The Kids Game That’s Out to Lunch

Game inventors Isabella Miller and Madison Yang

Game inventors Isabella Miller and Madison Yang

Isabella Miller, 9, and Madison Yang, 8, of Illinois know how to impress people in high places.

The two friends participated in the 2009 Chicago Toy and Game Fair Young Inventors Challenge last fall, and were ready when Mike Hirtle, head of Global Product Acquisition for Hasbro, approached their booth.

Their game is called Bento Box Fortune, the girls told him. It’s played by two to four players ages 5 and up. The object is to travel around a game board and be the first to fill your own lunch box with mini cards of food and drinks.

Hirtle appreciated the articulate brevity of their pitch.

“That’s exactly how I would love all game inventors to present their ideas to me,” Hirtle recalls.

Isabella and Madison won the 2009 Chicago Toy and Game Fair Young Inventors Challenge. The competition was stiff.

“An important part of the future of toy and game design is encouraging and supporting our children and their ideas – and the Young Inventors Challenge does just that,” says Mary Couzin, executive director of ChiTAG. “The game concepts the young inventors submitted in 2009 were all amazing. At the end of the day, Mike said that the voting was so close that the second-place category had a seven-way tie.”

The top prize included VIP tours of toy shops and a year’s subscription to Inventors Digest.

The girls wanted to create a game based loosely on Japan because, “Maddie is partly Japanese and Izzy thinks that is very cool,” Nina Uziel-Miller, Isabella’s mother, said in an e-mail to Inventors Digest. “The girls are also both very into Japanese erasers – small erasers made up of smaller erasers that fit together like little puzzle pieces and often in the shape of foods.

“These two interests led them to the idea of creating a game in which players move around a game board and collect food items to fill up their bento boxes (Japanese lunch boxes),” she added.

The girls drew inspiration for Bento Box Fortune from the game Zooreka, where players create a zoo by collecting resource cards for food, animals and shelter, and the iconic game Monopoly.

“In fact, Isabella suggested that they study the Monopoly rules to understand how to write up their own rules,” Akari Yamada, Madison’s mother, wrote in a follow-up e-mail.

“I think the greatest value of this project has been to teach the girls about problem-solving,” she added. “If something doesn’t work, you don’t have to scrap everything. Instead, the girls learned to figure out how many steps they had to go back until they found what worked.”

But enough from the grown-ups. Let’s hear from the girls.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for your game?

Madison: We knew we wanted a game that was like Japanese Monopoly. The final game is actually our third version.

Q: How did you decide on the name of Bento Box Fortune?

Isabella: We did a lot of brainstorming. At first we came up with “Japanese Fortune Snake” because, in the beginning, the board was shaped like a snake. We decided the snake didn’t look that good, so we changed the shape to a rectangle.

Madison: In Fortune Snake, you only had to go to the finish line. We wanted a game where you could play more than one round.

Isabella: Then, we came up with the name “Bento Box Trivia Fortunes” because the game included trivia cards. Then we found that the name was too long, and that younger players couldn’t answer the questions. So we eliminated the trivia cards from the game.

Madison: Our trivia idea used a timer, but it didn’t work because our questions were too hard. You also had to end up with $50 to win, but it seemed more fun to collect food for a lunch box so you get to spend money too.

Isabella: Then we did a lot more brainstorming and came up with many names for our third idea. We narrowed them down to the “Amazing Bento Box” and “Bento Box Fortune.”  We decided “Amazing Bento Box” sounded too much like an action video.

Q: How did you decide how to make the game board?

Isabella: At first, we used rubber stamps and colored pencils to create small squares on the game board.

Madison: We invited friends over to play the game. One of them said that it would be less confusing if the bento boxes each had their own pictures. So, we made them like Bingo cards – each card had their different pictures under each category.

I wanted to draw pictures but it took too long. We both collect Japanese erasers, but we didn’t have enough. So, we found cute pictures of the food erasers at, and picked out our favorites. They rock!

Isabella: When we printed out a new board with the strips of pictures, we again invited friends over to play and they said it looked really cool.

Q: What was the best part of creating the game?

Isabella: Making the first draft when we were using all the cool rubber stamps to create the spaces.

Madison: My favorite part was typing on the computer, using word art to create awesome banners, and looking for the pictures on the Web.

Q: What is the best part of playing Bento Box Fortune?

Isabella: Probably when you land on a food space that you don’t have and you get to go shuffling through the cards to find yours.

Madison: Landing on my own arrow and getting $5 makes me feel really lucky … and having fun with my friends!

Editor’s note: This article appears in the March 2010 print edition.