“Blobby’s Pizza” is a new card game that teaches fractions via the unlikely theme of monsters making pizza. Blobby’s Pizza. This strategic and colorful game is only $22 and is designed to teach children ages nine and older fractions, decimals and percentages. Using the monster cards in the deck, each player eats their way to the highest bill and sharpens their math skills in the process.
“Blobby’s Pizza” is one of the newest releases from Semper Smart Games, a company which was founded by a retired Coast Guard officer named Jim Moran. Jim has turned into a full-time game maker who invented the patent-pending PlaySmart Dice™ system to. He is also the creator of the “Election Night!” game that help players learn important facts about U.S. geography and the mechanics of the Electoral College. His latest creation, “Blobby’s Pizza,” has a similar role as a tool of Entertainment-Education, since is strategically teaches children fractions, decimals, and percentages under the guise of a monster-attended pizza-eating contest.
Jim recently spoke about his games via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you get interested in games and how did you break into the industry?
Jim Moran (JM): Games have been a big part of every stage of my life. I learned so much from them as a child—from critical analysis to creative expression and problem-solving. I enjoyed playing all the classics and was absolutely obsessed with Dungeons and Dragons. As an officer in the Coast Guard, I relied heavily on games I would create to train young servicemembers in essential tasks and used them to build stronger bonds between diverse crewmembers. But I think it wasn’t until I became a co-oping parent at my daughters’ play-based pre-school that I started thinking about making games. That’s when I really began to appreciate more fully that play in our mind’s favorite way of learning. I really didn’t have a strategy for breaking into the industry, but one day after work I shot a video for Kickstarter with my wife and daughters and we were off. We got some initial interest in an educational dice system I made called “PlaySmart Dice.” The campaign did modestly well and we met our funding goal. Shortly after that, an established publisher reached out to me for a manufacturing deal. I think at that point we were committed.
MM: What inspired “Blobby’s Pizza” and why did you decide to use it to teach fractions in particular?
JM: I was just coming off a really successful release of our first board game, “Election Night!” which I made to help my girls master essential addition and multiplication math facts and U.S. geography while helping them imagine running for President (but without politics!). That game taught my daughter multiplication so well that she didn’t ask for help on her math homework for almost two years. So, while I was busy working on other games, she came to me one day with a fraction and decimal equivalency homework problem. She was really struggling with it. I thought for a second about good games that could help her understand some of these concepts. Truly fun games—not like the ones you might play in school, but ones you would choose to play on game night. I couldn’t think of any. That’s when I knew we could really do something that had impact and value.
MM: How long did it take you to design this game from start to finish?
JM: About two years. I had a lot of the stuff worked out in my head faster than that, but working with artists and designers takes time. We also had to playtest a lot, and get input on all the functional and artistic choices we wanted to make.
MM: How different did the prototype look from the final product?
JM: A lot! I guess I have learned that you really should start with function, and work on the form later. So, I start with pretty basic designs to make sure the gameplay is engaging. If the game mechanics work, then you can move on to the finer design elements that enhance the gaming experience. It’s really satisfying when you know you have an entertaining game, regardless of how good it looks. It also makes it a little easier to fully invest in the design process.
MM: Was it difficult to find a manufacturer?
JM: Fortunately, we have a great relationship with an industry leader that reached out to us early on. I had a plan to go direct to some other options but I think that would have been a lot more challenging. I like to think of myself as being good at a lot of things, but when it came to this, I realized I was out of my league. It’s much easier today to find helpful partners that will allow you to retain all your product rights and creative control, which allows us to focus on developing the kind of games we want to create.
MM: You are offering a big $5,000 prize to anyone who makes a game using these cards, so where did the idea to do that come from?
JM: It’s just rooted in my strong belief that children should be encouraged to create. They create things naturally, much more so than adults, but they will create even more things if they are encouraged to do so. Our children are going to have to confront obstacles that humanity has never faced. Collectively, they are going to have to be more creative than any previous generation if they are going to have a chance at solving the unprecedented challenges of their time. Learning from games is powerful, but I think creating games helps us think more outside ourselves. It’s kind of a service-oriented activity. It makes us think about what will work with others; how mechanics, interaction, and challenge can be combined in new ways to create something that is valuable and enjoyable for everyone. It’s very satisfying creating games that teach kids essential math and other academic skills, but the thought of encouraging kids to create and problem-solve to see new possibilities that they could create would be amazing.
MM: What has been some of the coolest feedback you’ve gotten about this game?
JM: As you might expect, when kids get excited about the game it never gets old. Especially when they say stuff like, “my new favorite game,” or “best game ever.” I also got some really great feedback on the artwork when we were developing it. Stuff kids told us they liked, or things they would change, etc. which made the game better. Kids are really perceptive. One child thought it was great that we had a lot of gender-neutral monsters. That was nice to hear articulated and appreciated on that level. And during the pandemic, it’s been especially nice to hear that parents really appreciate having games their kids like to play that are valuable learning supplements.
MM: Are you currently working on any new games or initiatives that you’re especially excited about?
JM: I am! I will be releasing a few games in the next year or two. One is going to be a simple game involving left brain mathematical skills with right-brain intuition. It’s testing really well and it will be out later this year. When you have a teaching goal with math in a game, you are really failing if you don’t include hooks for both parts of the brain. Most math games forget about the creative forces of the right brain, and they end up turning lots of kids off. We also are working on a game that combines folklore, world geography, math, and sports. And, we will likely add to our existing games with new offerings in the near future.
MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future and is there anything else that you would like to mention?
JM: My goal has always been to have a meaningful impact. I think games offer so many untapped opportunities to do that. Fun games are extremely memorable. Nobody ever has to study what color Boardwalk is in Monopoly, yet they remember for a lifetime it is blue. I am trying to engineer more meaningful content into those types of experiences. We can use the power of memory triggers that are rooted in fun and productively competitive experiences to give our children essential tools that last a lifetime.
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