Using his magical clout

By DeAnn Rossetti

Jesper Myrfors has always

been fascinated by games.

He created his own at home as a child with his brother Tobias. In third grade he got serious about making them when he came up with a board game that involved flicking pencils across a track drawn on paper.

``We did various pencil-flicking games, penny tossing games and such all through grade school,'' said Myrfors. ``I'm surprised none of us were ever hurt; those pencils could really fly if you flicked them wrong.''

Myrfors, who grew up on Mercer Island, bought a ``Dungeons & Dragons'' game at Island Books as a teen.

``My math skills were sub par, but I got better through the game,'' he said. ``It also fostered an interest in certain types of history, and broadened my scope of knowledge; I'm thankful for that to this day.''

Myrfors' hobby -- now his profession -- has paid off well, he said. The illustrator earned his way into a company that eventually produced ``Magic: the Gathering,'' a popular game that has brought wealth to people who were in on the ground floor, including Myrfors. Now he has started his own company, Hidden City Games, which will introduce in June a game called ``Clout Fantasy.''

Myrfors moved with his family to the Island from Stockholm, Sweden, in the 1960s when his dad got a job with The Boeing Co.

After graduating from Mercer Island High in 1984, Myrfors attended Cornish College of the Arts from which he received a bachelor of fine arts degree in illustration.

``I wanted to do fantasy art, but my instructors told me there was no such thing,'' said Myrfors. ``They told me that I'd have to move to New York or LA to do any kind of graphic illustrations, but I knew I could prove them wrong and do it here in Seattle.''

He worked for several small gaming companies and continued to knock at the door of a then-new outfit in Kent called Wizards of the Coast.

Myrfors cold-called the company and showed the art director his work, but couldn't sell her it.

``I didn't want to give up on Wizards of the Coast, though, because my whole goal was to work locally, and I really liked the people there,'' he said.

At the time, WOTC was run out of founder and CEO Peter Adkinson's basement.

Eventually, ``they gave me a week to do some work on spec, and I did it in two days, and did twice the work they expected,'' said Myrfors. ``The pay was only $50 per piece of artwork, but getting my work published professionally was a major coup.''

Myrfors started attending WOTC Thursday meetings. There the art director would give him staff work to do until the day she offered him her job, saying she wanted to get into other aspects of the gaming industry, he said.

``The first thing I did as art director was toss out the pieces I'd done as not good enough,'' recalls Myrfors. ``They were not in a style appropriate for the product. They never did see print.''

Myrfors said there was a lot of whispering and cessation of talk whenever he came into a room. He learned from Adkinson that the secret everyone was whispering about was a game called ``Magic: the Gathering,'' which the company was developing.

``Peter explained the concept to me and we played a crude mockup of the game,'' said Myrfors. ``Then I said that I want no pay from here on, I want stock in the company. Needless to say, when they sold ``Magic,'' I did rather well.''

Myrfors got his illustrator friends from Cornish and others in the gaming industry to help him create original artwork and a fantastic ``look'' for the game. Many of the artists were paid in company stock as well, which ``changed their lives forever'' after the company was sold, he said.

Pokemon and Yu Gi Oh, game cards that are popular now, are direct descendants of ``Magic: the Gathering,'' which ``went on to be the highest selling game in the history of paper-based games,'' Myrfors said. ``It created an entire new industry of card games.''

Myrfors was able to quit work in 2000 after the company sold.

``Retiring at age 35 is extremely boring,'' he said. ``Most of your friends aren't retired so they can't travel with you, and there's not much to do socially.''

So Myrfors created another game called ``The Hills Rise Wild'' in 2002, published by Pagan Publishing in Seattle, and then got to thinking about the penny-pitching games he played in elementary school.

``My brother came to me with a bottle-cap pitching game idea, which he liked because (Tobias) can hit a fly off a wall at 50 paces with a bottle cap, but I can't,'' he said. ``But then I got to thinking about a game where you could deploy pieces that were bigger than pennies but easier to pitch than bottle caps, and with scoring determined in relation to the target, like darts or horseshoes.''

Myrfors spent a year creating ``Clout Fantasy,'' which involves pitching. He started his own gaming company, Hidden City Games, this year.

``Clout Fantasy' is played with poker chips illustrated with fantasy creatures like dwarves or gnomes that are in ``suits'' like in a card game and have a number value assigned to them. They are thrown onto an illustrated board and what relation they are to the other chips determines their final value. There's a string to measure distance between chips and the person with the highest number value from the chips wins.

``The whole game can be carried in your pocket; even the rule book is the size of a playing card, only thicker,'' Myrfors said. ``People can collect new chips and use them in their stack.''

The game will be sold in starter packs with enough materials for two people to play for about $15. Booster packs with two chips in them will be $2.50 each.

``One of the artists who did the illustrations for the game is Tom Warnerstrand, who lived a block away from me on Mercer Island, and we used to play in school together,'' said Myrfors, ``He's another Swede.''

Myrfors patented his invention and hired Adkinson to be the CEO of his company. All employees of Hidden City Games, including himself, telecommute, and meet in person only once a week at Adkinson's gaming convention company in Seattle.

``I'm chief creative officer, and I get to steer the project and decide how it's going to look,'' said Myrfors. ``I'm good at the look and feel part. He's good at the business part.''

Myrfors said he hopes that ``Clout Fantasy'' sells well enough to create a new genre of gaming. He noted that Adkinson, who took many months to raise capital for ``Magic: the Gathering,'' had no trouble bringing in funding for ``Clout Fantasy.''

``Peter was nervous because the money for Magic was really slow, and if you can't get the money, you can't publish it,'' he said. ``But for this game, we raised $1.5 million in three days, and had to turn people away.''

Myrfors was reluctant to leave Mercer Island, where his parents still reside.

``I planned on living on Mercer Island `til the day I die, but I found a Victorian house in Snohomish that I fell in love with'' and which has subsequently been used as a location for a horror film, he said. ``It has a performing arts theater and studio, and I've been working on remodeling it for 10 years. I have an artists colony here that's like an artists salon from earlier eras.''

Myrfors, who said he will be getting married in May, is excited that his company will be introducing the new game soon.

``I really like (Clout Fantasy) because I think it's fun, and requires some strategy,'' he said. ``I've grown up playing games, so I understand them, and it bothers me when someone puts out a bad game. ... I mean it has got to be good because my name is on it, I can't hide. Gaming is my hobby when it's not my job, so if I'm going to do it anyway, I might as well get paid for it.''

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