Thursday, December 2, 2021
Dec. 2, 2021

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Union High School seniors create fierce family fun with The Bear Game

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From left, Joshua Helm, Steven Nguyen, Austin Lee and Colton Harris with The Bear Game at Union High School. The four seniors are the creative and marketing force behind The Bear Game family card game.
From left, Joshua Helm, Steven Nguyen, Austin Lee and Colton Harris with The Bear Game at Union High School. The four seniors are the creative and marketing force behind The Bear Game family card game. (Photos by Joshua Hart/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Just when you were growing tired of Monopoly, Uno, Bananagrams and bunco for your family game nights, along comes the adorably ursine alternative: The Bear Game. Taking inspiration from family card games like Exploding Kittens, Unstable Unicorns and Llama Drama, The Bear Game roars onto the scene with deceptively winsome bears that will — depending on the card you draw — attack, defend or eliminate the competition (or you).

The game is the brainchild — or braincub, if you will — of Union High School seniors Austin Lee and Colton Harris, friends since kindergarten. Along with fellow Union seniors Steven Nguyen and Joshua Helm, they’ve formed a business that’s already selling packaged decks online and at Bat Cave Games in Vancouver. Their ultimate goal is to put their brand of furry, fierce fun on the shelves at national retailers. They call their new game, with a charming lack of modesty, “probably the best game ever made.”

“I think one of the coolest things about doing this project is when I talk to adults, they say they always wanted to do something like this but never got a chance to do it,” Lee said. “Hopefully we can inspire other kids our age to go out and make their dreams a reality.”

It’s a game for two to six players ages 14 and up that blends strategy with chance (or chaos, as the website says). The winner is the first player to get 12 cards, outlasting other players by avoiding deadly Evil Bear cards or hoping for rescue with a Bear Mace card. There are beach bears, bears driving “lam-bear-ghinis,” gummy bears, financial investor bears, gambling bears, magical bears, presidential bears and, yes, even bears that explode. Different bears allow you to gain more cards, attack opponents or change the game’s setting.

The enterprise grew out of Lee’s idle question to Harris one evening last summer: If you could make any card game, what would it be? Harris, a board game enthusiast, replied that he’d like a game to play with his family during quarantine, something like Battle Royale. Perhaps it could have comical, colorful animals, like bunnies. The idle question became a serious endeavor, with a massive spreadsheet and in-depth discussions.

“The biggest part was figuring out what types of cards we wanted, looking at our various favorite games,” Lee said. “Eventually we began creating ideas. We’d think of different kinds of bears and how they would act in a story.”

“My personal favorite aspect is that we can dress them up in clothes and they just look like people doing jobs,” said Harris, who admitted that brown bears are his favorite animal.

They sketched out ideas on white notecards and tested the game to figure out what worked best. Lee and Harris saw that the project was quickly expanding beyond their areas of expertise, so they reached out to Nguyen, who was more experienced in digital art and design. Nguyen mentioned the project to his aunt, Van Tran, who drew up some bear cards just for fun. With rounded proportions, large black noses and tiny eyes, Tran’s bears are “both cute and fierce,” as Lee put it. Van Tran’s illustrations adorn all 54 cards, with minor editing from the team.

“A big moment was when Colton had all the cards and we played with friends,” Lee said, “and they were like, ‘This is an actual game.’ ”

“We were there for three or four hours, just playing the game,” Harris said. “We had so much fun with it.”

By September, the three friends had prototype decks from a manufacturer. Lee, Harris and Nguyen asked Helm to join the team and help pitch The Bear Game to local sellers. Bat Cave Games was the first to appreciate the game’s appeal and decks are now available for $24.99 at the store (13215 S.E. Mill Plain Blvd., #9, Vancouver; 360-980-8138). It’s also available at Kazoodles Toys (13503 S.E. Mill Plain Blvd., #B-3, Vancouver; 360-823-0123). To get the game straight from the bear’s mouth, so to speak, order it online at www.thebeargame.com for $25. Next, the creators intend to approach other local retailers. After that, it’s all claws on deck to achieve their bear-faced ambitions.

“We want to see the game at Target and Walmart,” Harris said, noting that The Bear Game is in the process of being copyrighted. “We’re making money, but everything goes back into the business. Every dollar we make goes back into funding the next print run. We just want to grow it as big as we can.”

However, Lee and Harris — both college-bound this fall, along with Nguyen and Helm — maintain that The Bear Game isn’t about monetary gain. It’s about having fun, coming together with family and friends for a little competition and a lot of laughs.

“When we started out, our whole goal was to create something fun for families during COVID,” Harris said.

“I don’t think our goal is to make a lot of money,” Lee said. “It’s more to spread the game across the world, to say ‘We’ve created a game that’s on the shelves.’ “

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