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An interview with Kate Ryan Reiling, designer of the party game Morphology




Image courtesy of Morphology Games

The fantastic party game Morphology, perhaps best described as Pictionary using small items, has its roots in a cold, snowy Minnesota night. The game's designer, Kate Ryan Reiling, and her friends wanted to play a creative game but didn't have any on hand.

"We combined Jenga sticks and Pente beads and opened a Spanish/English dictionary," Reiling said. "We started to build words using the sticks and beads. I thought it was a really interesting idea for a game and asked them if I could continue to work on it. I started to prototype without really knowing where I was headed."

The result is Morphology, published by Reiling's own Morphology Games and included on the 2011 Games 100 list by Games magazine.

As she balances her work in the game world with a job as a college soccer coach, Reiling plans to continue to focus on Morphology for now, developing ideas for a junior edition, a travel edition and more. Reiling took some time to answer a few questions for us.

How did the idea for Morphology start to take shape?

I started with a sample of different shapes and had about 50 words written on the back of old business cards. I would invite friends over and play a version of what would eventually become Morphology.

I realized after one night of playing -- when a friend called me to talk to me about how he would have built "butterfly" differently -- that I had an idea that captured people's imaginations and kept them thinking the next day. It was inspiring.

The final game includes a great mix of materials -- pawns, cubes, string, glass beads, etc. How difficult was deciding what to include?

I tested many different materials and components, and researched how removing one would change how others were used. What I found was that simple shapes are the best to allow the Morphologist (the person building the word) to really have the best tools to build.

I find it funny how people become attached to certain objects; someone I know loves the barrel, another believes the string is the best. Someday I'd love to release more components to encourage different ways of playing. I've received emails from people who use their own "house pieces" and have added different rules. I love how flexible this game is.

What are some materials that were included in prototypes but not in the final game?

We had a great clear plastic vase. It was used as a light often. I would have loved to include it but it was too unique to find in mass quantities.

We had a flat circle about six inches in diameter that was tied to a rule that you had to build vertically. It was too difficult to do but that idea may find its way into a version someday.

When did Morphology first go on sale?

We sold our first games in the winter of 2010. It was so exciting to get the call from the store owner who needed more games as they were selling so quickly!

What are your goals for Morphology?

I want Morphology to inspire friends and family to spend more time together laughing and having fun.

There are so many places we can go with this game: I received an email from someone who said that the creativity in their family was growing because of Morphology. Another parent said his son with Asperger's loves this game and it was one of the first games they could play together. A college student wrote to me and said that it's her and her friends' favorite game.

I think this game has the capacity to go so many different directions and I want to have the time and the ability to follow all of the places where it can make an impact.

Do you plan to develop other games or focus exclusively on Morphology?

For now, I want to focus on Morphology and use it as a platform for expansion. We've started to prototype a Junior Morphology edition, we're looking at a magnetic version, and we're contemplating a travel version. As long as we can make people happy and inspire people to be creative, we'll keep inventing!

You also coach soccer. How do you balance working on Morphology and your other responsibilities?

I love games; I love the balance of competition and collaboration. While it's exhausting, in many ways my worlds fuel each other.

When I need feedback on my iPhone prototype, I ask my college soccer players for help. When we had a long wait for a soccer game, my team played Morphology. We launched a YouTube channel for Morphology and the videos were made by our summer intern, who was also a soccer player.

College students are inspiring because they exist in a world where anything seems possible and they have endless hope and energy.

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