Like a lot of people, Rob Olson has always had a day job, and an idea for a project percolating in the recesses of his brain. Two years ago, after hearing an episode of Maine Calling about Maine-made gifts on the local NPR station, he decided it was time to take the plunge.
”Everyone had these cool stories of making stuff,” says Olson, a labor specialist for the Maine Education Association. “I decided I should take a stab at it.”
Inspired by his cherished childhood memories of playing games with his family in Roque Bluffs, near Machias, each summer, Olson reached out to his cousin Jesse Harding, a graphic designer living in Nebraska, about creating a game of their own.
“Games are really just a conduit for people to get together, have fun, and interact without having to deal with too serious interpersonal stuff.” — Rob Olson
“Games are really just a conduit for people to get together, have fun, and interact without having to deal with too serious interpersonal stuff,” Olson says. “That’s the joy — just getting to hang out and have fun.”
Drawing on the characters and motifs from Down East Maine, Olson and Harding developed Downeast Dealer, a three- to five-person card game, where players compete to collect the best yard-sale treasures, from lobster traps and canoes to moose trophies.
After inviting neighbors over to test prototypes, and raising $2,700 through Kickstarter, the cousins gained the confidence to bring Downeast Dealer to market. They enlisted Edison Press in Sanford to produce it. Keeping it local was important.
“We weren’t going to make a Maine-inspired game and have it manufactured overseas,” Olson says.
Olson and Harding started selling the game through their website, and gradually began selling through small retailers like Machias Hardware. Sales of the game took off, and they developed a second card game, Yankee Swap, which can accommodate more players.
Popular as both card games are, they are still very much homegrown creations. Olson and Harding still work their full-time jobs, and manage their card-game business on the side. Olson’s 9- and 10-year-old daughters help fulfill the online orders, doing the assembly and shrink-wrap on the family’s dining room table.
Now, two years after hearing that prophetic episode of Maine Calling, the cousins are excited to have made their dream of becoming Maine makers a reality.
“It was sort of a bucket list kind of thing to create something,” Olson says. “So to actually follow through with it and see it happen delivers a significant amount of satisfaction.”
Above all, they love hearing from customers, who have had a blast playing the games with their families, and making the same kinds of memories that Olson and Harding treasure from their own childhoods.
“That’s what we loved doing,” Olson says. “So it’s really cool to see other people enjoying the same thing.”