Meet the Inventor: Mary Jo Reutter

I hope everyone in the States enjoyed the long Memorial Day weekend. Did you play any good games?

This week we’re featuring Mary Jo Reutter, the inventor of our very silly skill and action game, Sumo Ham Slam. Mary Jo is a seasoned game inventor, and in 2010 picked up the Toy and Game Inventor Awards (TAGIEs) award for “Excellence in Game Design”.

I recently got the inside scoop from Mary Jo about Sumo Ham Slam’s beginnings. Here’s our full interview:

The concept of Sumo Ham Slam is pretty silly….so, what inspired you to create it? First, I had the basic idea of moving an object around via a magnetic wand and I just started playing with that concept. Keeping the object under control while moving it around from below a board was even more fun when that object was wobbly. So, I figured it should be some type of ball.

Inventor of Sumo Ham Slam, Mary Jo Reutter

I wanted a theme that was a bit unusual. I live in a fairly Japanese neighborhood, and there had been a local festival.  There were posters hanging at my favorite sushi restaurant, and it led me to think about Sumo wrestlers. I always found them fascinating and amusing. Sumo wrestling is already a game of knocking opponents out of a ring, so I created a funky, miniature variation. We’ll get to the “hamster” part in a minute.

Next, I wandered into the 99 Cent store looking for things I could use as parts. (I can frequently be found wandering hardware stores and “dollar” stores.)  I found these cool cat toys for the bodies, and fly swatters for the handles. I had been collecting magnets for some time, so those were ready to go. The magnets fit right into place on the end of the fly swatter (that was lucky). I shaved the bottom of the catnip ball to flatten it out a bit and fit a magnet inside.  I set it all up on a little table designed as the dojo (wrestling ring) and it pretty quickly worked like I wanted it to. It was very silly right from the start.

The Sumo wrestling theme worked, but it was made all the better by making them hamsters! I give the credit for that fantastic addition to Jason Schneider [Gamewright’s product development manager]. My silly looking sumos became hilarious as hamsters!  The amazing art of Dean McAdams takes it over the top. I LOVE it!

Scruffy the guinea pig! awwwwwww

Do you have pet hamsters? I have two very large dogs, so I’m afraid that a hamster would be considered a toy (not so good for the hamster). However, I’m quite fond of my friend Jill’s guinea pig, Scruffy. Though she’s not a hamster, she’s a very cute rodent.

What makes Sumo Ham Slam different than other games on the market, and why will families enjoy playing it? It’s so silly that it always brings a laugh. And who doesn’t like to laugh? It’s easy to play, so there’s no barrier – players of any age can jump right in and start having fun right away. The surprise is that there is actually an element of skill, and with practice (and some food pellets to make your hamster heavier) you can really challenge each other.

Watching those silly hamsters roll around tends to attract attention, so it makes a great game to get things “rolling” on a game night!

As an award winning game inventor, how do you think of your game ideas? Can you share any secrets? Ideas come in a lot of different ways. Sometimes games come quickly, and sometimes they take a lot of work and revision. Sumo Ham Slam popped into form pretty quickly (on the game design side). I usually like to think of one or two core elements that work as the design challenge – kind of like a classroom assignment. That gives me a motivation. I don’t know what the secret is. If I figure that out I’ll let you know. Life is kind of a big game – sometimes it’s wacky, sometimes thought provoking – but it seems to go most smoothly when having fun!

Why do you think playing card, board, dice games and of course, sumo wrestling hamster games, is important? It’s one of the best ways to have social interaction with friends and family. I think we’re living in a time when people crave both face-to-face time, and crave playing with physical things. It can be a challenge to find time to sit and play games together, but once we do it’s always a great time!

Other than Sumo Ham Slam, do you have any favorite Gamewright games? Gamewright games are awesome! I am so excited to have one of mine included.  Some of my favorites are: LootTiki ToppleForbidden Island and Sounds Like a Plan.

For readers who are curious to learn more about the game hobby, are there any websites, blogs or other publications that you’d recommend? Board Game Geek is one of the most comprehensive websites out there for games. The Game Aisle is a fantastic site/blog where you can find game reviews and general info on the industry. Global Toy News is another good blog!

Timeless Toys: Classic Toys and the Playmakers Who Created Them by Tim Walsh is an interesting and beautifully created book on famous toys and games, their inventors and how they came into being. For someone interested in creating a game of their own, I’d recommend Keith Meyer’s book, Paid to Play.  It’s a fantastic overview of what it takes to get into the business.

And for the best live events open to the public, I highly recommend the Toy and Game Inventor Conference and the associated Chicago Toy and Game Fair held in November.


Sumo Ham Slam has received some rave reviews since its 2009 release. You can see a few of them below.

Major Fun

“This has got to be one of the most wonderfully kooky conceptions we’ve ever seen in a game … Play is quick-moving and takes no time at all to learn.” – Tillywig Toy Awards

And last but not least, a fun video review by 7-year-old Hayden and little brother Jackson of Games With Hayden:

About Gamewright

Gamewright is a leading manufacturer of family games, best known for such household hits as Slamwich, Rat-a-Tat Cat, In a Pickle, Rory's Story Cubes and The Scrambled States of America Game. Gamewright prides itself on making games that foster laughter, learning, friendship and fun. Kids, parents, grandparents, and educators all agree that Gamewright makes some of the best games on the planet. For more information, visit
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