This Christmas season, Oak Park 12-year-old Ellie Skalla hasn’t really stopped thinking about one gift item, in particular — a strategy board game called GalactiQuest.
The objective of the two- to four-player game designed for age 7 and up is simple and echoes aspects of the popular board game Monopoly. Win the galaxy by acquiring planets you don’t have while defending the ones you do.
Skalla can’t stop thinking about GalactiQuest, but not because it’s on her gift list. It’s because the Julian seventh-grader invented it.
Some 13,000 units of the board game are now available exclusively in most Target stores nationwide and on Target.com, said Amy Struckmeyer, Skalla’s mother, adding that her daughter gets a small percentage on each unit that Target purchased from Pressman, the toy manufacturer that turned Skalla’s prototype into a product.
In November 2017, Skalla won the Annual Young Inventor Challenge at Chicago Toy Game Week, or ChiTAG, which might be described as Comic Con for board game and toy enthusiasts.
“It’s really cool, because game industry people are the judges and they actually play these games with the kids and give them feedback,” said Struckmeyer.
The competition is open to children age 6 to 18 who have the opportunity “to develop and pitch their original inventions to major toy companies, industry professionals, members of the media and general public,” according to ChiTAG’s website.
Skalla won within the “Most Marketable Concept” category, which was sponsored by Pressman and Target. The win came with a $1,000 prize, which Skalla said she’s put in a fund for college, and the opportunity for her concept to become an actual product available on Target’s shelves and on its website. The process from contest to packaged commodity (the game’s box even has a photo of her) took roughly two years, she said.
“Pressman listened to all my ideas and really wanted to keep this as my game,” Skalla said. “They didn’t just take the game and start developing it. We had conference calls and tested things out. You can really see the similarities between my idea and the final product.”
Struckmeyer said games run in the family. Skalla’s older brother, 16-year-old Oak Park and River Forest High School student Henry Skalla, entered the Young Inventor Challenge in 2016, which motivated Ellie to enter as well.
“I think the game I created was called Dice Jewels, and instead of rolling the dice, you would move them around on a board and attack other people,” Henry said. “Each dice had its own special abilities that you could choose at the beginning of the game.”
Struckmeyer is a co-director of the Oak Park Education Foundation’s BASE Camp, an annual summer camp that offers programming for Oak Park young people in science, technology, engineering, arts and math. Last summer, she helped launch a BASE Camp program called Board Game Design and invited Ellie to speak to participants.
Last month, at this year’s ChiTag, Ellie was nominated along with six other young toy innovators for a Toy and Game Innovation Award in the category of Young Inventor of the Year.
“People in the game industry voted for who they thought should win,” she said of the honor, which she won.
This holiday season, the family of gaming enthusiasts said they’ve played a lot of board games, but have grown a bit exhausted by GalactiQuest, which they played countless times during the testing and prototype phase.
Nowadays, Struckmeyer said, the family is into developing what could be a new pastime — going into Target stores and looking for GalactiQuest on the shelves.
“Whenever we go to Target, we look for it on the shelf and just say, ‘Hello,'” she said.
Ironically, the game, which goes for $11.99 on Target.com, is unavailable at the brick-and-mortar Target at 1129 Lake St. in Oak Park. But whether it’s on shelves or online, Ellie said, knowing her idea exists in the world is a gift in itself.
“It’s really cool that people can actually play my game and enjoy a thing I made.”