Life’s a game for Esky native

Illinois man makes a living creating new board games

Deborah Prescott | Daily Press Sales associate Chrisy Grandahl holds The Game of Wolf at Sayklly’s Confectionary and Gifts on North Lincoln Road Tuesday afternoon. The game is the latest creation from Joe Barron, a 2001 graduate of Escanaba High School. Barron and his wife Lauren created a business called Gray Matters Games. Their goal is to get people away from their cell phones and tablets and interact with other people by playing games while supporting brain health. A portion of proceeds go toward Alzheimer’s disease research.

ESCANABA — Escanaba High School Class of 2001 graduate Joe Barron didn’t know he was going to own a business creating games as an adult, but he did know he loved games growing up. That passion and energy for games transferred into a business after traveling with family members on a road trip out West.

Barron created a game for the family to play while traveling. The family loved it, and they told Barron he should create the game and sell it. Since then, Barron has created four games: You Bet-Cha!, Badmoji and Ridiculous Expositions.

The newest game created by Barron’s company, Gray Matters Games, is called The Game of Wolf.

“This game has a unique crossover between collaborative and competitive (actions). It’s the only game, that I know of, where teams are changing every single round,” said Barron. “It also has 1,500 unique trivia questions, and yes, I wrote all of them.”

Barron gets his trivia ideas from everywhere, he says. He enjoys trivia nights, and he and his wife watch Jeopardy every night.

The Game of Wolf’s objective is to end with the most points after three full rounds of play. The first Wolf is chosen by players revealing their birthdays. The person with the closest upcoming birthday is the first Wolf. The player to the left of the Wolf becomes the reader who pulls a card from the deck and reads the subject on the card aloud to all players.

Once the subject is revealed the Wolf may decide to choose one or two players, who may be knowledgeable about the topic, and together they answer as a pack. Players not in the Wolf’s pack form a team against the Wolf pack.

The Wolf may choose to play as a Lone Wolf earning double the points, then all players play against the Wolf.

Once teams are created, questions regarding the subject are read aloud, and the players write their answers down. The reader reveals the answers and the pack or Lone Wolf with the most correct answers wins the points for that game. A scorekeeper tracks points and the previous reader becomes the Wolf for the next game. One round is complete after everyone has been the Wolf once.

“This game is actually based on my favorite golf game, also Wolf, where players pick their teammates based on their tee shot or they can go alone against everyone, usually when everyone hits a crappy tee shot,” said Barron. “I applied the same mechanic to trivia where the Wolf picks their team based on the other players knowledge of a subject.”

In 2017 Barron left his full time job to fully submerge himself into game making. It didn’t take long for the business to get noticed with a name like Gray Matters Games. Barron and his wife chose this name for the games they create and how the games work the mind.

“Each game has a unique mechanic that makes you think in a different way,” said Barron. “You Bet-Cha! is a quick thinking game that has you naming as many of a particular subject as you can in one minute. Ridiculous Expositions is a word game in which you have to say what you hear and not what you read. Wolf is not just trivia, but also adds an element of strategy to picking your team or going alone.”

The Barron’s have a great sense of humor. It may come through in their more adult games, Badmoji and Ridiculous Expositions. You Bet-Cha! and The Game of Wolf are more family friendly games according to Barron.

Living in Glen Ellyn, Ill., with wife Lauren, seven month-old daughter Emery, and two Vizsla pups named Rudy and Gipper, keeps Barron energized to continue creating new games.

“I’m really inspired by my friends and family to make games. We have a monthly game night at our house to test new games and my family has a massive game night every Thanksgiving,” said Barron. “I also had family members with Alzheimer’s which is the reason we donate a meaningful portion of profits to the Alzheimer’s Association.”

Barron will tell you that he’s still trying to get into the business, but the trip with the family a few years back sure has turned his life around. Expect to see many more games come from the Gray Matters Games company.

“Our games have been sold at over 800 stores across five different countries, USA, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa,” said Barron. “Our goal this year … Europe.”