Young Inventor Challenge: Advice from Mike Hirtle

Westfield Elementary School behind some Rees

Last month I visited my 5th grade teacher’s current class to talk to them about board game invention as his students were assigned a project to invent a game that included facts about a famous American.  I talked about different types of games and game mechanics hoping to get them thinking about games that aren’t based on Monopoly or Candyland, which seem to be popular solutions.  I have to say that in the past couple months I’ve heard about a lot of school projects that are centered on creating a game.  Of course I love to hear about these assignments, and I encourage teachers to talk to their students about entering their games into the Young Inventor Challenge that’s hosted at ChiTAG every November.  So this article is going to be the first in an ongoing series highlighting tips for the YIC.  For more information on the YIC visit

Interview with Mike Hirtle

Mike Hirtle looking at a child's poster during the Young Inventor challenge

First up I asked Mike Hirtle , who helps judge the competition and has dinner with the winner, to give some advice on how to create a game and present it.  Mike has a great deal of experience looking at game inventions and he was the Head of Global Product Acquisition at Hasbro for many years and now travels the world to look at game concepts for a couple game companies including Ravensburger.  In his 38-year career, he estimates that he’s seen over 25,000 concepts!  Amazing!  Here’s what Mike had to say:

1. Try to think outside the box. That means try to be different. Most entrants will have what we call a “flat down board gameâ€. This is a game where you roll a die or dice to move on a path and involves collecting something, or answering questions, or just racing to the end. Try to be different. Think about an action game, or a game that looks different. DIFFERENT is the thing that will attract the most attention.

2. Don’t worry about making a really polished model. You should do your best and make it as neat and clean as possible but no one expects it to look finished like a production model.

3. The main thing to do in your presentation is get the essence of your game across as quickly as possible. The essence is the one main thing that you have that is new or the main element of your game that makes it fun. We call it the “Big Wow†in the industry. Focus on your Big Wow.

4. Remember that you won’t have a lot of time for each presentation. You should be able to describe your game in 30 to 45 seconds. Really. Start your presentation like this: “Hi. My name is _______, My game is called _________. The object of the game is ___________. The coolest thing about my game is ____________. “

5. Speak clearly and make eye contact with the person you are presenting to. Mumbling and looking at the floor is not the best way to get your audience excited about your game.

Four Guys at the Young Inventor Challenge award ceremonyI have been talking about Games because 99.9% of the entrants at YIC invent games. I think that it must be easier to invent a game rather than a toy. One way to be really different is to invent a TOY. The comments above can apply to toys just as they do to games.Good Luck and Have Fun!


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  1. Mcouzin

    Kim and Mike,

    What wonderful information!

    We will post this on the Young Inventor Challenge page on the website and refer new entrants.

    Thank you!

    Mary Couzin
    Chicago Toy and Game Fair

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