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Noble family creates NoBull game: Spokane Valley brothers Gideon, 16, Gabe, 13, and their father, Brian, develop Smirkle

UPDATED: Tue., Dec. 8, 2020

A new dice game called Smirkle rolled out this year after two Spokane Valley brothers decided to create a fast-paced contest that families could play in 10 to 20 minutes.

Gideon Noble, 16, and Gabe Noble, 13, worked with their father, Brian Noble, to develop the game inspired by Uno and Farkle. Brian and his wife, Tanya Noble, provided the funds to produce an initial 1,000 games through the family’s new business, NoBull Game Co., a playful nod to their surname.

To play the game, someone first rolls a Smirkle dice for directional play and then throws eight smaller, eight-sided dice for sets, such as four of a kind, with 7s wild. Creating the game eased boredom amid COVID-19 restrictions, said Gideon, who leads marketing.

“We were in COVID, bored, so we made a game,” he said. “We thought of Uno as the big dice, and we thought of Farkle as the small dice, and we combined them sort of like Uno and Farkle had a baby.”

Gabe agreed the two other games sparked ideas, but then they added changes specific to Smirkle. “We drew inspiration from both Uno and Farkle.”

The Smirkle box also carries the slogan “the sarcastic ‘sorry about that’ dice game” for 50% smile and 50% smirk. That’s tied to his family’s own game-playing history, said Gabe, the company’s sales director. A “smirkle” happens when a player doesn’t roll any points.

“In our family, whenever we would play games like Farkle and someone lost, we would say ‘sorry about that,’ sarcastically,” Gabe said.

After the boys sold about 300 Smirkle games at farmers markets this year, they’re now focused on holiday gift sales, at $24.99 each if purchased online at Amazon and at nobullgame.com. When farmers markets resume again, Smirkle is sold at local sites for $20.

This month, they launched a business Kickstarter seeking $1,000 to market Smirkle further and bring to market two other games the brothers recently created, including next in the lineup, RummiWar.

While honing their sales pitch at markets, the boys learned their best approach simply was to ask people to play a game with them.

“The best way for people to buy a product is for them to know what the product is,” Gabe said. “What we would normally do is just introduce them to the game, and then they’d play the game and realize this is really fun, and they’d buy it. And also, we’d tell them we made this during COVID.”

“We really got the hang of it, and at the last farmers market we were at, we sold like 50 in one night.” That was at a fall outdoor market set up during a lantern festival called “Night Light” at Stateline Speedway.

The Smirkle box cover has caricature drawings of Gideon and Gabe. They offered the design suggestions for the box to hold the dice and game instructions. It’s recommended for ages 10 and older, with two or more players.

A player wins by getting 12,000 points. However, some elementary school teachers have told the family they play the game with younger kids and just knock off a couple zeros when adding up the scores. It’s a fun way to boost math skills, Brian Noble said.

Noble and his wife have four children, and the family regularly enjoys games. Brian Noble is CEO of Peacemakers Ministries, a Spokane nonprofit that helps families and church members in conflict heal relationships.

The NoBull Game Co.’s goals include boosting family face-to-face time together such as through playing tabletop games. Also, $2 from each game sold is pledged to help families and friends who are in conflict, including help paying for counseling.

Noble credits his sons for doing much of the work on ideas for Smirkle and the other games.

“The boys during COVID came up with three games, and they’re hoping to build a business around it,” he said. “Our hope is to be able to raise the Kickstarter funds so they can begin to have inventory for their games.”

Describing how they started, Noble said he tried to help both boys find their niche as Smirkle was developed.

“Gabe and I play a lot of games, like we’ll play cribbage or whatever, so I said to him, ‘What if we invented a game?’ ” Noble said. “He’s really good at systems and thinking through how rules would be.”

“Gideon got into more the marketing side – how do I sell this thing? Then we just kept playing, working as a team and figuring out how would these rules work, how would the game go out? Trying to inspire them to be entrepreneurs is really what I was doing as a parent.

“Gabe really loves introducing the game to people and talking to people. He was kind of bashful before that. He came out of his shell with that.”

Although board games such as Risk or Monopoly are fun, as well, both require bigger time commitments, he said. The Noble family enjoys playing Smirkle for shorter segments, often after dinner.

“Just getting families to spend time together versus sitting on their computers – that’s our hope,” Brian Noble said. “We hope that we’ll bring families together to have quality time with something that’s simple to play.”

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