Prince of Peace student draws on family’s passion for games to create winning contest entry
By Michael Gresham
The Texas Catholic
FRISCO — As Cruz Bañuelas assembles the homemade board in front of him, a prototype of a game that this fall earned him national recognition as a winner in the 15th People of Play Young Inventor Challenge, the Frisco youth excitedly explains the different options for game play.
Behind him, his father looks on with a glint of pride in his eye. Pride in his son’s accomplishment, but also pride in what inspired him to do it.
“My father was big time into games,” said Marco Bañuelas of Cruz’s grandfather, Israel Bañuelas, who passed away four years ago. “For Cruz and his brother to create this game in memory of their grandfather, it does wonders for my heart.
“They were kind of young when he passed away. I cherish the fact that they have those memories of playing games with him and then chose to create a game, enter it into a contest and win,” he added. “It’s a very special way to remember him.”
Cruz, a seventh-grader at Prince of Peace Catholic School in Plano, channeled the family’s joy of board games as well as his own passion for chess into creating “King of the Board,” a game that earned him the title of Senior Winner in the Best Playful Learning Concept category.
Prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cruz and his 10-year-old brother Christian, who also attends Prince of Peace, were avid chess players, participating in chess clubs and competitions. His skill in chess played a role in his desire to design “King of the Board.”
“Both of my sons play chess really well. They play in clubs and competitions and are really good at it,” Marco said. “The problem is none of their friends want to play against them in chess anymore.”
So the brothers set about creating another option.
“We created a board game like chess, but that my friends wanted to play. That’s how we came up with ‘King of the Board,’” Cruz said.
The idea to enter that game into the Young Inventor Challenge occurred by happenstance.
The Bañuelas family, parishioners at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Frisco since 2005, learned of the competition during a trip this past summer to the store to purchase board games, where they stumbled across a game that featured a photo and the story of the 2018 Young Inventor Challenge winners. Reading up on the challenge, they learned the competition, usually held in Chicago, was being held virtually this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“For us, it was just the perfect opportunity to enter,” said Marco, adding that the Bañuelas boys already had begun creating the game in the summer of 2019, long before they learned about the contest. “We had something prepared and we could enter virtually. So that’s what we did.”
Bañuelas said coming up with the game concept took only two to three days. Developing the pieces and the game board, though, took about six months. And fine tuning game play?
“Oh, that’s an ongoing process,” Cruz said. “We’ve changed the rules at least 50 times already.”
A grandfather’s legacy
The game itself draws on Bañuelas’ passion for chess, imitating the chessboard, but using golf tees as pieces and different strategies for game play.
“Our first board was pieces of paper and markers,” Marco said. “Then we thought about what my dad would’ve liked and remembered the Cracker Barrel game he had with the golf tees. We grabbed some corkboard, golf tees and that grew into what we have now.”
Another addition draws inspiration from his grandfather.
“We added dice to the game because my grandfather loved Yahtzee,” said Cruz, noting that dice also add an element of chance to the game of strategy. “Depending on what you roll, you can totally change the direction of the game.”
Mary Pecikonis, who teaches at Prince of Peace Catholic School, said the first thing you notice about him is his openness and his contagious smile.
“He outshines most adults when it comes to compassion, understanding, as well as his ability to positively affect those around him,” she said. “He works hard, no matter what it is but more importantly, he does it because it’s his nature and not to achieve some end. Cruz has a big heart, a sharp and clever mind, and a resilient nature.”
Pecikonis said learning that Cruz received national recognition for creating a game was awe-inspiring.
“I continue to be proud of all of his endeavors, but I was especially proud to learn that the game stemmed from a need to create something he and his friends could enjoy together,” she said. “That’s just the type of young man Cruz is. I can’t wait to see what he does next.”
Next for “King of the Board” is an effort to get the game in stores, which could happen via a contract with one of the toy companies involved with the competition or via a Kickstarter.
For the Bañuelas family? Next up is playing more board games, just like their grandfather loved to do.
“It’s just a great way for us all to unplug and spend time as a family,” Marco said. “It’s what we love to do.”