Wildlife artist Mark McKenna woke up before dawn one day with his mind racing. An idea for a card game had come to him and he couldn’t wait to try it with his family. Within a few weeks, he had worked up a prototype to see what his wife and kids thought.
After enjoying the initial concept and a few years of play testing, rule tweaking, and family fun, McKenna and his family released Royal Turmoil under the company name McKenna Games.
Royal Turmoil is a turn-based, head-to-head card game where the goal is to claim, steal, settle, and unite as many royals as possible, while preventing your opponents from doing the same.
This wasn’t the first game he had developed. Mark, his wife, and some friends had developed a board game a few years prior. While it is still in the prototype phase—cut and pasted onto foam core—it has become one of their favorite games to play. “When we had the initial idea, We were playing a game one night with some friends and I’m like ‘Man, that is such a simple idea and [this company has] sold millions of copies of this,’” McKenna says. “To come up with a game, all you need is some brain power, creativity, and a healthy appetite for problem solving.”
Game design allows McKenna to use his creativity in a different way than with his fine art and allows him to get the whole family involved.
Although he came up with the initial concept for Royal Turmoil, his wife and kids were all-hands-on-deck testing new rules, brainstorming character names, and, of course, trying to win. “Our kids came up with names like Macho Mango and then Velvety Viking,” McKenna says. “The kids enjoyed that…They can see the card and they’re like, ‘Yeah, that was mine!’”
He also decided to hire an illustrator to bring the characters to life, while he managed the graphic design of the cards, box, and instructions himself. “We hired an illustrator to create the illustrations because, even though I’m an artist, and I do good work, it’s all very realistic. My work is definitely not whimsical,” McKenna says.“I’m way too literal.”
With over 700 copies already sold and new games in the works, McKenna is proud of the success, but even more proud of the lessons he is able to teach his kids in the process.
“It’s been really fun to help my kids to get to the point where they realize [success] is a lot more about what we can bring to the table that’s going to make a difference in this world,” McKenna says. “I’m not saying that Royal Turmoil is going to change the world or create world peace. In fact, it probably increases war at the kitchen table. But ultimately, it’s one more excuse to spend time together as a family which I think is a wonderful thing.”
Mark McKenna was featured in the September/October 2023 Issue of Art of the West