By Henry Stuttley
Photos by Whitney Curtis
Printed in the Daily Herald on February 11, 2007.
Small edits have been made for accuracy.
Sitting around the table, the family card game grows intense.
Among the six people at his Naperville home, Tony Scarpino’s intent was not to be interrupted.
“Oh my stars, oh my stars,” he said tallying up his cards. “And I’m going wild!”
Then he raises his hands in a victory pose and yells, “Yes,” the moment of truth.”
But to his dismay, he wasn’t the victor.
Beside him, his wife, Renae gently lays her cards on the table with noticeably less exuberance.
She’s declared the official winner of “What’s Wild,” a new card game created by her son, Nick Scarpino, and daughter-in-law, Monica.
“Still champion,” she declared with confidence.
But this isn’t your typical game of rummy. It has a little twist that turns out to be well, sort of, wild.
Addison resident Nick Scarpino gave his game a safari theme. Instead of “books” and “runs,” players collect “herds” or “caravans.” The 104 cards are equipped with alligator, cheetah, peacock or zebra prints.
“This game is so much fun that we think we can spin it and make it our own and make it even more fun,” Nick said.
Each game has 10 rounds, which end when a player “Goes Wild.” The goal: To end the round scoreless.
At the end of the 10th round, the player with the fewest points wins.
Nick Scarpino said his family’s love of rummy over the years has inspired the creation of this new game, which is something young children can play, too.
It was about a year ago when he decided to give his family’s favorite game his own flavor.
Testing this new creation was a long process that involved asking people to figure out how to play, he said.
He’d take the cards everywhere he went — including on vacations to Wisconsin, Arizona, New York, and Florida. That gave him a chance to show off the game and get feedback from anyone he could find.
“We found that all ages, all types of people, all walks of life,” he said, “they all like the game.”
Since it’s something young children and older people can play together, it can help build the family, said Margaret Salyer, a professor in the master’s program of clinical psychology at Benedictine University in Lisle.
“Games create traditions and rituals that glue the family together,” Salyer said. “It teaches us how to create a family of our own and it creates safety and cohesion.”
Yet like many games, competition keeps it interesting.
For Nick Scarpino, the only problem he has is winning his own game. His wife, Monica, has won the first 100 or more times they’ve played.
“Even though he’s the maker,” she said, “I am the maker-breaker.”
And Salyer says that’s OK, just as long as the games don’t get out of hand.
In fact, they can be teaching tools for young people not to be sore losers.
“Do you beat somebody up that beat you?” she asked. “You can communicate all sorts of value about life.”
“In adulthood they’ll know how to gracefully lose and be ready to play again,” she said.
As owners of Little Shoe Publishing, the Scarpinos will debut the game today at a premiere party at Bobak’s Signature Events in Woodridge.
To go along with the game, which can be purchased for $12.99 on the Web site whatswildcardgame.com, the party will feature the debut of a commercial. Right now, it’s not on TV. But it can be downloaded from whatswildcardgame.com and other sites including YouTube and MySpace.
Nick Scarpino, who is also the commercial’s writer, director and editor, said his grandmother stars in the ad.
“It’s just a way to entice people to check it out,” he said.
The signature of the game is when a player yells, “I’m going wild,” and lays down their cards to win the round.
Some get so excited, they dance around. Others simply make animal noises, Nick Scarpino said.
“I’ve seen little kids do it and adults do it,” he said.
Soon, he hopes retail stores and zoos will get their hands on the game to sell to the public.
So far, the concept has surprised his wife. She said “we never thought it would amount to this.”
Yet the game didn’t come as a surprise to Nick Scarpino, who admits it’s a dream come true.
And since he loves playing cards, he didn’t want to be old and gray and regret not at least attempting to see if the game could sell in stores and on the Internet.
So he’s going for it.
“It’s just the feeling that I think it’s such a great idea that 20 years from now, I didn’t want to look back and kick myself for not at least trying,” he said.
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