‘Bears vs Babies’ play date at Arlington Library

Matthew Inman (standing) talks with players of "Bears vs Babies" during a Feb. 15 playtest at Arlington Library. Photo gallery

What do bears and babies have in common?

Perhaps not a lot now, but that may change this summer and on Feb. 15, dozens of people at the Arlington Library got a sneak peek at what’s coming.

Matthew Inman, creator of The Oatmeal website and Exploding Kittens card game is putting the finishing touches on his latest game, Bears vs Babies, due to go on sale this June. As part of the game launch process, Inman and collaborator Elan Lee, organized 45 “playtest” sessions across the globe. One of those sessions was at the library and, in this case, included Inman himself joining the players.

“I’ve been to about four of these,” Inman said. “At this point, the game itself is pretty locked down, but we’re still working on the instructions.”

Inman saw some work to do.

“Did you all get a bear to start the game?” he asked the players at a table while leafing through the instructions that had been distributed. Hearing a unanimous “no,” Inman sat down to get their game back on track. While advertised as being for players age 7 and up, instructions can be a bit cryptic at first. One player at Arlington read aloud: “Choose a baby army and discard half, rounding up.”

Inman said some playtest session are conducted with observers not being able to interact with players. “There’s nothing more frustrating,” he said. “This is nice, being able to help.”

That Arlington Library became a playtest site is largely thanks to the work of Abby Bormann, Arlington’s Teen Librarian. “I contributed to the Kickstarter campaign,” Bormann said. “Then a few weeks ago, I got an email about the playtests.”

Bormann and some teens who frequent the library quickly put together a short video to make their case as a playtest location. “We heard back right away,” Bormann said. “This whole thing came together in just a couple of weeks.”

Those efforts resulted in an afternoon of participants ranging in age from 8 to 67 getting to play what is likely to be one of the hottest games of the summer before its release. “It was great,” said a 66-year-old Stanwood resident. “I was playing with 14- and 15-year-olds, but during the game, there was no age.”

Inman and co-creator Lee, who is a veteran game designer and currently Chief Design Officer for Xbox Entertainment Studios, funded the game through Kickstarter. The campaign broke records for the online crowdfunding site. When Bears vs Babies was listed on Oct. 18, the goal was $10,000. In the first week, it received $1.4 million from backers and topped out at $3.2 million in less than a month.

Joining Inman at Arlington for the playtest were several family members, including his mom.

“I work for him,” said Ann Inman, who lives near Rockport. “I handle the merchandise, the warehouse is at my house.”

Mom says she’s proud of her son and his success, but when Matthew is with family, he’s just one of the family. “He works hard, but all the kids work hard and are successes,” she said.

And, it’s not like success guarantees recognition.

Inman recounted a recent experience in Seattle when the woman behind the counter pointed at his sweatshirt with a cartoon from The Oatmeal and said, “Oh, the Belch.”

“It’s Blerch,” Inman said.

“Oh, well, I’m not much of a fan,” she said.

“I created it,” he said and unzipped the sweatshirt to show his Exploding Kittens t-shirt. “She turned a little red.”

(If you missed the playtest at Arlington Library, the only other one in Washington is 2-6 p.m., Feb. 26, at the Raygun Lounge in Seattle.)