Saratoga County

Skidmore students win grant to market role-playing board game

Visualizing Hara takes a bit of imagination.
Skidmore College students Ian Van Nest, left, Walter Barber, and Andrew Zimmerman play the board game they created Leaf Pile Media LLC in the Case Student Center Tuesday, April 15, 2014.
Skidmore College students Ian Van Nest, left, Walter Barber, and Andrew Zimmerman play the board game they created Leaf Pile Media LLC in the Case Student Center Tuesday, April 15, 2014.

Visualizing Hara takes a bit of imagination.

The surreal plane existing parallel to our universe features massive floating continents dominated by quirky champions vying for powerful sources of elemental energy. Only this energy — known as “shui” — has fallen out of balance, drawing an array of monsters into Hara and wreaking havoc on the once-peaceful utopia.

Only the champion who can collect three sources of the energy can return order. And that’s where you, the player, come in.

“Champions of Hara” is a role-playing board game forged from the collective minds of three Skidmore College entrepreneurs, each with his own unique talents to contribute to the venture. Seniors Walter Barber, Ian Van Nest, and Andrew Zimmerman spent two years formulating what they call a “transmedia fictional universe” before pitching a business model to a panel at the college’s fourth annual Kenneth Freirich Business Plan Competition earlier this month.

Competing against six finalists, the trio outlined plans to expand their business out from the board game, using its story line and characters to launch a host of other ventures — from a graphic novel to online games. The business model of Hara was enough to land them first place and a $20,000 grant aimed at moving their unique game from concept to development.

“They have a very creative idea and potentially a really big business,” said Freirich, a Skidmore alum and entrepreneur who founded his own publishing business while attending the college.

Roommates since freshman year, the trio always mulled creating their own fantasy-based game similar in style to the ones they played themselves: Pokemon, Magic, and Yu-Gi-Oh to name a few. Only, instead of building on a world created by someone else, they wanted to create something unique.

“We learned to read on Spider-man comics and grew up with Harry Potter,” said Van Nest. “We wanted to produce the kind of stories that inspired us when we were kids.”

Aside from their collective imaginations, each of the students also brings a special talent to the mix from their collegiate studies. Van Nest, a management and business major, helped guide the model for the project, while Barber, an English major, streamlined the narrative and Zimmerman, a studio arts major, helped bring the fictional characters to life visually.

“Sharing a common love of stories, we’ve come together from three concentrations to collaborate on one truly interdisciplinary project,” Barber said.

The game can accommodate up to six players and is suitable for ages 8 and up. Van Nest said the group has already tested a prototype of the game among their friends and it’s been very well received.

Now, they intend to use their recently secured prize to bring the game to a wider audience. They plan to construct a website to support sales and exhibit the game — projected to cost about $50 — at fan conventions across the country.

The group has established a limited liability corporation dubbed Leaf Pile Media. They hope the company soon becomes synonymous with a new brand of fantasy born from their unique board game.

Van Nest said the group hopes to ride a growing trend of gamers moving away from video consoles back to the basics of board games. He said today’s board games are now a premium form of entertainment that is immersing gamers into more social and constructive interaction.

“We believe board games are entering a new golden age,” he said.

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