Interview with the makers
We grabbed a chat with Rena Nathanson of Bananagrams Inc., to find out more about the anagram game that drives you bananas.
You’re a game-obsessed family. What sorts of games did you like to play as child?
Growing up we loved all games. Charades, Pictionary, Trivial Pursuit and even badminton were all favourites. We were also really good at making games out of anything! Even when raking leaves in the autumn we would make different piles running in and out of them, jumping in them and changing the rules all the time. My father made sure playing and laughter were very important growing up. I was very lucky!
What first inspired you to create BANANAGRAMS?
My children, my father and I came up with the idea for BANANAGRAMS just for fun on a family holiday, because we all love word and board games but found the slow pace of many of them frustrating. The name comes from my dad saying, “this anagram game is driving me bananas!”. That in turn inspired the banana-shaped bag that has become an iconic feature of the game – and indeed this year’s new games, My First BANANAGRAMS and BANANAGRAMS Party.
Millions of BANANAGRAMS have been sold worldwide and it’s been a hit with a range of well-known personalities, including the cast of Downton Abbey, Dame Judi Dench and Scarlett Johansson. Why do you think it’s so popular?
Quite simply, it’s a very playable game – it takes only a few minutes to understand the game play, yet can provide years of entertainment! And it genuinely grows with families: we say it’s suitable for ages 7-107 and that really is the case. It crosses generations and works whether you’re at the table with the kids, or playing over a pint in your local pub. I love that actors are playing between takes on movie sets, or during intervals in the West End. Equally, I love that we now have upwards of 25,000 primary school children playing BANANAGRAMS each year in our free-to-enter schools tournament, The BANANAGRAMS Challenge. We have busy social media channels and an active fan base who share pictures, videos and new spins on game play with us all the time. It’s incredible to know that so many people play the game but also that they enjoy it enough to want to adapt it, stretch its playability even further and experience it in new and interesting ways. Indeed, that’s exactly what has inspired the two new games this year.
My First BANANAGRAMS was created to celebrate the 10th anniversary of BANANAGRAMS. What makes it so special?
We developed My First BANANAGRAMS in response to a demand for a word game with lower case letter tiles. This makes it more accessible to even younger children, including those who are only learning lower case letters during the Early Years stages. However, that isn’t the only difference. My First BANANAGRAMS also includes unique double-letter tiles – so these are vowel pairs and digraphs which children can use when forming words. The ripening green pouch offers a range of play activities for children of all ages – from letter matching and simple word formation exercises for early readers, right through to a simplified version of the classic BANANAGRAMS game for older children. The colourful tiles are slightly larger and thicker than the regular BANANAGRAMS tiles, making them even more suitable for smaller fingers. Our hope is that parents and older children who are already fans of the classic game will want to share My First BANANAGRAMS with younger family members – but we also hope the game will help introduce new fans to the range.
There are a number of BANAGRAMS in the range already. How do you see the brand developing in future?
We’ll continue developing games that bring together families of all shapes and sizes for sociable, fun times. Our new Party edition, for example, is a more raucous, forfeit-laden version of the classic game – perfect for parents and their friends once the little ones are in bed! We’re keeping a close eye on technological advances in the table-top gaming world and our R&D department is busy play-testing a number of new concepts. The BANANAGRAMS Challenge continues to grow and we’re now signing up primary schools for the third UK tournament and the second one across the pond in the States, as well as looking to extend this into other countries around the world. It vital to me that we get children going wild with words and having fun as they – almost inadvertently – learn.