Santa’s elves aren’t just busy at the North Pole. A bunch of them are hiding on the outskirts of Ely, springing from the artistry and imaginations of Sophia and Cooper Netolicky.
The siblings — she’s 11 and he’ll soon be 6 — decided one day that it would be fun to create a game. Inspired by The Game of Life and Candyland, it took them about three days to put together all the pieces, ready in time for some family fun on Dec. 7, the day before Sophia’s birthday.
Cooper came up with the name, “Santa’s Hidden Elves.” A kindergartner at Prairie Hill Elementary in Cedar Rapids, he also drew Santa’s Workshop, helped color some of the elves, and wrote “Start” and “End” on the game board.
Sophia, a fifth-grader at Prairie Creek, handled the rest of the artwork for the game board, cards and game pieces — including the die, which she made using a 3D pen. Her other materials involved scrapbooking paper, colored pencils, a Black marker and scissors.
She didn’t cut corners.
“Almost every elf has a different outfit and different hair,” she said during a recent Zoom interview with her mom and The Gazette.
The elves are hiding in plain sight on the board and in round tokens in a pile, just waiting to be collected as players roll the die and move along the winding path, following the directions on the cards they draw.
If players land on a bridge, they can take a shortcut on the way to Santa’s Workshop. If they draw a “good” gift card, they may get to collect some elfin tokens. If they draw a “sad” gift, however, they may have to give up some of their elves.
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Each player draws a lavender card at the start of the game, Sophia explained, and whenever they roll the number that’s on their card, they get to collect three elf tokens. Once everyone has reached Santa’s Workshop, the player with the most elf tokens wins.
Mom Jessica Netolicky won the initial game.
“You hit one of these bridges, and you get to jump ahead of everyone,” she said with a laugh. But that didn’t land her on the naughty list with her husband, Bryan Netolicky, and Sophia and Cooper, who reportedly put on their game faces and were good sports about their loss. Santa’s North Pole spies are watching, after all.
“We all had a good time playing,” Jessica added.
Besides being the proud mom, she also looks at the project with a trained eye, from her former job as the education programing director for Hancher Auditorium in Iowa City. She’s now enjoying her role helping her kids with their virtual and in-school learning in the College Community School District. Cooper has returned to his classroom, and Sophia now has a mix of days in school and at home.
“I thought it was really creative,” Jessica said when the kids pitched their game plan. “I know I’m biased, but visually, it’s really a beautiful thing. ... And it plays like a real game, too. There were just a few little things that probably needed to be tweaked as far as the details go, and the instructions, and how many elves you earned here and there. But by and large, it really did play like a real game. ... It was really fun for us to play as a family.”
It took them about 20 or 25 minutes to declare a winner, but the pace moves more quickly when just Sophia and Cooper are playing together.
Sophia said she hasn’t shown it to her teachers or played it with her friends. However, the game did roll in lots of positive comments when Jessica posted photos on Facebook. So far, it’s just a family game, but Sophia said she’d be up for making more of them, if someone wanted one. Perhaps not on the scale of Santa’s workshop production.
The project has been a silver lining during this unusual school year, Jessica added.
“It just kind of grew out of some creative ‘let’s fill some time,’” she noted, but it has educational applications, too. She thinks Sophia’s teachers would appreciate the effort.
“It’s a good lesson in problem-solving, and in art, as far as the drawing aspect,” she said, while Sophia gave an elfin smile.
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