What can you learn from a pirate named Pickel?

“Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me!” Rick Maxwell sings, dressed in a pirate’s outfit. No, it’s not Halloween, Maxwell is on the job. In 2005, Maxwell had a dream that he and his son were playing a board game. While many would have dismissed it as just a dream, the

Alexandria, Minn., father turned it into reality and created a board game called “Pickel the Pirate.”

“Pickel the Pirate” (yep, that’s the idiosyncratic spelling) is an educational game with age-appropriate questions about math, science, spelling, and rhyming for kids ages 4 and up. Players of different skill levels can use their own boxes of questions, so that a kindergartener, for example, can enjoy playing against a junior high student.

The game can be specialized by adding additional boxes of questions about nutrition, military deployment, diabetes, cancer, and mental health. While “Pickel the Pirate” is an educational game, it is also used in therapy. Maxwell explains, “With questions like, ‘How did you feel when…?’ the game helps kids deal with stress.”

Instead of competing with big game manufacturers for shelf space at retailers like Target, Maxwell partnered with the Army Air Force Exchange Services (AAFES), which operates retail stores for the armed forces. “Pickel the Pirate” is currently sold in AAFES stores on 84 bases around the world. With a retail price of $24.99, Maxwell has sold 12,000 games. “‘Pickel the Pirate’ is the number-one selling game in AAFES, and I want to make it the number-one product with the military,” he says.

Teachers also use the game in classrooms around the country, with the aid of Max’s Treasure Chest of Help, a nonprofit organization that provides school districts across the country with “Pickel the Pirate” games.

“The game is educational and fun,” Maxwell says. “The great thing is that kids are oblivious to the fact that they’re learning while playing the game.”

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