Local Fort Frances-opoly game swaps Park Place for Sorting Gap Marina

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

Move aside Monopoly, there’s a new property management game in town, and this time it’s personal.

In a move that not many would probably have been expecting, brand new board game Fort Frances-opoly should be ready and waiting at Walmart Fort Frances. Made available following the lifting of restrictions across the province on Friday, the brand-new board game is a specially customized riff on the classic family game. The game plays similarly to the Hasbro/Parker Brothers classic, but is updated to include locations and events near and dear to the heart of any resident, including the Memorial Sports Centre, the Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship, Sunny Cove Camp and more.

The board game itself is a partnership between Walmart Canada and Outset Media, a Canadian company that designs, manufactures and distributes board games. Outset Media vice president Jean-Paul Teskey explained that Fort Frances-opoly is the latest in a long line of customized board games that were developed as part of their partnership in an effort to celebrate different communities.

“Two and a half years ago, Walmart Canada said they knew we had the rights to do different Opoly-style games and use the -Opoly in the game legitimately,” Teskey said.

“We were pitching them stuff like Dog-opoly, Cat-opoly, Beer-opoly, and they said ‘how about we do a line of games celebrating communities we’re in across Canada?’ We said we’d love to do it.”

Teskey said the company began with a line of games that featured some of Canada’s biggest and well-known cities like Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary, but they noticed that the first game to begin moving bigger numbers and really take off was the version created for and released in Sarnia. The success of the board game in what they saw as a mid-sized town prompted them to expand the line to more of the smaller communities that dot the country. Since then, Teskey said the company has produced Opoly games for 160 different communities across Canada, including Fort Frances, which was included in the most recent line of the games.

Fort Frances-opoly is a local take on the popular Monopoly game. The small run game uses local streets, festivals and landmarks. Fort Frances is one of 160 communities across Canada to have its own personalized Monopoly game. – Submitted photo

In order to create a game that celebrates small communities, Teskey said the product development team begins its research by way of Google, trying to get a basic understanding of the town and its landmarks, features and draws. After that, the team reach out to businesses and representatives to make sure there are no errors in the Google data – like a listed business that no longer exists –in order to make the game feel as familiar to locals as possible.

“We’re not trying to replicate Monopoly exactly by just throwing a bunch of street names on every spot,” he said.

“We try to even include festivals or local businesses. We’ve got the Bears Pass Fish Fry, we have different marinas, schools. We do have streets like Idylwild and Scott, but we want to make it really custom and personal. It’s meant to be something fun.”

One of the reasons that Walmart and Outset Media can do these lines of customized, limited-run games is the fact that production is done in North America as opposed to Asia, where a large portion of modern production is done, Teskey said. The smaller production runs keep the cost of the game down, but also means that once the localized games like Fort Frances-opoly are sold out, that’s the end of the line. However, Teskey stressed that the games aren’t meant to be big money makers in the first place, opting instead to give people in small towns across Canada a game that is not only fun for the whole family, but also a meaningful little slice of life from where they call home.

“I think in the last two years we’ve seen how people love and kind of need to play board games, especially as an escape from screens, especially when we’ve all been stuck inside so much,” he said.

“Then to play a game like a version of Monopoly, and Monopoly is the best-selling game of all time, but to make it something personal really brings that level of fun and pride in the community to the next level. It’s one thing to own Park Place, but it’s another thing to own something that people live and know and really feel and attachment to.”

Teskey said that all of the teams at Outset Media who have taken part in the process of creating hyper-localized versions of Monopoly have enjoyed the process over the years, and he said they hope to be able to continue making the games for as long as Walmart continues to ask for them. The limited nature of the board games make them particularly special, as by next year there will be a whole slate of new locations going to Walmarts in their town, so Fort Frances-opoly could see itself becoming something of a collectors piece for people in town, be it something to break out when company comes over or just to haul up to the cabin to use for rainy days. Any way you slice it, Teskey noted that we’re currently living through another board game boom, undoubtedly given a bit of a boost because of COVID, which makes it a great time for Fort Frances-opoly and board games in general.

“I’ve been in the games industry for close to 30 years and it’s just one of those things that ebbs and flows,” he said.

“We’re in an up period, inevitably there will be a down period. It’s nice to see the up period when people just get a little tired of being on too much technology all the time, and just need a break. People want and crave that face-to-face social interaction that board games allow. I’m sure in the next few years there will be some new technology that will put board games on the back burner for a little bit, but they always come back. it’s nice to see because there really is no replacement for a family board game night where people are able to engage, have fun, joke around and just enjoy each other’s company for a couple of hours.”