Game space

Local man creates Muskoka board game featuring ‘a very special place’

A local software developer and former Muskoka Woods camper sought to “relive that magic” of Muskoka by co-developing his first board game

Newmarket native and software developer Darrin Henein said he had a connection with Muskoka from a young age.

As a child, he attended a summer camp in Muskoka Woods, before becoming a staff member. It was there that he would meet his future wife, Alicia, and a good friend in Trent Hansen.

“It’s just a very special place for us. Over the years, every chance we get, we go up,” he said. “We just have some of our fondest memories. Not just an iconic Canadian destination, just a great place to hang out.

This love of Muskoka inspired the Heneins, along with Hansens and their spouses, to create their very first board game. Muskoka: The Board Game launched on June 21 on Kickstarter, a tribute to the famous location.

Henein, who now lives in Aurora, said the project started as a creative outlet during the pandemic. Hansen proposed the idea to him, and with Henein’s experiences building and programming in the software world, he decided to take it on.

“I’m pretty familiar with the tools needed to create products,” he said. “The goal was to really bring this game he had in mind to life…I wanted to make the board a character from the Muskoka map and really evoke that natural, magical feel.”

Heinen said he went to college majoring in biology, but became fascinated with web tools and early internet sites like MySpace.

He started to develop the tools by himself on a computer, learning after graduating and starting to work on a freelance website. This eventually led to job creation software for Shopify.

“It was kind of a fun, self-taught, self-directed journey,” he said.

Board game development is a new business, but it’s not the first game he’s created. He also produced the 2015 mobile game Lastronauts, an endless runner that was recognized as a Canadian Game Awards finalist. He said it was something he started out of love for video games.

“Kind of a surprise hit that I didn’t expect,” he said. “Part of the drive to tackle the board game was probably just driven by the idea that it can happen to anyone. If you work hard and release something great, people will recognize it.

But producing the physical game was a different experience and took hundreds of hours, Henein said. While Hansen had the game mechanics in mind, Henein said he worked to develop a board that would evoke Muskoka using his software expertise. They also consulted family and friends for playtesting, continuously iterating on the game.

“It was a lot more work than I think the four of us expected,” he said. “I’m not sure I’m rushing to do another one.”

Still, he said, despite the extra night work, it got easier as the game progressed.

“As we got the ball rolling and gained momentum, it got a lot easier each night. Like any big project like this, you do it an hour at a time,” he said. “A few ups and downs. But as we got closer to the end, we were just motivated by some of the feedback.

The board game is something that suits the cabin atmosphere, Hansen said.

“Playing board games is synonymous with being at the chalet. What better game to play than one that combines the many adventures to be had in Muskoka? ” he said.

The four creators launched the game via Kickstarter under a new small company called Canazee Games. It achieved early success, with around $11,000 from 173 backers, more than double the $5,000 goal.

The family connection with Muskoka continues. Heinen said they are sending his son to Muskoka Woods summer camp for the first time this year.

It’s a connection he says he knows many others have.

“We know a lot of people love the Muskoka area,” he said. “They travel from all over the world just to see the lakes and forests up there. For us, it’s a way to relive that magic.

The game is available through Kickstarter.