Greenbelt Firm Seeks Board Game Fame

Satish Pillalamarri, center, and Dominic Crapuchettes, right, founded North Star Games, whose Wits & Wagers is a trivia game with a gaming table twist.
Satish Pillalamarri, center, and Dominic Crapuchettes, right, founded North Star Games, whose Wits & Wagers is a trivia game with a gaming table twist. (By David Beltran-del-rio)
Monday, December 10, 2007

How many states are at least partly in the Central time zone? What, in dollars, is the most ever paid for a painting by elephant?

On a recent weeknight, about 40 people are gathered into teams at the Mayorga Coffee Factory in Silver Spring and tossing out their best guesses to those and other questions. It's a monthly event thrown partly for fun and partly to promote a Greenbelt company's latest board game, Wits & Wagers.

Dominic Crapuchettes and Satish Pillalamarri, founders of North Star Games and hosts of the event, pitch Wits & Wagers as the trivia game that can be won even without a head for useless bits of information.

Crapuchettes, a lifelong board-game aficionado, said he created Wits & Wagers partly as a response to Trivial Pursuit -- a game he hated in his high school days because he wasn't very good at it.

Wits & Wagers is a trivia contest, but with a gaming table twist. Players seek to answer numerically based questions and use casino-style chips to place bets on their responses and those of other players. Whoever has the most chips at the end wins.

The game isn't a household name just yet, but it has been garnering positive attention, including a few industry awards. Target started offering the $30 board game nationwide in its stores over the summer, and a spokeswoman for the retailer said Wits & Wagers has been a strong performer.

Crapuchettes and Pillalamarri, who met while pursuing MBAs at the University of Maryland, say their company is on track to hit revenue of $300,000 this year, up from $95,000 in 2006.

In recent weeks, North Star has been contacted by distributors interested in making the game available in Europe. A downloadable, video game version of Wits & Wagers is in the works and scheduled for release early next year.

But the board game market isn't an easy one to play. It's not a growing industry, and the top sellers tend to be the same ones as last year, with such familiar titles as Monopoly, Scrabble, Battleship and Clue dominating the charts. Retailers typically don't give up shelf space to newcomers.

Crapuchettes, who has been designing games for fun since he was a child, said there are about a thousand other aspiring board game designers trying to make the next big hit, but few of their ventures break even.

"It's hard to be profitable because there are so many people out there who love to make games as a hobby and crowd the marketplace," he said.

Crapuchettes is hoping that fans of Wits & Wagers will remember North Star Games positively enough to also buy his company's release scheduled for next summer. The game, called Say Anything, game involves guessing how other players will respond to subjective questions, such as "What's the most overrated band of all time?" The North Star guys are fine-tuning that game, in a separate series of game nights, with their friends.

And, by the way, according to North Star, 20 states are at least partially in the Central time zone. And the most money ever paid for a painting by elephants was $39,000.

-- Mike Musgrove

© 2007 The Washington Post Company