. Down the road, they hope to take the game around the world with Southwest U.S., Africa and maybe an endangered species version.