Janesville tattoo artist Jake Bussie has taken a drawing exercise he developed as brain training for his tattoo work and transformed it into—of all things—a new board game.
Bussie and his wife, Lindsey Bussie, are working to fully develop and market “Doodle Mash,” a board game they’ve designed a completed prototype for over the last two years.
The game pits at least three players against each other in high-speed, timed doodle-offs that require players to use pens and paper to mash together several disparate animals they’re secretly assigned from a deck of cards, creating in just one minute a mashed-up, amorphous “superanimal.”
Think of the “Liger”—a lion-tiger mashup that was made a household name via amateurish cartoon sketches by Jon Heder in his title role in the 2004 comedy film “Napoleon Dynamite.”
The game has parallels to the classic board game Pictionary in that the goal is to make a coherent drawing so players can guess what the subject of the drawing is. But unlike Pictionary, everyone draws at once.
“Everyone’s constantly engaged,” Jake said.
Doodle Mash is a frenzy of random sketching and artistic self-defense, and it’s also easy to play, based on the relative success that two Gazette reporters had playing a few rounds with the game’s inventors.
Jake, who works at Alkali Tattoo in Janesville, said it’s similar to speed-drawing exercises he’s done for years to train his tattoo artists’ brains and hands, and to teach his children, Quinn, 6, and Rory, 4, how to express their ideas.
“The game fell out of an idea where I’d take 10 words, like a random word generator, and I’d try to draw them into a scene without using any of the words,” he said.
“Essentially, it was an exercise in organizing thoughts. I did it because people will come in (to the tattoo shop) all the time with such complex ideas. A clock and a heart and the sun and a tree, and this is what it all means. Put all that together.”
He said he shared so many laughs with his family over the drawing exercise that it sparked an idea for a board game.
“It’s not so much about artistic ability or skill at sketching. It’s about communication. I thought, ‘I think there’s a board game here,’” he said.
Outside of a few friends, neighbors and family, the board game hasn’t found its way into the hands of the masses yet. The Bussies have produced only 20 Doodle Mash game sets so far, and they’re still working with a Madison company on a small-run packaging deal that’s based on the Bussies’ own box and game board designs.
Jake used his skills as an artist to design the game from scratch. The couple have researched the process of producing and marketing board games, and they’ve seen other board game startups try to launch their products through crowdfunding websites such as Kickstarter.
He said crowdsourcing campaigns for new board games seem to set the bar between $10,000 and $20,000. That money covers production and distribution costs if the game is licensed and sold independently.
Lindsey said crowdsourcing might not be the route they’d go.
Instead, the couple hope over the next year to take Doodle Mash to board game conventions and trade shows to pitch it directly to potential publishers and toy and entertainment companies that buy the rights for board games.
For now, they plan to make and sell Doodle Mash on a small scale. Jake said the game has been a hit at family Thanksgivings and other get-togethers. He’s kept many of the drawings because he said they’re often hysterically funny.
“It’s neat,” he said. “Afterward, you have all these remnant drawings, these mixed-up animal leftovers.
“The most fun part is watching people vehemently defend their portrayal of a bat’s wing or something. It’s part of the fun of the game.”
Jake said he recently broke out Doodle Mash at deer camp. His uncle and cousins were in the room. Soon after, the football game on TV went ignored. For the next hour, it was all deer-butterfly-birds and gopher-badger-bears.
“It’s hard to hit people up and say, ‘Hey, you want to play this board game that I made?’ And my cousin is one of those people who says he ‘can’t draw,’” Jake said. “But he paid me a high compliment at deer camp. He said, ‘I enjoyed that game way more than I thought I would.’
“I thought that meant something.”