Powell family’s new card game now on store shelves

Launching game took years of work

Posted 11/28/23

Turning Mark McKenna’s idea for a new card game into an actual product took the aid of an illustrator, a manufacturer, consultants — and a whole lot of patience from his family.

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Powell family’s new card game now on store shelves

Launching game took years of work


Turning Mark McKenna’s idea for a new card game into an actual product took the aid of an illustrator, a manufacturer, consultants — and a whole lot of patience from his family.

“We’ve played it 50,000 times,” estimated his oldest daughter, Jamie.

But the seemingly endless rounds of “Royal Turmoil” have paid off: After years of refinement, the McKennas’ game is available for anyone to purchase and play. Whether the Powell family’s creation becomes a household name remains to be seen, but it’s already been a worthwhile experience.

“I think just being creative and seeing something come from nothing to something is just really rewarding,” said Mark.

As a full-time artist, Mark spends his days painting and creating, but inspiration can also strike in the middle of the night.

“There’s times when I’ll wake up, like at 4 o’clock in the morning, and my brain just turns on and I come up with ideas,” he explained.

One of those ideas eventually became the 132-card set that is Royal Turmoil. It’s a two- to five-player game for ages 7 and up. The game’s back-and-forth action bears some similarities to “Cover Your Assets,” Mark said, but “it’s definitely got its own flair and unique [features].”

At its core, the McKennas’ game revolves around 24 zany characters known as royals. A certain number of resource cards must be played alongside each royal to “settle” them; whoever plays the last required resource gets to claim the royal and its associated points.

“It becomes pretty crazy and hectic because you’re stealing royals from [other players] and they’ve already stolen from you,” Mark said. “And … the ‘Royal Turmoil’ name is very much applicable.”


Creative collaboration

Mark created a prototype of the game within weeks of his brainstorm, but it was just the start of a roughly three-year process.

For one thing, the game needed work. The initial version felt too simple and wasn’t enough fun. Having played some popular games that just weren’t all that enjoyable, the McKennas added new elements, searching for just the right combination of cards and rules.

“I think that’s why it took us so long to finish it,” said Sheena, Mark’s wife, “because we don’t want to sell a crappy product. We want it to be a good game.” 

There were some complaints of “Not Royal Turmoil!” and “Ugh!” when playthroughs were stopped and restarted with new and improved rules. But they kept plugging away and the game slowly sharpened into focus as the family members built off one another’s ideas.

Mark’s own realistic art style wasn’t the right fit for the royals, so those drawings were outsourced, but he did handle the design work. The contributions from the couple’s children — particularly Jamie, Lexi, Macie and Natalie — included helping in naming the alliterative royals, such as Velvety Viking, Macho Mango, Grumpy Grasshopper, Silver Samurai, Nerdy Neptune and Rusty Rooster. Lexi, meanwhile, can claim credit for modeling the rather goofy expression that appears on the unicorn that graces the deck’s wild cards.

“It was really cool that we all put our ideas together,” said Jamie.

The McKennas also sought input from a half-dozen friends and brought the latest version along to family gatherings, always looking for useful feedback from new players.

“Sometimes we’d play it and we’re like, ‘OK, that was not as fun as we thought it would be,’” Sheena said, and tweaks would follow. For instance, the family added a half-dozen wizards, which let players block others from stealing their royals.

There were stops and starts to the process.

“We’d kind of hum and haw about it for a while and we’d play it over and over and over again,” Sheena said.

Mark said the fact that he’d already paid illustrator Joseph Moffatt-Pena to draw the characters helped keep the family motivated.

They also got a boost when they ordered a more formal prototype, as the game making company that printed the rough draft called it a top tier concept. That “was a huge encouragement,” Sheena said.

After some more refinement, the family felt Royal Turmoil was ready for the world, and the search was on for a manufacturer.


Bringing the game to market

Mark wanted to print the game in the United States, but he said the prices from domestic companies were so high that there was no feasible way to make a profit without a massive order.

He explored cheaper options with companies in China, India and other parts of Asia before finding a manufacturer in Mexico with competitive prices. They ordered an initial batch of 3,000 copies.

That wasn’t the last step before launch, though: They trademarked “Royal Turmoil” to prevent knock-offs; created a slick video to explain the rules; hired a consultant to optimize the game’s Amazon listing; and launched a McKenna Games website for the family’s new company. The cards also had to undergo testing in Texas for lead and other harmful chemicals while the product needed to receive a Global Trade Item Number (GTIN).

While there was a daunting list of tasks, “I was just determined to like, ‘OK, whatever I need to learn, we’re in this and we’re going to do this,’” said Mark, who dove into YouTube videos and other online how-tos.

The work culminated in September, when Royal Turmoil went live on Amazon. Nearly 500 copies had been sold as of this week.

Copies sell for $18.99 apiece and most of those dollars are eaten up by manufacturing, shipping, advertising and Amazon fees. Still, the family has already offered some discounts, because initially “we’re just trying to get as many of these in homes as we can, so it builds and builds and builds,” Sheena said.

“And then,” she said of the plan, “it will take off by itself.”

Even if things don’t play out as they hope, the McKennas aren’t measuring their success strictly in terms of sales and dollars.

“Honestly, if it doesn’t pan out, it’s still been such a valuable experience that I wouldn’t trade it,” Mark said. “I think every dime, every penny that we put into this has been worth it …”

For one thing, the McKennas plan to take what they’ve learned about the game making process and apply it to their next ideas.

They’re particularly excited about Mark’s idea for a heist-themed board game, in which players assemble a team of agents to steal artifacts from museums across the world. (The kids are quick to back up Mark when he says it’s “three times more fun than Royal Turmoil.”) Lexi, meanwhile, has proposed a game that involves launching penguins onto a board, where they must avoid being eaten.

Her enthusiasm is another sign of success, as Mark and Sheena want to encourage their children to be entrepreneurial — to be willing to put in the time, effort and capital to bring an idea to reality.

“That’s what we’re hoping that we can keep establishing this legacy of creating — bringing to life our ideas,” Sheena said.

Royal Turmoil is available on Amazon and at Game Haven in Cody. For more information, visit mckennagames.com.