Union HS seniors create a bear-y, bear-y wild card game


The Bear Game is on sale now, six months after the idea launched a fun project

One could be the most experienced player, the brilliant strategist, and go out in the first round.

Almost like one was bear-ly in the game.

Or, a brand new player could make it all the way to the end, to be named champion.

A bear-y fine debut, indeed. 

A part-strategy game and a part-party game. That was the goal when four local entrepreneurs came up with their plan. 

Steven Nguyen, Colton Harris, Austin Lee, and Joshua Helm created, designed, and marketed a new card game, The Bear Game, that is available. What started as a project during the summer is now a product at the local game shop BatCave Games in east Vancouver. Photo by Paul Valencia
Steven Nguyen, Colton Harris, Austin Lee, and Joshua Helm created, designed, and marketed a new card game, The Bear Game, that is available. What started as a project during the summer is now a product at the local game shop BatCave Games in east Vancouver. Photo by Paul Valencia

The objective is to be the first player with 12 cards, or the last player remaining with any cards.

The true winner, though, is fun. The game is designed for all to just enjoy each other’s company, to have an open mind to a bit of chaos. 

Change hands? Change seats? Go sit in a corner until it’s your turn? It’s all there.

This is the game, after all, that asks if a bear eats a gummy bear, is it cannibalism? 

And The Bear Scout card reminds players to be preBEARed. 

One might drive away in a Lam-bear-ghini. “Nice car(d) dude!”

Oh, and perhaps the most interesting thing about this new game in the local market?

The Bear Game was created, designed, and is being marketed by Austin Lee, Colton Harris, Steven Nguyen, and Joshua Helm, four seniors at Union High School. At first, it was just a fun project to do over the summer during the pandemic. 

They tested it, wrote down more notes, improved it. They shared it with others, too. 

“It’s mind blowing how in six months, we’ve been able to go from an idea into something that is now on the shelves,” Lee said. 

Today, the first sets of the game can be purchased online at TheBearGame.com or in person at BatCave Games in east Vancouver.

Earlier in their high school days, they came up with an idea to put the face of their teacher, Kelcey Burris, on a T-shirt. Those shirts sold. Next, they came up with stickers, with pictures of more teachers. They were marketed as a spirit pack for Union High School.

They named their company ThreeFreeTrees, a name they had used when they started a YouTube Channel. What does ThreeFreeTrees mean? They can’t tell you. No, it is not inappropriate. They just have no idea other than it sounded fun.

That’s the creative genius behind a game that says that the player who hibernated the most the previous night gets to go first. 

The game might also instruct one to dumpster dive, just like a bear, but in search of more cards. 

Here is an example of an idea to the finished product for one of the 54 different playing cards in The Bear Game, a game created by four seniors at Union High School. Photo by Paul Valencia
Here is an example of an idea to the finished product for one of the 54 different playing cards in The Bear Game, a game created by four seniors at Union High School. Photo by Paul Valencia

Just remember to have fun and laugh at, and with, each other. 

They recall the beginnings. Lee called Harris in June and didn’t even say hi. 

“First thing he said to me: ‘If you could make a card game, what would you do?’” Harris said. “I want to make a fun, party game I can play with my family, something to do over COVID.”

Harris and Lee started spitballing ideas. They had played games such as Exploding Kittens and Unstable Unicorns. They wanted something like that, but with their own spin. They made a spreadsheet with card ideas. 

“A couple weeks into it, ‘Oh, OK, we’re taking this seriously now,’” Harris said.

At that point, it was still nothing that they thought about selling. They just wanted to perfect something for themselves.

Nguyen was asked to take a look, for another set of eyes. 

“They asked, ‘You think this is something cool we could do?’ Heck yeah,” Nguyen said. “It was super impressive.”

They also caught a break because Nguyen’s aunt, Van Tran, is an artist who offered her skills for free.

Lee and Harris have a background in graphic design. They split up the workload, with Harris designing the instructions, and Lee designing the cards. Then Tran went about to make their vision come true.

“After seeing the first couple of cards she made for us … we were just blown away,” Harris said. “It was the style we loved perfectly. It has that cartoon-art style we love for the family card game we were trying to make.”

They picked bears because bears are cool and they are easy to make into humanoid figures, they said. In all, there are 54 unique cards.

After creating the beginnings of the game, they started sharing it with others. Feedback was positive. 

“That’s when we realized, we kind of suck at selling things,” Harris said.

“We have a great product. I know it can go big,” Lee said. “But we don’t have a way to market. That’s not our specialty.”

Enter their friend Helm, who spent all summer working, giving online presentations in sales for a cutlery company. 

Helm knows how to sell. He has the personality to pick up the phone and spread the word. So he started making calls, describing the game. 

They came up with an idea for the website, too, with a video to describe how to play the game. 

And then they started researching game shops. They ended up making an appointment with the manager of BatCave Games, Chris Heagy, to demonstrate the game.

Heagy must have been impressed. He purchased a sizeable quantity of games and even displayed them beside the register to be sold to anyone coming in looking for something new to play.

Now, the plan for the Union quartet is to get enough people to preorder the next print run. They hope to improve the quality of the cards, tweak some things here and there.

One thing they are hearing from those who have already played: Will there be expansion cards?

Yes, that’s the plan, eventually. 

And that’s a great sign, too. The original game is so new but fans are already asking about future add-ons.

Nguyen said the artwork is getting rave reviews, as well.

“They love how comical it is and how friendly it is,” he said.

Harris is just grateful that Lee made that call last June.

“The reception has been way better than we thought,” Harris said. “Originally, we just wanted to make a game for ourselves. We thought it would be a fun summer project. It turned out way better than we could have imagined. We’re so happy people like it.”

In fact, the Bear Team salutes customers with a message in the game, thanking them for being so PAWsome. They also wish everyone a BEARy nice rest of their day.

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About The Author

Paul Valencia joins ClarkCountyToday.com after more than two decades of newspaper experience. He became the face of high school sports coverage in Clark County during his 17 years at The Columbian. Before moving to Vancouver, Paul worked at Oregon daily newspapers in Pendleton, Roseburg, and Salem. A graduate of David Douglas High School in Portland, Paul enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving three years as a soldier/journalist. He and his wife Jenny recently celebrated their 20th anniversary. They have a son who has a passion for karate and Minecraft. Paul’s hobbies include: Watching the Raiders play football, reading about the Raiders playing football, and waiting to watch and read about the Raiders playing football.

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