Charles Potter pulls out several dice and starts rolling. The dice click against each other in his hands and hit the table.
“There’s a five. Fifty points. There’s another five. Another 50 points.”
At this point, Potter is an expert at Farkel, a high-score dice game that is assembled at the Farkel Factory at 2909 S. Spruce. And he should be. Potter is president of Legendary Games, and he first started marketing and selling Farkel in 1996.
Even though he’s experienced, there’s also an element of chance in Farkel.
“I’ve lost to a 4-year-old,” he says.
Legendary Games sells more than 30 unique games; most are dice-based, but there are also word games and card games.
What started out as a business in a barn has grown to a company with $1 million to $2 million in annual sales and seven employees.
The fact that it’s located in Wichita is almost as much of a mystery as the origins of the name Farkel.
“A lot of people don’t know we’re here,” Potter said.
Explanations regarding the name’s origin vary. But there’s one story Potter thinks might have some truth to it.
“We subscribe to the theory from a group in Ohio called the Smoke and Fire Company that are Civil War reenactors, and they have Farkel games in the muslin bags on their belts. They say it came from Europe on sailing ships about 400 years ago.
“So I checked with some people that speak German and they say the word ‘ferkel’ in German means little pig. And this game has a lot of names – Pig and Zilch and it’s got a ton of names. But that’s one of them, is ‘pig,’ and that’s where we think ... the name came from.”Something for mom
Potter didn’t invent Farkel – it’s a game that generations of families have played with varying rules and names.
But in the early 1990s, he cleaned up the rules and wrote them down.
“I liked the game, and nobody was making the game,” he said.
“I was going to do this game for my mother, who had just retired, so she could have something to do and go to craft shows and meet people and do a little traveling. And then I got to disliking my job where I was working so much that I said ‘I’m going to do this myself.’
So in 1996 he quit his job and created The Original Pocket Farkel game.
The first big account the company landed was Cracker Barrel, whose restaurants feature a gift-and-novelty store out front. In the early 2000s, Legendary Games made a deal with Barnes and Noble, which is the company’s largest retailer. It also is working to have its games in Calendar Club and Hobby Lobby.
You can also find the games in gift shops and souvenir stores across the country – as far away as Zion National Park in Utah and as close as Botanica in Wichita.
Legendary Games customizes labels for every state and for numerous colleges. It can even create special labels for weddings, graduations and funerals.
At any given time, there are hundreds of thousands of dice in the warehouse, Potter said.
The labels are printed on the plastic containers that hold the dice using a special printer that uses plasticized ink.
“When we first started we did (the labeling) all by hand. Now I have arthritis in both thumbs,” Potter said.
While the smaller games are made in the U.S., the larger games are assembled in China.
“We try to have as much made domestically as we can, like the score sheets, but the plastic stuff and the dice, there’s nobody in the country that makes all the dice that we use, so we do have to import some from China,” Potter said.Keeping it fresh
To grow, Potter said, Legendary Games needs to add three or four new games each year.
“The game business is like any other business,” Potter said. “You have to keep coming up with new stuff all the time. We survived on Farkel for many years. For 10 years it was just all we did.”
Sometimes the company invents its own games and other times inventors send in ideas.
“We’re always looking for new things,” Potter says.
When the company contracts with inventors, the inventors get royalties, while Legendary Games pays the manufacturing costs.
“All the risk is on our end if we decide to take it,” Potter said.
“What we’re seeing is that we need to expand our line, and every time we go to a trade show the first thing they ask us is, ‘What’s new?’ We’re branching out with whole new line of games that we get from inventors and that we create ourselves,” said Dan Brace, vice president of sales and operations at Legendary Games.
The company is also interested in pursuing online games – and there are several knockoffs already – but it would have to weigh the cost of developing the games with the return on investment, said Mary Potter, Charles’ wife.
“There must be 30 different apps already, and they don’t all play the same,” Brace said. “The trend now is that the game is free, but then there are points and you have to buy more points. We would have to find out how to make that work with our products.”
Back at the Farkel Factory, Potter rolls the dice again, taking another chance.
But this time he doesn’t have any ones or fives.
“I lost it all. And that’s called a Farkel.”