READFIELD — When David Matson was a boy, he spent hours inventing war games — drawing a map on graph paper, making game pieces and writing rules about how those pieces could move around the board and engage one another.

“Just making a game was playing, you know?” Matson said.

He has taken an idea he’s been toying with and refining for years and made it into “Gladiator: Fight to the Finish,” a fast-paced card game for two players to battle gladiator-style to the end at a time when interest in games is on the rise as the coronavirus pandemic has restricted other more social pursuits.

Jeremy Morton, a manager of Game On in Augusta, said the coronavirus has driven renewed interest in games, particularly board games.

“We have seen an uptick in the hobby aspect of board games, where people buy products they buy and paint themselves,” Morton said; card games less so. “Pretty much everything in the nonplugged in game world has seen an uptick.”

The seeds for this particular game were sown years ago when Matson’s father gave him a book on gladiators, which piqued his interest in developing a game around their battles.

Even as he went off to college and started on his path to adulthood, the idea for the game kept simmering in his mind.

“I took a class in fencing to learn more about how sword fighting works and get some ideas,” he said. “It was really fun. I’d like to try it again, although the people who are really good at it, they just wipe you out immediately.”

Over the last decade, he started thinking about the game again. He set aside the idea of developing a board game because it was too clumsy and it couldn’t adequately capture the flow and speed of sword fighting. Instead, he developed a prototype and played the game with with his daughter and son and friends, tweaking things and writing the rules, refining it and playing some more.

“I finally got to a point where I felt like: I think this has come together,” he said. “And that coincided with a pandemic.”

The opportunity to develop this game evolved out of a series of circumstances that led to him having unanticipated free time. Matson, an ordained priest, was the rector at the Episcopal Church of Saints Matthew and Barnabas until he was let go at the end of 2019 due to lack of funds. The church has subsequently announced it’s closing.

He decided then to pursue his art, something he has worked on throughout his life. He lined up three shows, but all were canceled after the coronavirus pandemic was declared.

So he turned his attention to his game.

“It’s a lot of fun to play, but it’s also fun because you get immersed in a sort of quasi-legendary historical experience,” he said. “It’s not just made up fantasy. You’re entering this arena in a safe way, but learning more about, and participating in this very strange ancient practice that was really popular for a long time.”

He started with the attack-and-defend of a fight, determined by the cards drawn are played. The cards also dictate how the combatants are standing, whether they are lunging forward or stepping back.

“I just kept playing it and playing it and playing it,” he said. “Whenever something seemed clumsy or too easy to kill or too hard to kill, I’d keep tweaking it.”

He had been thinking about bringing the game to shops around the area to demonstrate it and maybe attract a following, but in these socially distanced times, he opted to push it out using Kickstarter, a crowd funding platform.

With 10 days to go until his campaign ends, Matson has raised $2,355 of his $3,800 funding goal. Campaigns are not funded unless the goal is met.

“The way Kickstarter works is that you’re not actually buying something,” Matson said. “You make a pledge and the game is your reward.”

If he reaches his funding goal, those who have pledged will get the game — two decks of cards, a pair of dice, rules and score sheets. If he exceeds the goal, he’ll be able to produce games to sell, which he may do through Etsy, an online marketplace for handmade and other goods, or through a website, where it would probably retail for about $28.

And while he’s thinking about another level to the game that involves gladiators fighting with tridents and nets, Matson’s expectations at this point are modest.

If it is funded, Kickstarter will take several weeks to process the pledges and send him the money. At that point, he’ll be able to get his games made.

“We’ll cross our fingers that there are no pandemic surprises, like all of a sudden, one of the companies involved decides they don’t want to exist anymore,” Matson said. “My hope is to see it funded and then know that people are getting to play it all over the world.”

He has pledges from people in Singapore, Germany and the United Kingdom.

“It would just be so cool to think that this thing that I’ve been working on in a very interior way in a lot of ways for a long time is out there being enjoyed,” Matson said.


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