The battle was set between the Justice League and their archrivals, er, co-workers, the Simple Villains.
Seven software developers from Infinite Campus in Blaine wanted something more novel than a happy hour for a team bonding experience. They had tried bingo, WhirlyBall and an escape room. Then, they saw something new on Facebook called “Game Show Battle Rooms” in Golden Valley.
The business offers a sendup of TV game shows like the “Price is Right,” “Family Feud” and “Wheel of Fortune” with “Name that Price,” “Friendly Feud” and “Wheel of Phrases.” Teams challenge each other in hourlong showdowns at a price of $30 per person.
“Name something you cringe at when you’re behind someone in the buffet line,” said Michael Wesely, the goofy, genial host rocking a handlebar mustache and red velvet blazer.
“Using your hands,” blurted contestant Laura Sweet after good answers seemed to be exhausted.
Wesely did his best Steve Harvey-like eyeroll at the answer and shouted, “Show me ‘Using your hands’! ” A buzzer sounded, a thumbs-down emoji flashed on the large video screen, and the Justice League let out a collective groan.
Kevin Letnes and David Sauer started Game Show Battle Rooms after launching two other night-out experiences, a pedal pub venture and an escape room business.
“We think this has the most potential,” Sauer said. “Pedal pubs launched in Minneapolis 10 years ago, escape rooms more than five years ago. We looked for the next evolution and asked ourselves: ‘How is there not a game show experience?’”
Letnes, who works in his family restaurant business, and Sauer, a marketer with Securian Financial, said the goal with their businesses is to give people “awesome memories and experiences.”
The pair researched online and haven’t found anything like Game Show Battle Rooms, which they spent more than $100,000 to build and make as close to the TV version as possible. Each of their two game rooms have a state-of-the-art light and sound system. And the spinning wheel for “Wheel of Phrases” is 8 feet in diameter and cost $5,000.
Even their game show hosts, like Wesely, ham things up to make the experience authentic. “I’m an actor and a frontman in a band,” Wesely said. “I’m not afraid to do my dorky dad dance.”
Letnes thinks what they’re doing appears to be the first of its kind. “There are some traveling ones but not one with an elaborate set location bringing in groups.”
The founders made a number of changes to each game to avoid intellectual property fights. “We not only changed the names, but we changed the games themselves,” Sauer said. “Each game has a different logo and colors. And we’ve made it a team game instead of individual.”
The pair started working on the Game Show Battle Rooms concept a year ago and began testing it with friends and family last month. Since then, they’ve hosted nearly 20 groups.
The two game rooms are called Classic Showdowns and New Age Frenzy. Classic Showdowns contestants play three games for 20 minutes each — “Friendly Feud,” “Wheel of Phrases” and “Name that Price.”
New Age Frenzy players get “Wheel of Phrases,” “Million $ Trivia” and “One Minute Skill Challenges.” In one of the skill challenges, a player starts the game by shaking Ping-Pong balls out of an empty tissue box tied to his back while teammates try to putt the balls into a cup with an extended tape measure.
In the future, they may add food and alcohol to the business.
The business advertises on Facebook hoping to attract work groups, friends, families, bachelorette, bachelor and holiday parties. To rent out the game room for a private experience, the group needs to pay for at least 12 participants, even if the group is smaller than a dozen. Small groups of four to six, for example, can book the number of tickets online and play against a team of unknown contestants.
“Two teams of strangers playing against each other have been some of our most fun groups,” Letnes said. “You get the true feeling of competition when people don’t know each other.”
As the game between the Simple Villains and the Justice League ended, Queen’s “We are the Champions” played loudly as the Justice League celebrated its win with a plastic trophy. “Good triumphed over evil,” said host Wesely as he twirled his mustache.
In summing up the outing, Matt Lindstrom, an Infinite Campus employee and game player, said simply: “This was better than any of the other team activities we’ve done.”
John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633