For 20 years, Brian Calhoun made guitars for musicians like Dave Matthews, Jason Mraz, and Brandi Carlile. He also loved playing games with friends and family but found many popular board games, well, boring. So he decided to create his own: Chickapig, a barnyard riff on chess in which part-chicken, part-pig animals dodge hay bales and cow dung as they try to cross the board. “With guitars and board games, I enjoy the problem-solving process of it all,” he says. Here’s how Calhoun created his game— and how you can create your own too!
1. DEVELOP A MAIN CHARACTER
Ever since he was a kid growing up in Virginia, Calhoun loved to draw silly animal combinations. “I would draw chicken heads coming out of turtle shells or animals on the phone,” he says. “I just thought stuff like that was funny.” For his game, he decided to combine the skinny legs of a chicken with the round body and nose of a pig. “‘Chickapig’ is funny to say and memorable,” he says. Plus, “Chickapig.com was available.”
2. START DESIGNING THE BOARD AND PIECES, USING WHATEVER MATERIALS YOU HAVE ON HAND
Calhoun cut his first game pieces from scraps of guitar wood—cedar, maple, and red spruce—and drew Chickapigs on them with colored pencil. He made a board by drawing squares on pieces of cardboard and paper and attaching them to a chessboard to create a 14-by-14-square grid.
3. MAKE THE RULES
Calhoun modeled the Chickapig piece on a rook in chess, which can only move straight or sideways; in keeping with the farm theme, he created hay bales and cow poop pieces to serve as obstacles. “It’s chess but a little more down-home, no pressure, and easier to pick up,” he explains.
4. GET PEOPLE TO PLAY—AS MANY PEOPLE AS YOU CAN
After a week of working on his game, Calhoun started showing Chickapig to his friends, including Dave Matthews, who later helped him turn the game into a business. Calhoun hosted Chickapig game nights at a local bar, and showed the game to a principal, who helped start a Chickapig league in Charlottesville, Virginia, public schools.The Virginia Institute of Autism even began using the game to help students develop their social skills. “People started saying their kids were putting down their phones to play, and I thought, Man, we’re really onto something here,” he says. Now, Chickapig is sold in stores across the country.
5. KEEP BUILDING YOUR FAN BASE...AND DON’T GIVE UP!
In June, Calhoun released Chickapiglets, a version of Chickapig for preschoolers, and 25 Outlaws, a version of poker set in the Wild West and illustrated by Matthews. He’s also released a picture book, Little Joe Chickapig, about a young Chickapig who wants to leave his farm. “It started as a joke, then a hobby, and now it’s having a positive impact on families,”says Calhoun. “Lots of people have ideas.But sticking with them is harder.”