Rita Schultz is a first-generation Indian-American who raised more than $10,000 in 30 days on Kickstarter to get her card game—“Tradewala”—widely produced. The game uses hot-button social issues as game-play for people ages twelve and over. Tradewala has already been named a finalist at the “RedEye Big Idea Award” which is hosted by the Chicago Tribune.

The focus of the game is to quickly trade with players to collect all the cards in the deck relating to a social topic that you care about. This could be health, the environment, gender inequality, politics, and more.

Although such issues are often considered taboo, Rita feels that discussing them in a game atmosphere makes them fun, not daunting. Its title is derived from the word “wala,” which means to be an expert in a specific skill or trade. Hence, the person who successfully trades to collect all the cards in their chosen topic first is named the “Tradewala.” Rita is about to start shipping pre-orders which should be delivered in early/mid-December 2017. She was strongly influenced by her experiences traveling the globe and seeing the various sorts of social issues that plague many nations.

Recently, Rita granted an exclusive interview where she discussed her experiences designing this game, its impact on players, and her hopes for its evolution.

Game design and social issues

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you find your passion for designing Games and how many have you seen produced so far?

Rita Schultz (RS): Tradewala is the first official game I created. I’ve always loved playing games and decided to direct that interest into designing my own game.

MM: What gave you the idea for “Tradewala” and how did you come to select that name?

RS: My husband and I were celebrating the holidays with my family and found ourselves in need of some excitement. Games are one of the best methods to unite people, whether it be family, friends, or even strangers. I wanted to create a game that would do that quickly and be really engaging for the players. A fast-paced trading game was the answer.

At the same time, I wanted the game to have a bigger impact and be relevant in the world we live in. That’s how the concept of Tradewala was born. The name Tradewala stems from the word “wala,” meaning an expert in their area of skill. Since trading is an integral part of the game, the winner is crowned the Tradewala.

MM: How did you select the often-controversial topics presented?

RS: I started by creating a list of themes for Tradewala and really liked the idea of folding social topics into this really fun game. I tested that idea, along with other themes, across several focus groups. I found that social issues engaged, excited, and sparked interesting conversation among players. The topics presented like politics, the environment, and gender inequality are relatable to players on a global level and impact their lives every day.

MM: When people play this game, how much debate is required and can it get very heated?

RS: That’s the beauty of the game. The conversation around these important topics happens after each trading round of gameplay, while the next round is being set up. The trading rounds happen at an auction-style speed which really engages players and naturally causes them to discuss the topics on the cards. It organically creates a positive and friendly environment to discuss these social issues. We have never had or ever heard of situations where things got too heated.

MM: What kinds of reactions have you seen people have to the game?

RS: Tradewala raises the excitement in any room. Once people play one round of the game, they love it.

Everyone else in the room then gravitates towards the game to see what it’s about. A few soundbites we’ve had while playing are that even people who normally hate games love it, it’s a stress reliever and that people actually find it fun to shout at friends and family. After the round(s), people share stories related to the social issues on the cards, whether it be an anecdote about themselves, someone they know, or a news headline they recently read. The game creates a fun platform to further awareness and conversation around these significant social issues.

MM: Why do you think it’s so important to present these serious issues and was it difficult to put them in a game form?

RS: Tradewala raises dominant social issues like the environment, politics, and gender inequality but in a fun and entertaining setting.

It’s important to share how we or people we know are affected by what happens in our world to foster ideas for positive change. Tradewala provides an approachable platform to do that face-to-face and out from behind our screens. Folding these social issues into a game was risky in that we didn’t know how it would be received. We tested it across different groups to ensure we got the reaction we were looking for. I also wanted the game to be enjoyable, lively, and elevate positive emotions. To that end, we added a dollop of satirical humor in the illustrations on each card to make the topics more inviting to talk about.

Kickstarter campaign and future products

MM: Why did you select a Kickstarter campaign option and are you hoping the game eventually gets picked up by a company?

RS: Kickstarter is a great platform to introduce a new product into the marketplace with low-risk upfront. I also love the idea of sharing Tradewala with the Kickstarter community and having them help bring Tradewala to life. I hope to bring Tradewala to consumers in channels they prefer. Beyond our website and Amazon, retail stores are a great path to share the game with consumers quickly. We have several retail stores in the Chicagoland area that have placed orders with us. We hope to bring Tradewala to additional retail stores across the country.

MM: Are you planning to design (or actively working on) any other games in the near future?

RS: Yes, we have about eight games in our product line that we want to bring to players.

I also want to continue to create relevant games, and that will come to fruition through our future products. Part of being relevant is allowing the game to be leveraged in multiple ways. We targeted playing Tradewala in people’s homes, breweries, bars, and hotels. Interestingly, we also have companies interested in using Tradewala as a team building and/or networking tool and teachers using Tradewala as an educational tool. Additionally, we wanted to give back. Beyond sparking these important conversations, Tradewala is pledging a portion of proceeds to a non-profit organization called Bookwallah, that creates libraries around the world to bring the magic of storybooks to orphans and children of trauma.