Cara Zaller, a Howard County nutritionist, saw a five-year dream come to fruition with the final production of her board game, Go Paleo! The educational and active game, based on the Paleolithic diet, challenges players to differentiate between health foods and junk, encourages exercise and teaches about the benefits of living a Paleolithic lifestyle.
The diet is based on what those living in the Paleolithic period of the early Stone Age would have eaten. As it was a time before processed foods, the diet eliminates dairy, grains, legumes and most sugars opting for natural foods instead.
“It’s not even about what it eliminates, it’s more about what it does include,” said Zaller. “Paleo is more about getting back to nature — you have to have grown it or killed it. All sources of animal protein, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds. It’s not just about a diet either, it’s a lifestyle.”
With an M.B.A. in finance and a bachelor’s in math from Emory University, Zaller did not originally aim to be in the field of nutrition. However, as a fitness instructor, many of her students would inquire about her diet, so she decided to get certified as a nutritionist. Even that was not enough — in the time since, Zaller has opened her own nutrition practice and is currently enrolled in the nutrition and integrative health master’s program at the Maryland University of Integrative Health.
Zaller first heard about the paleo diet from a chiropractor, with whom she was giving a joint lecture, who gave her a book about the paleo diet for athletes.
“I read it and was like, ‘Wow, this is totally different than what is taught in conventional nutrition,’ and from that point on, I decided to eat a paleo-style diet,” said Zaller.
Inspiration for the Go Paleo! board game came one night when she was cooking dinner for her children.
“My kids were running around and my older one was saying, ‘Let’s play a tag game, I’m going be vegetables because they will give you power. You guys will be junk food.’ Listening to him speak, I thought that it was an excellent idea for a board game. We could teach how fruits and vegetables and wholesome foods give the body energy and junk foods drain you of energy, so therefore the fruits and vegetables and natural foods will always win,” said Zaller.
The process of creating a board game from scratch was far more arduous than Zaller and her family anticipated. Their first step was to design the game on paper — her eldest son drew it out, and they used printed images they found online. From there, Zaller began to communicate with Parvez Mangalorewala, the co-owner of Wordsmith Enterprises, who agreed to work with Zaller to produce the game. She sent him their handmade copy, and from there, it was a matter of going back and forth to make sure everything was done correctly.
“The whole idea is like Chutes and Ladders with the slides,” explained Zach, Zaller’s oldest son. “Landing on something bad and making you go back and do an activity card, that was my idea. It’s pretty cool, the game is just as I imagined it to be. I never thought we would make it this far.”
“When we started, it was May 2012,” said Zaller. “We thought that by the end of summer, we would have this game out, but it was just one thing after another.”
Go Paleo! was finally completed two months ago. They had to search databases to see if there was anything remotely like it, trademark the name — copyrights, trademarks and patents all required lawyers. Additionally, communicating overseas to approve every aspect of the game drew the process out.
“The whole journey entailed a lot in terms of layouts, imagery, content and fleshing out the whole game,” said Mangalorewala. “It took about three years to give shape to the final version. Although we did create two prototypes, small things like the wooden dice with food icons instead of dots happened spontaneously during the last stage. However, the entire game play and process was well thought out by Cara beforehand, so it was easier and more interesting to develop the board game into a fine piece.”
The back of the game provides a wealth of information regarding the paleo diet, while the instruction manual itself details the rules of the game, tells Zaller’s story and provides resources that go more in depth about the paleo lifestyle. The game board is also durable. Zaller wanted the board and pieces to be able to survive the active playstyle the game requires.
Initial interest for the board game came from Zaller’s neighbor, Sherry Chen, who is a member of a local board-game meeting group. According to Zaller, she first played the game and when she landed on pasta, she said, “I didn’t know pasta isn’t a health food!”
“Now when I go shopping, I think about Go Paleo! and choose my groceries based on the paleo diet,” said Chen. “I would strongly recommend the game to the community because it is very hard to find a game with the same educational and fitness value. Our modern diet, full of refined foods, trans fats and sugar, is at the root of degenerative diseases such as obesity, cancer, diabetes and heart disease.”
Now that Go Paleo! is finally ready for the public, Zaller’s immediate goal is distribution. David’s Natural Market, which has stores in Columbia, Forest Hill and Gambrills, is carrying the game. Many of Zaller’s friends and students from fitness classes have picked up copies of the game as well. Zaller is also looking forward to the game being reviewed in a paleo magazine.
“My next steps are not just the paleo world,” she said. “I am interested in kids’ nutrition, so I have been contacting the different Howard County schools to see about getting one of these games in every elementary school for their health unit where they teach nutrition. What better way to teach than with fun?”