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Meet the inventor of Qwirkle

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By YOVANNA BIEBERICH

ARGUS-COURIER STAFF

We are without a doubt in an era where social media has become a major way in which we interact with others, from Facebook posts and Twitter feeds to texting and e-mail. But even with all this technology, there is still no healthy substitute for good "old-fashioned" face-to-face interaction with family and friends.

Petaluma resident and game designer Susan McKinley Ross said that one great way to step back from glowing screens and reconnect with others is through activities as simple as a board game.

"I think board games are wonderfully social," said Ross. "They are a great way to spend time with people. I grew up playing lots of games with my mom, dad and grandparents. We've also had a monthly game night in our home since 1998, so we obviously like it."

Ross knows a thing or two about board games. She's the creator of the wildly popular game Qwirkle, which was the number one selling board game on Amazon.com in 2011. The game has also racked up a number of other accolades, including a Parent's Choice Gold Award in 2007, the Mensa Select Award for 2007 and the prestigious 2011 Spiel des Jahres Award, which is a game designer award equivalent to an actor winning an Academy Award.

"That's like the pinnacle of achievement for a board game designer," said Ross. "We had to travel to Berlin, Germany to accept the award. It was so exciting."

Ross has since published nine other games and licensed more than 30 toy products. She got her start in the toy and game industry while working as an administrative assistant for Sonoma County-based toy catalog company HearthSong. Her natural creativity eventually earned her a spot in the product development department where she created a number of items, including an award-winning fountain-making kit released in 1999.

When HearthSong sold and moved out of the area in 2002, Ross and her computer-game-developer husband, Chris, started their own company, Idea Duck. She studied graphic design through Santa Rosa Junior College and woodworking through Petaluma Adult Education to add to her skill set.

It wasn't long after that she was inspired to create the board game Qwirkle from a dream she had. Ross quickly got to work the next day making a prototype of the game, which is a cross between Scrabble and Dominoes played with wooden blocks with colored shapes.

"Having the toy background was helpful," said Ross. "I made the prototype out of paper, sent it to a game publisher and they loved it. It's just astonishing. I had no idea how successful it would become. It sold a million copies and just keeps becoming more popular.

For those who haven't checked out Qwirkle yet, Ross will be attending a special game day on Saturday, July 14 hosted by HobbyTown USA featuring several of the games she's created, including Skippity and Hoot Owl Hoot.

"Skippity is my take on checkers, but with 110 checkers in five different colors," said Ross. "Hoot Owl Hoot is a cooperative game, where the players are working together in the game rather than playing against each other. Cooperative games are an expanding area of board games that I think is really fascinating."

The game day is from 1:30 to 4 p.m. at HobbyTown, located in the Petaluma Plaza shopping center. Admission is free.

"It has been great for me to read all the reviews about my games and see that kids and their grandparents are playing it together," she said. "It's rewarding for me to see families are enjoying them."

For more information on Ross, visit www.ideaduck.com.

(Contact Yovanna Bieberich at yovanna.bieberich@arguscourier.com)

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