A Ladysmith man is bringing the building blocks medium and tabletop gaming industry together for the first time — and hoping to bring families together in the process.
Darrin Root has created Steel Wheels, a tabletop collectable game for the hobby gaming industry that he believes has many unique advantages that set it apart.
“It is the first game ever to use the building blocks medium to build its game pieces, rather than the traditional metal or plastic models that require glue, paint and advanced modeling skills,” he said. “It’s the industry’s first turn-based racing combat strategy game.”
Root says there are no dark themes, and this is a game that brings the whole family together and has been enjoyed by players aged six to 60. It is the first game to incorporate league and campaign play right in the game design and the first hobby game with a co-operative game mode, according to Root.
“We’re a big fan of ‘unplug and play,’” said Root. “We want to get people off video games and into more family time. That’s why we made something appropriate for the whole family.”
The Steel Wheels journey started when Root and Alex Augello noticed there was no racing combat game in the hobby gaming industry. Most games were army-based, moving men and vehicles around.
Root grew up in Ladysmith but moved to Alberta for work, and it is there that he was first exposed to the hobby gaming industry. He says he used to make models in Ladysmith, but once he got to Edmonton, he was exposed to Games Workshop, best known for its tabletop war games, which, he explains, are “build and play” instead of just “build and look.”
Root says he played a lot of games that were more for adults because the rules are intense, and they are expensive.
“They’re a little hard to get into,” he said. “A friend said we should build on a game within the Games Workshop framework. We first included ourselves within their umbrella, and it was a racing game because there wasn’t one. We basically made it for ourselves, but it caught on with different gamers.”
When they approached Games Workshop about developing the game, they didn’t get far at all. But that didn’t discourage them, and they kept trying.
“I moved back here and thought it was still a niche that needed to be filled,” said Root.
Root says many hobby games are expensive because you need glue and paint and good models. It can be hard to get into and hard to teach kids on such an expensive model.
“I thought it’s too bad there isn’t a model that keeps together from friction, and Lego works like that,” said Root.
Root approached Lego, Mega Bloks and Hasbro with his idea, and an agent at Hasbro said it was the best idea he’d heard in 30 years.
Root says in developing the game, they wanted to bring the building blocks medium and tabletop gaming world together.
“We had to create everything from scratch — new rules, a new story and new characters,” he said. “We kept it bright — a lot of games are going darker because they think dark equals maturity. We want it to be bright so everyone has a great time. We wanted it to be family-friendly so I can play with my kids. We wanted to be the first in many areas.
“We had a lot of really good responses. Everyone who’s been available to participate in it has really loved it. One-third of our main characters are women, and that was actually a problem for some of the game developers. I said ‘I’ve got two daughters, and we’re building a storyline; how can you not have a storyline with both genders?’”
Root launched a Kickstarter fundraising campaign for Steel Wheels March 10. The money raised will cover building a lot of the initial runs for the already-approved sets, explained Root.
“A lot of the sets will be completed by then and can be sold in stores,” he said. “Once it’s out, it’s a reality. We would love to update our artwork and have a really nice rulebook. We’re all volunteer — no one takes a wage. This helps keep costs down so [the money] can all go to the product.”
It’s been an eight-year journey to get to this point.
“It’s been very hard,” said Root. “There have been lots of uphill battles. Many people told us no.”
Root says feedback has been great.
“Every time people have checked it out, they think it’s fantastic,” he said. “It’s a new use for the building blocks they have kicking around from their childhood.”
The Kickstarter campaign started March 10, and it will end April 9. To learn more about the project or to contribute, click here.