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Turning a village into a board game

Kevin Peterka checks on two of the eight game characters in the First To Four game where people passing by the characters move them along their path to one of four checkpoints, then report how they moved the piece to GameOnShorewood.com.

Kevin Peterka checks on two of the eight game characters in the First To Four game where people passing by the characters move them along their path to one of four checkpoints, then report how they moved the piece to GameOnShorewood.com. Photo By C.T. Kruger

July 2, 2014

Shorewood — Can you imagine a board game where the playing surface is larger than a square mile?

Kevin Peterka has made this vision a reality over the last three years, as he places his homemade wooden figurines around Shorewood for people to move toward various checkpoints. If you happen across one of these "racer" figurines on the sidewalk, you have unknowingly been sucked into the game and are encouraged to participate.

Peterka started the game in 2012 after he read a theory that playing games set in real-world environments have the potential to deepen our awareness and connection with our local surroundings.

"It's been a lot of fun," Peterka said. "There is something fun about releasing something creative into the world where others can stumble upon it and decide whether they want to interact with it. It has incited a lot of wonder for me, the kids or anyone who came across it. You never knew if you would see it again, or if you did see it again, how it got there."

The rules are fairly simple. You can move each of the five figurines once per day, a maximum of 100 steps in any direction. The first figurine to make it to four out of five checkpoints in the village is the winner. If you see one of the racers on the street, leave a comment on the Game on Shorewood website. Peterka is managing an interactive map that shows the location of each of the figurines.

One new aspect of the game this year is the three "wild" pieces, called Timberlings, on the west side of the village. If somebody moves the Timberlings to one of the racers, then that racer can be moved directly to one of the checkpoints. A separate, user-accessible map has been created for those seeking out a Timberling.

Although there are maps showing the location of the game pieces and the Timberlings, Peterka said it does take a watchful eye to find the game pieces.

"It causes you to look a little more closely as you walk down the street," he said. "Sometimes it causes us to meet people we haven't met before. We felt like we were deepening our understanding of the neighborhood."

The game started on Monday, and there's no telling how long it will take until the first figurine reaches four checkpoints.

"It could last a day or two or could stretch on for another week or 10 days," he said. "There's also a chance all these pieces go missing in the next half hour, and that would be the end of it."

During the game's first year, a game piece made it to the finish line and disappeared shortly after that. Last year, two of the pieces went missing in the middle of the game. Despite the theft, the users had fun with the loss of the two figurines, making up hypothetical stories about the two characters falling in love and running away with each other. A look at the website's comment board will show everybody is in on the playful, creative story lines.

Last year, Shorewood police were also called to investigate one of the figurines, which was dressed as a mad scientist with wires coming out of a small tin. A passerby was concerned it might have been an explosive device, so one of the players removed the wires to make it look a little more innocuous.

Players are encouraged to declare their allegiance to one of the five figurines, which are dressed, decorated and given colorful back stories. The cast of characters includes Balbo Shooms, a veteran postal worker with a formidable knowledge of local shortcuts; Flip Thursday, a skilled carpenter who ran off to Hollywood to become a stuntman; and Hugh Whoo, a time traveler from the future who needs to win the race to be able to travel back to 1965, where he was originally headed.

The blend of creative characters and interactive learning makes sense given Peterka's background as a screenwriter and his current work as a special education aide at Lake Bluff Elementary School.

"It's like this huge collaborative experience," he said. "If you see one of these wooden pieces has been moved two blocks, then you feel like you have made some sort of connection to this person. It makes the world smaller in a way."

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