Local game-maker makes history come alive

‘Leaving Earth’ is Joseph Fatula’s most popular game
By: Tessa Marguerite, Reporter/Page Designer
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COLFAX — It’s all fun and games until someone crash lands on the moon — unless of course, that is a game.

Joseph and Kate Fatula live in Nevada City and both work at Joseph’s parents’ newly opened store on Main Street in Colfax, Lumenaris. The store sells handmade crafts and a variety of unique games and puzzles — all created, designed and developed by Joseph Fatula.

One of the first games Fatula created is called “Suitors and Suitability.” This Jane Austen inspired card game allows players to play as one of the Bennet sisters or Charlotte Lucas as they search for the best suitor. Mr. Darcy, for example, is a low value suitor at the onset of the game, but can become more valuable as time goes on. Mr. Wickham begins as one of the highest valued suitors, but in the end is one of the worst.

Joseph designs and creates the art for every piece of his games, with the exception of that which is public domain art.

Fatula said he gets inspiration for his games through compelling and interesting stories which would make players want to be involved. Games like chess, although fun to play, do not have much of a story. So, Fatula chooses to focus most of his games on historical eras or events, making them both educational and appealing.  


Epic adventures

Fatula’s experiential history games have been described by game-players as “epic adventures that really happened.”

“Leaving Earth” is one of those experiential history games based on the space race in 1956.

“It was an exciting thing at the time, but at this point most people are too young to have seen that happen,” Fatula said. “It’s getting lost and forgotten.”

But just because the space race and moon landing happened half a decade ago, it doesn’t make the story any less thrilling.

In the game, participants choose to play as one of the space agencies at the time: NASA, Russia, China or France. As players explore the game board’s solar system, they will notice that the telescope photos and unexplored territories looks different than the high-resolution pictures we have of our galaxy today. This is because the game was designed with only the information available in 1956; NASA had not yet completed a manned mission to the moon.

The game is heavy in math and science, and although it is recommended for high school age and up, age matters less than ability.

“It is a very niche kind of game,” Fatula said. “It’s for people who look at NASA and say, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to work there?’”

“Leaving Earth” is sold at various game stores around the world, and in NASA’s Ames gift shop, and has two expansions: “Outer Planets” and “Stations.”


Compelling stories

Fatula said one of the most difficult aspects of creating a game from scratch is “designing down” so that there are no unnecessary parts. He begins with topics that have hundreds or thousands of characters, places, ideas and events, and distills it down to make it an enjoyable game that lasts about one to two hours.

Of all his creations, one of Fatula’s favorites is a trading and pillaging game called Vikings on the Volga. The small set of rules makes it easy for young players, but the depth of strategy make it a challenge for older kids and adults, too.

“The Golden Wilderness” follows the events and heroes of early California history and the exploration of the West Coast for ages 15 and up; “Victory Through Industry” is a World War II game with no battles involved; and all of Fatula’s games and puzzles have high-quality, durable pieces, all made at the workshop in Lumenaris.

Fatula is currently working on a game about the early exploration of the Antarctic which took place around 1910.

“This was the space race of its day,” Fatula said.

He said the expedition to finish exploring the map was just as big of a struggle as the exploration of space, but today we don’t know much, or anything, about it — including the names of the explorers who are national heroes.

In addition to enjoying the storyline and game play, Fatula hopes that when families and friends gather to play one of his games that they are left with a better understanding of why some of these historical characters made the decisions that they did.

“It’s not always obvious when reading a history text book why some of these people made poor or unwise choices that caused wars and disasters,” he said. “But by putting yourself in their shoes, you usually come away with a better understanding of what they went through.”

The abundance of original games found at Lumenaris are ideal for families to learn and play together. But although the educational content is a key feature, Fatula is especially proud of the amusing and charming elements that he carefully invests in each game piece.

“If it’s not fun, everything else will fall by the wayside,” Fatula said.