On the Thursday evening a week before Thanksgiving, three Boulderites spent the night battling rampaging packs of weasels, high winds and madness. Such circumstances are not uncommon on the island where the trio was battling to survive a plane crash.

The men spend nearly every Thursday night on the island, which, by the way, is fictional. It is part of a card game, Ravine, that puts players at the mercy of the elements. Their mission? To survive.

Ravine is the first game to go commercial from the University of Colorado's game design course, itself launched two years ago as part of the Master's Engineering degree program in the ATLAS Institute. Professor Matthew Bethancourt leads the class; enrollees are required to develop a fully fledged analog game for their final project.

Students come in with varying degrees of familiarity with card and board games. Some only know Monopoly or Chutes and Ladders — two classics Bethancourt holds up as "examples of terrible design."

"I hate Monopoly," he said. "It's no fun. The end of Monopoly is when someone storms off."

Bethancourt encourages students to consider playability first when designing games, which is one reason why a digital game element will be dropped from the curriculum moving forward. Students would get "too wrapped up in the technology," the professor said, and the results would be confusing and disjointed.

Danny Rankin created Ravine with only one thing in mind: a deadline.


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"We were supposed to be pitching a game we were developing and I had not thought about it at all," he admitted. He winged it, suggesting the first thing that popped into his head, "a collaborative willderness survival card game."

Thankfully, it evolved over the semester. Mathew Sisson, a local game developer and owner of Boulder's Enigma Escape Room, helped polish it further after attending the class to offer professional critiques.

It's Sisson who is developing and selling Ravine, having worked out a royalty deal with Rankin. The game works like this: Players begin with six heart tokens, representing their health. Various events in the game affect the level of hearts. For example, hearts must be spent in order to forage for food and supplies.

Foraging is accomplished via a deck of cards with items both edible and useful for defense or shelter — or just for fun. Case in point: Sometimes the mushrooms are for eating, sometimes "they help you see the future," Sisson said.

The length and complexity of the game is determined by the deck of night cards. Want a shorter, easier round? Try for seven nights. Feeling up to a challenge? Go for 20.

The night deck holds such horrors as rabid raccoons, as well as benign beasts like an owl that hoots reassuringly. Some cards add health points; others deplete them. Lose too many, and you will be forced to draw a madness card that could have you singing everything you say or refusing to speak unless addressed as Captain Cranberries.

There's even cannibalism involved.

"We tried to figure out the happy medium (on) people eating one another," said Rankin.

A Kickstarter, accepting backers until Dec. 7, has already raised more than $157,000. Orders will ship in April, Sisson said. After that, a mix of online and physical retailers will carry Ravine.

The game is even approved by real survivalists: Sisson sent a prototype to an acquaintance and asked for feedback. It was positive, both in terms of fun and practicality.

With no electronic pieces, Ravine would survive an electronic magnetic pulse attack in which all such devices would be disabled, a great fear of many survivalists

Shay Castle: 303-473-1626, castles@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/shayshinecastle