Inventor, graphic designer and more: Christopher Chaffee on bringing Math Path Monster to life!

Christopher Chaffee, Math Path Monster, ThinkFun

I’m not prone to raving about math-based games, Christopher, but I LOVED Math Path Monster. For those that haven’t seen it, what’s the big idea?
Math Path Monster has players working together to win a race against the friendly Math Monster. By rolling dice, drawing helpful cards, solving math equations – and cooperating – you advance around the board…

In the hope of what?
In the hope of getting all the player pawns to the finish before the Monster pawn! What’s cool about this game is how naturally the cooperation happens. All of you have the same goal, so teamwork is essential in figuring out the best math equations to use to outpace the Monster pawn. There’s plenty of strategy involved too, making it the kind of game parents can really enjoy with their kids. If kids want to play the game without adults, they’ll have a blast playing it that way too.

I’m inclined to agree – I had a blast playing it with Billy Langsworthy… That’s tantamount to playing it with a child. How did it come about, Christopher?
I’m a daydreamer. If I’m sitting, just wandering in my own thoughts, I start getting ideas of things I think are cool. Meal ideas I’ll never make, TV show pilots I’ll never pitch, that kind of thing. It’s fun to think creatively, even if I’m just doing so to pass the time…

In this case, though, I was brainstorming game ideas in my head, and I had a sudden spark. An inkling of an idea formed, and the idea just grew and grew, from one minute to the next,. I wrote down my thoughts as they were happening, as I believed I was onto something. And thus the initial idea of Math Path Monster was born!

Christopher Chaffee, Math Path Monster, ThinkFun

Love it! What was the development process after that initial spark?
It was a blast! Once the product-development team and I settled on a tidied ruleset, we got to playtesting with kids, parents and teachers. It’s a joy seeing how players decide to handle the strategy – and seeing kids work together with their parents or siblings. Kids were using teamwork naturally, using their shared goal of beating the monster to the finish line to motivate them to work together. We then used those families’ feedback to fine-tune the rules. It’s exciting having families want to help make a better game, and it’s truly appreciated.

How hard was it to get the balance right between fun and education?
From the get-go, the game utilised math equations – so the education element was there from the start. Because of this, the team and I were able to focus our efforts on the fun element. The goal became to create a math game that could be proper fun for both kids and adults, with an emphasis on cooperation.

This encouraged us to make sure the game had strategy for the players to discuss. As you play, you’re encouraged to talk to each other, and plan things out. That’s the best way to beat the monster! So really, the hardest part was making sure player cooperation felt properly rewarding for the players, and have them be excited to keep up the teamwork. I believe the team nailed this, and the end result is a game that has you utilising math as a tool to have fun achieving a common goal.

Great answer. Thank you. And if I understand correctly, you were well positioned to show this to the right people… What’s your day job?
Ha! Yes, that’s fair to say. I’m a graphic designer at ThinkFun, the publisher of Math Path Monster. I work on some of our game logos and cover ideas. In fact, I created the logo for Math Path Monster. But I also take our game’s packaging and convert the text to other languages…

Christopher Chaffee, Math Path Monster, ThinkFun

Oh, is that right?
Yes. If you see a ThinkFun product out in the wild in Spanish, German, or Chinese, there’s a huge chance I worked on it. I wish I spoke all those languages, but we reach out to translators for the text.

That answers my next question! So did you also get to do the graphic design on this?
I sure did! I wasn’t alone though, there are other awesome artists at ThinkFun that helped, like Chris D’Angelo, Candace Urquiza and Greg Stata. In fact, huge shout-out to those three! Feedback on the artwork from other team members was considered too – so it was solid a team effort. I did lead a lot of the art direction, and believe the game came out gorgeous. I know not every game inventor gets to work so closely on their game’s art, so I didn’t take the opportunity for granted, and put a lot of love into the product.

To whom at ThinkFun did you show the idea?
ThinkFun encourages its team to flex their creative muscles, and to feel free to pitch game ideas. There’s quite the collaborative, encouraging atmosphere, so I pitched my idea at a product-development meeting. So really, I pitched the idea to the whole team at once, which was good for immediate feedback. The team seemed interested from the start, which was very encouraging!

Sounds like working at ThinkFun made it easier to share your idea. Did you have to pitch it?!
Working at ThinkFun definitely made it easier. The team is all about open communication and collaboration, so ideas are always welcome. I’m not just talking about game pitches – ideas in general are valued and listened to. It’s a healthy company culture that I’m happy to be a part of. That also made pitching the game less nerve-wracking than it could have been.

Christopher Chaffee, Math Path Monster, ThinkFun

And from the time you showed it to the moment it was finished, what was the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge had to be balancing my other work responsibilities. Things just happened to be especially busy when Math Path Monster was being developed – I had to spin many plates. I had a passion to get this game just right, though, which I believe helped, naturally. The game was a group effort, so being able to openly communicate when I needed help was also very useful. I can’t thank the ThinkFun team enough.

We need to start wrapping things up, Chris, but when is Math Path Monster likely to be available?
We’re aiming for February 5th… Not long to go now!

Great! And do you have any plans to create more games?
I do! Kind of… I don’t have any ideas currently, but I hope to daydream my way to more. I truly do encourage others to try this. If you ever find yourself just imagining something cool in your head, don’t be afraid to write it down. That initial idea may just be the kindling needed to ignite your mind, and help you create something fully-fledged and special.

Brilliant. Thanks, Chris. Just to wrap things up, then, tell me: what’s the most interesting object in your office or on your desk?
I have an absolutely bizarre toy of a guy with two sets of eyes, a wobbly smile, and a McDonald’s uniform on my desk. I’m a fan of both the bizarre and toys, so it’s a perfect oddity for me. I’ve named him Charles. Charles gives a wobbly “hello”.

Christopher Chaffee, Math Path Monster, ThinkFun

Oh, my days… Charles may haunt me as I sleep! Thank you, Chris.

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