October 7, 2022

A spark of inspiration can strike at any time. Three years ago, it struck a girl in 8th grade returning home from a trip to Morocco.
As her plane was landing in San Francisco, Ava Rathenberg overheard two boys playing on their tablet computers and realized that they had no idea where they were going.
“One of them thought they were landing in New York, and the other thought they were landing in Beijing,” she said. “So I thought, ‘What if I could create a game to help kids explore the world and learn more about the many different fascinating places to visit, but in a fun way, not like a schoolbook?’ Then, I also thought it had to be a real board game to help them get away from electronic devices for a while.”
That game, “Travel Explore Discover,” not only has helped kids and teens learn about the world, but it has also raised more than $3,000 for educational charities, as well as $4,500 for the Red Cross’s efforts to help families displaced by California’s wildfires.
“I never wanted to use the game to make money for myself,” said Rathenberg, now 17. “Initially, I wanted to donate to schools to help children get a better education. I also donated to free lunch programs at my school. I want to continue to help children any way I can.”
In the process, she demonstrated the United States’s entrepreneurial and generous spirit in action.
Rathenberg designed the game for as few as two players and as many as six. The board is a world map featuring numerous cities and landmarks. Lines representing air, sea, or land travel crisscross the board.
Players start by drawing a card from a deck of capital cities. Those represent the players’ destinations. Players then draw three more cards. One is another capital city, the second comes from a deck of major non-capital cities, and the third from a deck of natural or man-made landmarks, such as the Parthenon or the Grand Canyon. Before arriving at their final destinations, players must land on spots represented by the other three cards. The first player to reach his or her final destination wins.
Each card contains information about that city or landmark, so when the players reach or pass over a site, they read the information on the cards to the other players.
Players use one of seven airports as starting points (or “home bases”), then try to plan the most efficient route and roll dice to determine whether to move by airplane, boat, train, or taxi. Any player who can’t use the type of transportation rolled must draw an Action Card and follow the instructions.
Action Cards can be beneficial or frustrating. One says, “You are feeling homesick. Immediately go back to your home base.” Another says, “Mom wired you money. You can take the transportation of your choice instead of using the dice. Keep this card and use it on your next turn.”
“It was easy to create the first version and play-test it, although it took a lot of time,” Rathenberg said. “But then, we had talked to a game-producing company in Las Vegas and learned that it would take over $10,000 to get it printed and shipped.”
So, Rathenberg decided to raise funds through Kickstarter, though early responses were discouraging.
“I thought that the gaming crowd on Kickstarter would be excited and help fund the game,” she said. “Many other games were out there, started by professional companies, and they did very well and got very high dollar amounts of funding. Although we asked for a lot less money than they did, it was hard to get traction with the gaming community.”
Rathenberg and her family sent emails to “everyone we knew to help us get the $12,000 we needed.”
With funding secured, Rathenberg went back to the game producer, Board Game Manufacturing, for the painstaking task of making the prototype. “I had to send designs back and forth a lot of times because of a small typo,” she said. “Sometimes we solved one issue, but introduced another error in the process. I had to check the map a lot; all the locations had to be in the right places. Proofreading the cards took many weeks.”
Once the prototype was finished, Rathenberg fulfilled the 116 orders from her initial Kickstarter backers. She created a website and went door-to-door to sell the game.
In the process, Rathenberg learned just how popular “Travel Explore Discover” became. “I received extremely happy and enthusiastic responses from everyone who got the game,” she said. “An after-school kids club at a local elementary school wanted to do regular game nights and play with kids. One of the grandmothers told me that they played it so much—for about one year, she had to play it with her grandson every single night. Others found it a great way to be together with the entire family.”
Some satisfied customers even found motivation for similar ideas.
“Several people told me how impressed they were,” Rathenberg said, “because they had also thought of games they would have liked to develop, but they never got past the planning stage to even a working prototype.”
Since filling those initial orders, Ava has also convinced local stores to carry the game.
While helping others discover the world, Rathenberg discovered the nuances of her favorite pastimes. The game design combined her passions for art and computer science. “Designing the game was a lot of fun for me,” she said.
While designing and marketing her project, the young entrepreneur learned the secret of turning inspiration into reality. “It helped me become more responsible and committed,” she said about the project. ““At first, I thought it would take less than a year to get it all done. The beginning was often frustrating. But knowing that 116 people were now waiting to get their games was a powerful motivator. By staying committed and seeing it through, I learned that putting in the time and effort really pays off.”
This article was originally published in American Essence magazine. 

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