GTM #189 - 12 Days
by Cassidy Werner

"It's too bad we can't just make a game based on the Twelve Days of Christmas or something."

"That HAS to have been done."

It hadn’t.

Inspired by the success of Qwirkle, master game designers Mike Selinker and James Ernest set out to create a family game in 2008. After a quick check of BoardGameGeek, they were astounded to find that no one had yet based a game on the quintessential Christmas carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” They were going to change that.

As with many great titles, 12 Days began as an outline scratched out on napkins, which Ernest took home to flesh out. A few days later, the designers met to play through what Ernest referred to as “the obvious game,” with the presumption that the game would change drastically from its original design.

“Dude, this is done,” said Selinker after several rounds. After a few tweaks and Selinker’s addition of two more cards to the game — Santa and Mrs. Claus — 12 Days was born.

In 12 Days, players bid for the 12 days of Christmas with each of the gifts “my true love gave to me” — twelve drummers drumming, eleven pipers piping, ten lords a-leaping, all the way down to a single partridge in a pear tree. The number of the gift indicates how many of each card is in the deck; there are five golden rings, four calling birds, and so on. The player bidding with the rarest, lowest-valued gift wins that day’s points, and the player with the most points at the end of the game wins.

With the design complete, Selinker and Ernest made a quick prototype and began pitching it to publishers. It was February; both designers were confident they could get the game on shelves by Christmas. Selinker and Ernest brought their prototype to GAMA... where 12 Days was rejected by every family game publisher in attendance. They turned to mass-market companies and Christian game publishers with the same result.

“No one could fathom a game that sold its copies during the lead up to Christmas — you know, like everything else in the universe ever,” says Selinker.  “Only Gamesmith was willing to take a chance on it.”

Boyan Radakovich, owner of Gamesmith, loved 12 Days, which he called a “beautiful family game” and “the perfect Christmas stocking stuffer.” A Kickstarter launched in September 2012 to fund 12 Days, and one month later, just over two hundred people raised more than $6,000 to make the game a reality.

Upon its release, 12 Days became an immediate hit as a Christmas-themed filler game. It appeared on a special Christmas episode of Wil Wheaton’s TableTop — along with Qwirkle, the game that originally inspired Ernest and Selinker to create a family game.

“Today [we’re] here to save you from that awkward family dinner with a pair of delightful games that are simple to learn, quick to play, and accessible to everyone from little kids to cynical adults,” touts Wil Wheaton of both 12 Days and Qwirkle.

Part of 12 Days’ appeal is no doubt due to the brilliant portrayals of each verse of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” created by renowned art nouveau artist Echo Chernik. “I loved creating the art for 12 Days,” says Chernik. “It was designed to be in a festive, stained-glass style, with cheerful colors reminiscent of the holiday season. The stained glass is reminiscent of candy and lights that adorn that time of year.”

12 Days eventually switched hands from Gamesmith to Lone Shark Games, who licensed the game to Calliope for publication. “I’ve loved 12 Days and wanted it for Calliope since it came out in 2013,” says Ray Wehrs, President of Calliope Games, who regards Santa as one of his greatest heroes. “Everything that made it a good fit for TableTop — great art, simplicity, ease of play, and accessibility by kids and non-gamers — also made it an ideal fit for Calliope’s line. My hope is that it will bring other families the same joy it brings mine every year.”

Calliope plans to upgrade 12 Days’ components with a sturdier box and linen-finish cards that better compliment the game’s elegant artwork and design. The rules have also been streamlined to improve clarity, accessibility, and looks without changing the original gameplay.

“Now it's going to be published by Calliope, and it will likely fill thousands more Christmas stockings. Even though it was rejected many more times than any game James and I ever sold, it is likely going to go down as the best Christmas-themed card game ever produced.” says Selinker. “Which fills me with Yuletide cheer.”