Game Changer: John Sebelius

Don't Drop the Soap
TAKE A GUESS. Which question probably won’t come up at Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius‘ congressional hearing?

What is your stance on abortion?

Do you believe in a universal health-care program?

What do you think of the board game Don’t Drop the Soap“?

OK, so the answer is obvious.

Still, asking the U.S. secretary of health and human services nominee if she knows of this atypical board game isn’t as far fetched as one would think. After all, her 24-year-old son John created it.

“I initially made it as a fun college game my friends could play,” Sebelius said by phone from his home in Lawrence, Kan. “Soap” started as a class assignment during his senior year at the Rhode Island School of Design: In 2006, Sebelius and his fellow students were asked to create a board game from scratch. But rather than play it safe — after all, his mother is a politician — Sebelius opted to roll the creative dice.

Don't Drop the Soap
His end game? A hilarious, yet artful romp in which five players vie to be the first out of jail.

John SebeliusIt’s Monopoly meets “Prison Break.” Except, in lieu of that adorable thimble, participants opt for token pieces like a bag of cocaine or an Italian mobster. And rather than starting at Go, this hop-scotch journey begins at central booking before traversing jail joints like the infirmary and the shower room (which lends the game its, uh, unique name — if you don’t get it, Google it; or better, don’t). All inmates are bent on reaching the parole board in order to get sprung. Whoever does so first, wins.

“It’s more for niche markets,” Sebelius said, “because the game is very blue — comedy-wise.”

After having 3,000 copies of the game produced last January — the smallest unit Sebelius says he could order — he’s sold almost a thousand to date through his company Gillius Inc. ($35, Gilliusinc.com). There hasn’t been a sales spike as a result of President Obama’s selection of Momma Sebelius last Monday, and her son doesn’t expect one. Typically, a few copies of “Don’t Drop the Soap” are bought each week by those who stumble upon it through Wikipedia or by Kansans who enjoy it for a local laugh. “The correlation will always be there because she’s my mom, but no one’s pushing that as an angle. I’m definitely not.”

Kathleen SebeliusWhile her son isn’t shilling the connection, the governor isn’t shirking it either.

A press inquiry to the governor’s office last February provided Express with Sebelius’ son’s contact information in the first place.

“We both recognize she has a job to do and I have a job to do,” Sebelius said. “It’s reciprocal of being prideful of your family and making sure everyone knows where my intentions were with the game. There was no ill will when the game was created; that’s why the support was there. It’s definitely reciprocated. I don’t see her having a problem getting confirmed.”

So while the elder Sebelius advances her career in the political arena, the younger will scale back his involvement in the board-game world. Presently he has a wide array of creative projects in the works: He’s selling custom-designed T-shirts on his Web site, serving as an editorial director on the recently launched trend-spotter StyleLusts.com and is the co-creator of the photography showcase site Fotoseen.com.

With all of these ventures in play, Sebelius is prepared to drop “Soap.” “This will definitely be the last game I make,” he said.

But what about one on the health-care system?

He laughed at the suggestion, but needn’t worry, anyway: That’s mom’s job.

Photos by Marcia Harder, Marge Ely/Express, Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images; courtesy John Sebelius

Also on Express

Sir Charles Goes to the Slammer