Charles B. Darrow sat down at his kitchen table in 1933 and invented a game on a piece of oilcloth. The object of the game was to force your opponents into bankruptcy. But when Darrow first took Monopoly to Parker Brothers, the game company dismissed it as too complicated.
It isn't easy trying to help America have fun. Both Trivial Pursuit and Pictionary were turned down by major companies when the games were first introduced.Mike Agrelius knows the obstacles to success in the game business. Of the 3,000 or so new games introduced into the American market each year, less than 10 percent are remotely successful. And that doesn't take into account all the game ideas that never even find their way onto cardboard.
But Agrelius thinks he has come up with what could be another classic. "I seriously think I'm sitting on a gold mine here," he says.
Agrelius' game is called Abstracts, The Game of Absurd Logic. It's a cerebral game that requires players to, as the name implies, think abstractly.
The rules are simple. One player on a team draws the name of a person, place or thing. The other players ask questions to help them guess the mystery identity. The questions, drawn randomly from a deck of cards, ask things like "If you were a store in the mall, what would you be?" Or, "If you were a cartoon character, what would you be?"
So, let's say you chose the name "Babe Ruth" and your teammates asked you the question "If you were a song, what would you be?" You could answer "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." Your teammates probably wouldn't be able to guess the mystery person with that one clue, so they would have to draw another question card, which might say "If you were a piece of furniture, what would you be?" You could say "Cradle." If they asked "If you were a kind of food, what would you be?" you could say "A candy bar." And so on, until they either guessed Babe Ruth or gave up in disgust.
There are hundreds of names to be guessed: the Mississippi River, the pope, George Burns, George Bush, Michael Dukakis (Agrelius and his wife wrote the questions before the election and decided to hedge their bets), Baton Rouge, Tinkerbell, Halley's Comet, and on and on.
Agrelius, who has developed several other games mostly for the LDS market, says he wanted to come up with a game based on a simple concept that was also challenging. Abstracts, he says, "is like a good poem. There are a lot of different levels to it." He thinks it fosters creativity.
But when it comes to games good ideas are not enough, says Agrelius; "90 percent is marketing." Like the inventors of Pictionary and Trivial Pursuit, Agrelius is marketing his game on his own, hoping to create enough interest locally to convince a major game company to buy the rights. He has spent $30,000 so far to produce and market the game.
Several local stores, including Deseret Book, Shopko, Fred Meyer and ZCMI, carry Abstracts.
The box looks enough like Pictionary (rectangular and simple) so that Pictionary lovers might be enticed to try it, or at least won't be frightened off.
Steve Peek, the author of "Game Plan: The Game Inventors' Handbook," says that inventing a game is not for the faint-hearted. "You have a better chance of writing a successful novel than inventing a successful game," says Peek.
But he thinks Abstracts has a good chance of succeeding. "Mike has a good game. It's one of the better ones I've seen in the last few years." Peek may be a bit biased, of course, since he is also the manufacturer of Abstracts.
After test marketing the game in Utah, Agrelius will take Abstracts to the New York Toy Fair next winter. The developers of Pictionary took this same route, selling 40,000 games in the Seattle area before selling it to a game company at the toy fair.
Agrelius is a part-time communications instructor at Brigham Young University and a private marketing consultant. He nearly became a lawyer, he says, because when he used to play The Game of Life he discovered that you got a lot more play money if you were a lawyer.
Instead he became a p.r. director for an electronics firm, and then advertising manager for Tova Borgnine's line of cosmetics. But he decided that inventing games was a lot more fun, and more creative. "It's the closest thing to giving birth."