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Person of the Week! Cybele McKenzie – Creativity flows through her veins

Cybele is a 10-year-old board game designer and writer. Creativity flows through her veins.

I remember when she was a toddler and we were living in Paris, we would read more than a dozen books to her every night before she fell asleep. She just loved books since she was little. It was part of her bedtime routine.

As she grew, it was easy to see her creativity at work through various art forms. She was only five years old when she drew the cutest picture of her baby brother. She loved drawing pictures of Angry Birds too, especially the piggies. She even wrote a book in 1st grade, titled: “Why you should buy angry birds for your child.” Her 1st grade teacher encouraged the class to write a book series and by the end of 1st grade she wrote 16 books, the most in her class! It came as no surprise that she received the class certificate, “Most likely to be found reading a good book.”

Cybele is inspired by life and day to day occurrences. These experiences are somehow then transformed into remarkable and insightful stories for books and ideas for games. She wrote a book in 4th grade titled, “How your brothers can really get annoying.” The story is about a big sister that embraces her mother’s advice of “Treating others the way you want to be treated.” Her classmates gave her book great reviews.

As a family we love playing board games and having Family Game Night. Teaching Cybele “Monopoly” at the young age of 7 took a lot of patience but it did not take long before she began winning at the game. I consider myself a professional Monopoly player who learned from the best of the best. My father taught us Monopoly and we played it every Christmas Eve growing up, a family tradition. We would allow credit from the bank and instead of buying the property cards we would shuffle them and hand them out at the beginning of the game. Then the negotiations between the players would begin to trade for the best properties to end up with the most profitable streets. When teaching Cybele, we would take photos of the game board and everyone’s properties and money so that we can continue the game over several sessions.

The kids’ summer nanny, now godmother, gifted them with many of her own childhood board games when her parents were downsizing. The kids spent the entire summer learning all of these “new” games. With each new game Cybele learned, her ideas for her own games continued to grow and grow. She began recreating some of these games and adding her own flair to each one. One of her favorites was her own version of “The Game of Life” she created with her aunt in South Africa. As time went on, Cybele began creating her own original games. She would spend hours creating her prototype, test it out on her family and nanny, and then adjust the game until it was just right. This quickly became one of her biggest joys and an amazing way to connect with her family and friends.

Balancing technology with creative play has been challenging but my husband and I have put measures in place to limit their screen time. I always tell them “people are more important than screens.” Cybele likes to bring video games to life by drawing her own versions on paper. She controls the game with herself and her two younger brothers as contestants.

Cybele’s number one grocery list item is a ream of printing paper. There is always a fresh game or storyline being produced in her incredible imagination. Her room is full of papers and projects. Every now and then when the paper stacks get too much, it would take almost a whole day to sort through. Mostly because there were so many papers, but also because it has been hard for me, as her mom, to throw anything away.

2020 has been a challenging year with many changes. In the fall of 2019, after prayer and coming in agreement, my husband and I decided that I would stop working full time and pursue my own business. Little did we know that 2020 would turn the world, as we know it, upside down, because of the COVID19 pandemic. I stopped working at the end of April 2020 and we moved to a new home and new neighborhood at the end of May 2020. It was a nice distraction from what was going on with COVID19 but like the rest of the families in our area we had our kids at home full time, dealing with distance learning. God’s timing has been so amazing as He provided financially for us to be able to move into a bigger home, we needed the space, and start our own business in August 2020. We realize that many kids are creative and have great ideas. . . but not all parents have had the opportunity to turn their kid’s creations into reality. We are so humbled and thankful that God paved the way for us to be able to support Cybele’s God-given creativity and share it with other children.

Over the Summer of 2020, Cybele invented the board game Candy Collections! She and her brothers would play it all the time while we were unpacking the boxes from the recent move. From experience we know that many boardgames are too difficult for younger players and I immediately saw the potential of this game. It was fun to play and the boys (ages 5 and 7) loved it. I started digitizing it… We soon realized I needed help and I worked with a graphic designer to give the game a facelift. We used Cybele’s original designs and illustrations of all the game elements, the playing format, and the rules.

Since Cybele is a big sister to two brothers, she has a ready-made market research team every time our family gathers for Game Night. Her brothers are her biggest fans and contribute to game ideas and help to fine tune the game play.

Candy Collections! Our debut board game launched in January 2021. It is a beginner’s board game that entices kids to roll the dice, move their token a space or two at a time and aim for the chance to be declared the winner. Basic reading and math can be supported by a parent or older sibling.

Peggy Brown, a well-known board game designer, referred us to the 2020 Young Inventor Challenge presented by People of Play. Cybele entered the 2020 POP Young Inventor Challenge for kids ages 6-18 with one of her other game creations, called Ninja Quest. The Inventor Challenge rules simply state that youngsters pitch original toy and game ideas for a shot at winning prizes and having their creations brought to market by leading companies. The feedback Cybele got from the judges was positive, insightful, affirming and encouraging.

With a combination of multiple factors in the making, my husband’s manufacturing background, Cybele’s ingenious creation and the financial provision, we felt led by God to bring Cybele’s games to market and start our own business to publish her games. We had the opportunity to attend the Chicago Toy and Game Week Summit, introducing us to legendary toy inventors and providing us with invaluable information about the Toy industry.

Cybele hopes that by sharing her games with you, she will spark joy in your life and bring your family and friends together just as it has done for her. We look forward to bringing you more fun family games invented by our daughter that will help you enjoy Family Game Night too!

Author: Michele McKenzie, Cybele’s mom


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