Games that pass the kid test


Every kid knows what it’s like to try to pass a test. But, it’s not often kids get to be the ones giving the grades. At Gut Bustin’ Games in Yacolt, owner Lisa Bowman Steenson turned to kids to test her newest game, Gobs of Jobs. 

Aimed at ages 5 and older, Gobs of Jobs is a board game where players earn money by completing chores, and then choose whether to spend, save or give their earnings away.  

While testers take the game for a spin, Steenson sits back and watches. She wants them to imagine they just received the game for a gift, and they will use the instructions to learn to play it for the first time. Steenson makes notes as they play, detailing missing information or steps that don’t work as planned. 

The first group of kid testers had trouble keeping track of the playing cards they collected, she said. For the next round Steenson created a “player board,” a home base where each player can organize their cards. 

In other cases, features are taken away. One variation of Gobs of Jobs was too repetitive in actual play, and diverted from the direction of the game. That feature was eliminated for the next round of testing. 

“I watch the problems they have and come up with solutions,” said Steenson.  

For a recent game testing session, a family arrived at Steenson’s wooded home, tucked away in the hills beyond Yacolt. The family of three kids and two of their friends arrived ready to put the game through its paces. These kids are veterans; they play a lot of board games at home, said mom Julie Messer. 

Kids were divided into two groups by age. Emma Messer, 11, and Kevin Hooyman, 12, settled in at the kitchen table to tackle the game on their own, reading through the instructions carefully.  

Their first move was a misstep; they shuffled playing cards before realizing the cards needed to be sorted into correlating stacks. Steenson made a note — new instructions would include more illustrations to highlight the setup. 

In the nearby living room, Julie gathered around a coffee table with Dodge Messer, 6, Hunter Messer, 9, and Jakob Thomas, 10. 

Julie read through the instructions for the first time while the three boys fidgeted, wide eyes exploring their new surroundings. Once they had played through a couple of turns, even the youngest knew the drill. At the end of the first game, Jakob emerged the winner. 

“I tried to get the biggest numbers,” he said of his strategy. 

Chores pay varying amounts to simulate the money choices kids might actually make, and players can choose which playing piece to move in order to land on the highest paying opportunity. 

“I liked it because it helped me with math,” added Hunter. “You have to do a lot of adding.” 

Steenson timed how long it takes to set up and start playing the game. The first time it might take 20 to 30 minutes, she said. But once players are familiar with the game, it shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes. To see this in action, each group of testers plays through the game twice. 

By the time the first game was finished a pair of pizzas were ready in the oven, and kids took a break before the second round of testing. 

Steenson was originally a physical education teacher, she said. She created the first Gut Bustin’ game in 2006, passing the time while her husband was deployed to Kuwait. With a friend visiting from Kentucky, they started bouncing around themes about the “redneck life,” and the resulting game was called, predictably, Redneck Life. 

After a few rounds of small printings, Redneck Life went to a game convention and hit the market. Since that time, Gut Bustin’ Games has launched a new game about every two years.  

Her teaching skills in working with kids and shaping their activities are a natural fit for her current venture as a game creator, Steenson said. 

All games have some features in common, according to Steenson. A game needs to have short, quick turns, and offer advanced levels to extend the playing time. 

A new game is first created on poster board and played over and over, until most of the kinks are worked out. Past games were thoroughly tested by family and friends. And it’s pretty easy to find adults to test a game, said Steenson. Regular patrons of game stores are usually eager to be the first to try a new game. 

But Gobs of Jobs is the first game she has targeted toward a younger audience, this time ages 5 and up. To find kid testers, Steenson turned to Facebook to ask families to make the trip to her home-based game enterprise in the wooded North County foothills. 

Gobs of Jobs is a game about money and balance, said Steenson. Some kids spend every penny as fast as they can earn it, and then they don’t have any money when something comes up that they want to do. Other kids squirrel their money away and never spend a cent; they miss out on opportunities they would enjoy because they are afraid to part with their money. 

In Gobs of Jobs, players progress through the game by balancing their earned money between saving, spending and giving — a practical, life-long lesson. 

Hunter loves to play video games, but he gave Gobs of Jobs a thumbs up.  

“This is like the chores I do,” he exclaimed. 

The other young testers echoed the game’s similarity to their own money lives — earning payment for extra chores, and saving their money for purchases or gifts they would like to make.