Donaco Smyth is a Los Angeles based actor and writer. He is a founding member of Neo Ensemble Theatre and has acted in plays and musicals on both coasts. His play Capsized Flotsam has been produced in L.A., NYC and in Melbourne, Florida. Another full length play, Annoyed by Life is currently published by Heuer Publishing. In 2013, his short film, “Way of Seeing”, played in five film festivals around the country.
Professionally, Donaco’s performed the roles of King Henry II in Lion in Winter, Falstaff in “Merry Wives of Windsor, Daddy Warbucks in “Annie”, a sullen criminal on “Law & Order” and tons of original roles by various writers at Neo Ensemble Theatre in Los Angeles.
How did you get involved in creating Animal Watch?
I had it in my head for a number of years before I was finally able to hook up with an artist, Randall Jahn, who helped me make it all happen with his perfect animal artwork. I’d drawn up some prototype decks of cards and played the game with friends and worked out some kinks in the rules. But the game got sidetracked because I was writing plays and making some short films and trying to find an occasional acting job that paid something. Eventually in 2017, I got the Kickstarter project going because I’d broken my foot and had some down time. So I dove into it then.
Describe the game in some detail.
It takes a little bit of strategy to decide how many tricks you think you can win each round and you have to commit to that number. If you win more than you predicted, you lose points and if you win fewer than you predicted, you lose points. You have to keep in mind how many high cards you have and how many lower cards you have that probably won’t win you anything. But sometimes those “throw away cards” will come back to bite you because they can suddenly be the top card in play. So it can be wild! And in each round everyone plays with fewer and fewer cards in each hand. So you don’t know what’s been removed from the deck.
Are there several versions or is Endangered Species the only one out thus far?
So far there’s just this one edition but I’m leaving my options open for adding more animal sets or maybe even copyrighted characters from Disney or Warner Bros.
Do you feel that this is more for adults or children?
Some games like Uno and Monopoly and Checkers are great for all ages and that's where Animal Watch lies as well. In the comments I’ve read, people say they played it with their families with kids and they caught on quickly and enjoyed it. One lady told me her nine year old daughter became the best player of the family. I know other people who supported the Kickstarter campaign who are in their 20s and 30s and they are playing it with their peers. So it fits in with high school and college age folks as well. My friend Gerri took it to Florida to play with her retired mother and her neighbors. They gave me great feedback during the pre-printing stage about some of the colors that were difficult to their older eyes. So Randall and I made changes based on that which I’m so thankful for. And the ladies sent messages about how they enjoyed the game!
I never considered it to be an outright "kid’s game" but the animals do give it a warm and fuzzy personality. Maybe a future edition should be themed a little darker! In an earlier prototype of the cards, I had some different animals, Octopus, Preying Mantis, Bats…. But my friends didn’t really connect to those species. So I re-thought it and decided on the current menagerie. And that ties in well with the charitable aspect of this business where we donate a portion of the proceeds of this game to places like World Wildlife Fund.
Do you think teachers can incorporate it into lesson plans or is it strictly for parties and events?
It can absolutely be used in lessons because children can learn to strategize based on the numbers of the cards in their hand and remembering which animals have more power than others in each round. So it’s great from a mental development point of view. They’re not just slapping down cute animals on the table; they’re working toward a goal.
Actors love playing charades and password, etc. As an actor did you think about this when you created it?
I kind of had my Las Vegas personality on when I was devising how the game could be played. There are ways you could turn it into a betting game but I’ll let other people sort that out. It’s meant to be a fun pastime like Exploding Kittens or Uno. Technically there are no rules against acting like a tiger or a sea turtle when you play the game so if it helps you to put that Theatre Arts degree to use while you play Animal Watch, don’t let me stop you.
Where can people purchase Animal Watch?
Currently just from the website:
Hopefully it will be available on Amazon in 2020.