The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

From Soccer to Morphology

By Hannah Johnson

It’s like a cross between Pictionary and building blocks. It changes your conception of what everyday objects can do. It’s Morphology, a new board game where people build words out of a variety of objects.Macalester’s head women’s soccer coach Kate Ryan Reiling came up with the idea for the game one night when she and a few friends wanted to play a game. Their options were Jenga or Pente, but they wanted something more creative, so they opened up a Spanish-English dictionary and played the first, simple version of the game. Reiling asked her friends if she could use the idea. She took it and ran with it. She started at Ax-Man Surplus Store on University Ave. where she bought various components and pieces. With these pieces and words-ranging from concepts like laughter to body parts or animals-she had written on the back of business cards she would invite friends and family over to play.

“What I found was that people would make the most beautifully simple and interesting things out of these pieces,” Reiling said. “People would call me the next day and be like, ‘Oh, do you remember when she made a butterfly? That was so cool.’ So, it had this kind of stickiness.”

This game “where creativity wins” is played in teams. Each team has one person who chooses a word and attempts to build the word in such a way that his/her teammates can guess what it is. As a team guesses correctly, they move across the board and the first to the finish wins. Reiling prototyped the game more than 40 times with family and friends before she created 15 sample games she put together in her basement. She sent them out to people she didn’t know-family and friends of family and friends. The response was excellent. People wanted to buy it.

Reiling decided she wanted to market the game when she went to Tuck Business School at Dartmouth in 2002. She spent two years in business school, thinking about the game, polishing it, learning the board game business.

“You have to either have an idea or have a skill set to be involved in entrepreneurship and I had this quirky game,” Reiling said.

Morphology launched last winter with games made in her basement. The startup money was raised through family and friends, through the Macalester community and the Dartmouth community. They scaled up this year to the current model.

The response to the game within the industry has been great. After attending the New York Toy Fair, Morphology was one of the top picks of the fair according to Toy Directly Monthly. It was also nominated as one of the best party games according to Games magazine.

“I’ve found, and what’s true in the board game industry, is things like getting PR and press is really key,” Reiling said, “because it’s just word of mouth, essentially, how people find out about it. We really believe that you probably know people in your life who play games-it might be you, it might be your family-but everyone always knows a game player.”

Reiling’s company, Morphology Games, has also hired a couple of the soccer players as interns. Rose Holdorf ’11 worked for Morphology games last summer creating videos for the YouTube site and designing a sales template.

“Kate and I mostly worked together to fuse the talents I had with what she needed,” Holdorf said.

Holdorf made stop-motion videos for the Morphology Games YouTube page averaging about 20 seconds each. They show a short animation of a word creation. By the end, she had more than 1,000 photos on her laptop.

“It took a lot of time. I’d done stop action before and I really liked the aesthetic. I think it went well with the idea of the game,” Holdorf said. “It was like playing the game, but by myself.”

Martha Rigby ’13 contacted Reiling over the summer about working with her and this semester she has been working to improve the social media presence of Morphology Games. She started a Morphology blog and created a twitter page.

“I’ve been writing blog posts-15 or so, I think-on creativity and laughter and invention and innovation, things that Morphology is supposed to develop, to address,” Rigby said.

The soccer team has played the game a couple different times. They really enjoyed it.

“I LOVE morphology. It is refreshing and innovative yet incredibly simple and easy to get the hang of,” Claire Henkel ’13 said in an e-mail interview. “Morphology is awesome and can be used formally or just messing around. Either way, it is a blast and the entire campus should own it.”

Reiling wants to expand eventually. Currently, the game is sold in local specialty toy stores-Marbles and Games by James in the twin cities. It is also featured in the Highlander store at Macalester. They are working on a children’s version of the game and creating more themed pack of words for their iPhone app. A Macalester-themed word pack is in the works-including words like “Café Mac” and “the bell.”

“This is kind of cheesy, but I think of it as very much a Macalester-inspired game,” Reiling said, “where you have these simple concepts and yet you’re really able to think about looking at them in a very different way.”

As of now, Reiling works on Morphology games when she isn’t coaching the Macalester women’s soccer team. And for the present it seems it will stay that way.

“I really love being at Macalester, I love coaching,” Reiling said. “You know, this is kind of cliché, but college students are pretty inspiring. It’s an inspiring place for me to be because they’re doing so many things other than just being involved in the soccer program. I mean, it’s working out thus far. So, we’ll see.

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