If you hear your family giggling about wombatosis, waxaltatation, and ropogo, you don’t have to worry that you’re not keeping up with the next generation of texting slang—they’re probably just playing Yamodo, a game that comes straight from Tarrytown.
The basic form of the game is simple: You get a paper with a made-up word, the start of a drawing, and lines for a definition. You come up with the beginning of the definition for the word and illustrate your definition by adding to the drawing. But, before you’re finished, you hand it off to the next player. That player adds to the drawing and the definition and passes it to the next person, and so on, until you have an elaborate drawing and story to go with it. There are no points, scores, or winners (though more advanced versions of the games have Apples-to-Apples-style voting for the best definitions) and the game only requires a piece of paper and a pencil—no cumbersome board or little pieces to lose.
Bill Phelps is a Tarrytown resident and the “Chief Imaginator” behind the game. “It started after college when I noticed that whenever I’d go out to eat with my wife—then girlfriend—and a friend, we’d always end up doodling on napkins and passing them around,” he says. “We’d have stacks of napkins by the end of the night.” Trained in college as a product developer, Phelps realized that a great game could be made out of their dining-out habit, and began working on a prototype.
“When I was a kid, I was obsessed with games and toys,” he says, “but my favorite thing was Lite-Brite. I liked things that encouraged you to be creative.”
After designing a prototype, a big break for Yamodo came courtesy of Pace University, where Phelps was taking graduate classes. One of the speakers invited to come to campus was a higher-up at Barnes and Noble. Phelps approached her—“She was patient enough to listen to my spiel”—and put him in contact with one of the chain’s buyers. “People think the hardest part of being an entrepreneur is coming up with the idea, but it’s not—it’s getting the idea in front of people,” Phelps says. After the meeting with the buyer, Barnes and Noble agreed to stock 48 copies of the game. Today, five years later, Yamodo sells more than 30,000 copies per year through Barnes and Noble, Toys R’ Us, and independent retailers, as well as its own website (yamodo.com).
Even with those big numbers, though, Yamodo is still mostly a family affair. Phelps, along with his wife and sister, come up with the nonsense words. Phelps makes the doodles by creating a completed drawing, then erasing most of the lines until only a few squiggles and curls remain. He encourages fans to upload their drawings and definitions onto Yamodo’s website, and noticed some Facebook fan pages have been doing the same thing. “The best is that our words become their own little creations,” he says.
Above: Yamodo creator Bill Phelps and his wife, Lauren