Pittsburgh-made lawn game 7 Birds is taking flight
August 13, 2016 12:00 AM
Players enjoy a game of 7 Birds at the Bakery Square Urban Beach Party last month.
A set of pins and caps for the made-in-Pittsburgh 7 Birds lawn bowling game.
James Lomuscio, creator of the 7 Birds outdoor game: "We're selling them about as quickly as we can build them."
By Adrian McCoy / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In the middle of a summer gripped by Pokemon Go fever, it’s charming to see a next-generation lawn game captivate players.
The game — 7 Birds — is a homegrown lawn bowling game similar to bocce or boule, although the rules and scoring are different. It’s the brainchild of James Lomuscio of Highland Park. A transplant from Weston, Conn., he is co-founder and CEO of Pittsburgh-based Hability, a company that provides medical software to organize and automate doctor-patient communication and follow-up.
But games have always been an avocation for him.
“I really enjoy creating them. It’s like you're building a puzzle for someone else to solve,” he said. “A good game is a puzzle that never plays the same way twice.”
He has invented several games — mostly sport and board games.
“I would dream it up, spend a Saturday going out to a hardware store putting the pieces together for it, and then go play it,” he said.
Post-Ball is a bat-and-ball game he made up several years ago and still plays regularly with friends.
But 7 Birds is the first of his inventions to make it from concept to product stage. The rules are simple and few: Either two players or two teams can compete. There are seven wooden pegs, or “Birds,” that are painted red on one end and blue on the other. They’re arranged on the ground in a hexagon. The objective is to knock over the pegs with another wooden peg — the “stone.” The game starts with caps on top of each pin. Once they’re knocked over, the caps are removed and the pin is placed in a standing position with the red or blue end facing up, depending on which team knocked it over. The game continues until all seven Birds have been knocked down for the first time. The final score is always equal to seven.
While 7 Birds is easy to learn, it’s also a complex game of strategy. The pins are set up where they fall, making an ever-changing playing field. Where it's played — on low or tall grass, a smooth surface or sand — also affects the way the pins fall and rearrange themselves. The player has to analyze these patterns and make the most effective moves, thinking through which ones to aim for.
“It fits into that category where it’s minutes to learn and [a] lifetime to master,” Mr. Lomuscio said. “The more you play, the more you see or understand it.
“The game can swing from favoring one player to the other in one turn. Like chess, it's often more important where your pieces are, not how many you have.”
The game appeals to kids and adults, but because of the strategy elements, it’s best suited for ages 9 and older. Mr. Lomuscio said a few physical education teachers have bought the game for their classes not only because it teaches dexterity and hand-eye coordination but also strategic planning and thinking out moves in advance.
It’s “a Pittsburgh game through and through,” Mr. Lomuscio said.
Each set is made locally and by hand, painted in his living room and assembled at maker spaces like TechShop and HackPittsburgh.
The game is portable and travels easily to picnics, parks, tailgating parties or the beach.
And “you can play it in a small Pittsburgh backyard,” its creator said.
The game is a team effort. Mr. Lomuscio designed the game play and pieces. The wood carrying crate/carrying case was designed by Thorin Tobiassen. Toy industry consultant Maclain Eardley is developing the strategy to get the game marketed and into stores.
“We own the game cooperatively,” Mr. Lomuscio said. “It’s an experiment in cooperative entrepreneurship.”
Because everything is handmade, it’s a labor intensive process. Mr. Lomuscio had to scour six different home improvement stores to get enough dowels to make pegs for a production run.
“We’re selling them about as quickly as we can build them,” he said.
Their goal, because all the partners have full-time careers, is to license the game to a larger manufacturer/distributor.
“We’d like to see this grow beyond our own capabilities to make them.”
Earlier this summer, they started selling 7 Birds [$40] online through the 7 Birds Facebook page and at several local toy stores, including Learning Express in Bakery Square, S.W. Randall Toyes and Giftes, Phantom of the Attic in Oakland, and Games Unlimited in Squirrel Hill.
They’re also thinking about developing a tabletop version of the game.
Many have had a chance to test their skills at 7 Birds at several public events this summer, including Open Streets, the Bakery Square Urban Beach Party and the Come Out & Play Festival in New York. It will be among the featured games at City of Play’s Come Out & Play Pittsburgh event Oct. 1.
As an avid maker and game player, Mr. Lomuscio is glad to see people enjoying a new iteration of lawn bowling in a digital world.
“It’s not that I dislike digital. I’m not one of those guys who hates on Pokemon Go. I played that for a little bit,” he said. “But I think there’s something that even augmented reality, virtual reality and video games can’t touch — those kinds of experiences afforded by physical games. It’s important to get out there and play with other people.”
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