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'Very special place': Local man co-creates Muskoka game

Local software developer sought to 'relive that magic' of Muskoka by co-developing first board game

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

He attended summer camp at Muskoka Woods as a kid, eventually becoming a staff member. It was there he would meet his future wife, Alicia, and a good friend in Trent Hansen.

“It’s just been a very special place for us. Over the years, whenever we get the chance, we go up,” he said. “We just have some of our fondest memories. Not only an iconic Canadian destination, just a beautiful destination to spend time in.” 

That love of Muskoka prompted the Henein, along with Hansen and their spouses, to create their first-ever board game. Muskoka: the Board Game launched June 21 on Kickstarter, a homage to the famous locale.

Henein, who now lives in Aurora, said the project started as a creative outlet during the pandemic. Hansen reached out to him with the idea, and with Henein’s experiences in 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 that game that he had in his mind to life … I wanted to make the board a character of the Muskoka map and really evoke that natural, magical feel.” 

Heinen said he went to university for biology but became fascinated by web tools and early internet sites like MySpace. 

He began to work out the tools by himself on a computer, learning after finishing his degree and starting freelance website work. That eventually led to a job building software for Shopify.

“It’s been fun kind of self-taught and self-led journey,” he said.

Board game development is a new venture, but it is not the first game he has made. He also produced the 2015 mobile game Lastronauts, an endless runner that garnered finalist recognition at the Canadian Game Awards. He said it was something he began out of his love for video games.

“Kind of a surprise success that I didn’t anticipate,” he said. “Part of the willingness to take on the board game was probably was just motivated by the idea it can happen to anyone. If you just work hard and put something great out there, then people will recognize that.” 

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 with family and friends for play testing, continually iterating on the game.

“It was a lot more work than I think the four of us expected,” he said. “Not sure I’d rush to do another.” 

Still, he said despite the extra evening work, it became easier as the game advanced. 

“As we got the ball rolling and got some momentum, it became that much easier each night. Like any big project like this, you do it one hour at a time,” he said. “Some 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 cottage atmosphere, Hansen said.

“Playing board games is synonymous with being at the cottage. 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 has garnered early success, with approximately $11,000 from 173 backers, more than double the $5,000 goal.

The family connection to Muskoka is continuing. Heinen said they are sending his son to the Muskoka Woods Summer Camp for the first time this year. 

It is a connection he said he knows many others have.

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

The game is available via Kickstarter