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Dave Matthews loves to play Chickapig. It's a board game that's sometimes called Farmer's Chess. It was created by Brian Calhoun, who's made acoustic guitars for Matthews and other stars like Keith Urban and Mary Chapin Carpenter. Until now, the game has been pretty much like Calhoun's guitars - custom-made and available only by mail. That may change with a new book and plans to sell it in stores. Desire Moses brings us the story.
DAVE MATTHEWS: We're going to see who goes first. Do you want to see if you're going to go first?
DESIRE MOSES, BYLINE: Dave Matthews is sitting in his tour bus at a table inlaid with a custom Chickapig board.
MATTHEWS: If you roll one and you just want to move the cow one and not poo, that’s your decision. Although I would always poo.
MOSES: That's just one of the obstacles as you make your way across the board. The goal is to get your flock of fantastical creatures safely to their destination poo-free. And Matthews wants to make it hard for his playing partner, Brian Calhoun. Calhoun says he came up with the little chicken-pig hybrids that give the game its name while doodling. He turned them into game pieces in his guitar shop.
BRIAN CALHOUN: I was going through our guitar scrap wood and, you know, pulling out scraps from, like, nice red spruce tops and cutting them into little squares and drawing chicken-pig hybrids on them with colored pencils.
MOSES: Calhoun grew up on a farm and only intended to share the game with his friends. But word got around, and he enlisted his mom to make the cow pieces out of clay. Eventually demand was so great he turned to a local printing company in his home base of Charlottesville, Va.
CALHOUN: And they have a laser machine, and they can cut out the Chickapigs with the laser. And it leaves this cool, kind of burnt edge, and it just looks organic. It looks like it was made on a farm somewhere.
MOSES: The fact that everything's locally produced appeals to Dave Matthews, who has a home in Charlottesville.
MATTHEWS: I like playing board games. I'm not a crazy gamer, but it's really original. I just think it's a brilliant variation on a very traditional idea.
MOSES: Matthews is now a partner helping to make promotional videos and posting on social media. Brian Calhoun hosts Chickapig events at local vineyards and bars.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: You need to move (laughter).
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: We need a cow to go here.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: I'm going to be very sad if somebody rolls a one.
MOSES: It was at one of these game nights that Calhoun gained a fan in Pete Fenlon, a board game publisher whose credits include the popular German game Settlers of Catan.
PETE FENLON: The No. 1 and No. 2 features of a great game is that it's fun and then it's fun. And in the case of Chickapig, it was fun, and there was some depth to it.
MOSES: Fenlon became an unpaid mentor to Calhoun, answering questions about development and marketing. Calhoun turned to Kickstarter, raising enough money to produce 5,000 games. In much the same way he built his guitar business demoing instruments at concerts and festivals, Calhoun took a batch of games to various events, setting up Chickapig tents. He says they soon filled with kids, and that's when he got the idea to bring Chickapig into the classroom.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: I just saw that. I'm like, oh, I should've put the cow over there.
MOSES: He partnered with the Charlottesville Area Independent Schools Initiative, which was looking for intramural activities to get students from different schools together. They formed their own Chickapig leagues, and 16-year-old Mattias Zuffoletti was one of the team captains.
MATTIAS ZUFFOLETTI: You can make comparisons to chess, or I like to say it's like pool because you have to - every move is a set-up. And it's all about the ricochets and the angles. But it's like nothing you've ever played before, and it's a ridiculously fun time. It's awesome.
MOSES: It's also helped students at the Virginia Institute of Autism develop their social skills, says teacher Jake Frazier, who invited Calhoun to speak in a class on entrepreneurship.
JAKE FRAZIER: To bring him in as an inventor to talk about how he just liked guitars and then he wanted to make guitars and how it was just a hobby and turned into a successful business just from scratch and everything's local - I thought it was the best motivation for them. This guy had a dream, and he made it possible. You're completely capable, autism or not, to do the same exact thing.
MOSES: Chickapig got its own tour bus, and former U.S. chess champion Judah Brownstein, who's a friend of Calhoun's, set off for the West Coast in a custom-painted van to promote the game in much the same way, says Calhoun, that independent bands promote themselves.
CALHOUN: Up-and-coming bands - they have street teams. If they go to a town, they have people that help them out just because they like the band. And so we're asking people, help us host these events by inviting all your friends. And Judah shows up and teaches everybody how to play. It's a free party. It's like a band playing in a house show.
MOSES: It's Chickapig makes its way across the country, Dave Matthews has another idea for Calhoun if he ever wants to make a different model.
MATTHEWS: I was just thinking you should make a guitar with a Chickapig board on the back with magnets in it so you can...
MATTHEWS: ...Play some bluegrass, and then you can flip over the guitar (laughter).
MOSES: Or you could just get a board installed in your tour bus.
MATTHEWS: So see; I'm already - I'm so out of practice, this game of strategy and pooing.
MOSES: For NPR News, I'm Desire Moses.
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