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BOARD GAMES INVENTORS ATTEST TO GRUELING WORK BEHIND THE FUN

SHARE BOARD GAMES INVENTORS ATTEST TO GRUELING WORK BEHIND THE FUN

With board games selling well again this holiday season, you might be tempted to think that you, too, could invent a game that would make you rich. That's when you would do well to consider "1040."

"1040" is an unfortunate game entry from a few years back. Created and financed by an accountant, the game's premise was that filling out tax forms was rousing fun. "It was the most abysmal game I've ever seen," remembers Burt Hochberg, games and books editor of Games Magazine in New York.Hochberg's point is that sometimes you can lose objectivity about your own ideas. Even the big game companies - Milton Bradley, Parker Brothers, the Games Gang - sometimes come up with a loser, even when they pump millions of dollars into its promotion.

Both "Trump" - the do-it-yourself version of Donald Trump's career - and "Gender Bender" - a game requiring players to respond to questions as if they were members of the opposite sex - have bombed with the public this holiday season, despite glossy marketing efforts.

According to Mike Agrelius, director of Game Inventors of America, about 3,000 new games are produced and introduced each year, most of them by independent inventors who often dump their savings into what they hope will be the next Pictionary _ only to discover that their game is one of the 99 percent that are never even remotely successful.

"It's a cutthroat business," says Agrelius, who developed his own game last year. His experience is revealing.

Agrelius, a Provo business consultant, came out with Abstracts, The Game of Absurd Logic. It's a clever, enjoyable game. But when Agrelius took it to the Toy Fair in New York last winter he discovered to his horror that Milton Bradley had just come out with an almost identical game. Theirs is called I.D., and the folks at Games Magazine give it a thumbs up.

Agrelius is still trying to market his game, and, considering the obstacles, is doing fairly well. Abstracts is selling well in a few national catalogs and he recently convinced Lionel Playworld to carry it.

Distribution is one of the big hurdles for independent game inventors, says Agrelius. That's why Game Inventors of America has come up with a marketing/distribution company (GIASCO) to try to get games like Abstracts, Clever Endeavor, Abalone and Generations: The Family History Game onto store shelves.

"You can't compete with the majors on your own," says Agrelius.

He faults "the majors" with picking unoriginal, trendy games and not sticking with a good game long enough. Their modus operandi, he says, is to advertise a game heavily one season and then, if sales are mediocre, to give it up the next year. "The `Ungame' would never have lasted with the majors," he notes, even though the independently produced board game eventually sold two million copies.

The two biggest sellers of the decade _ Trivial Pursuit and Pictionary _ were both developed and originally sold by independent game inventors.

According to Hochberg of Games Magazine, there is no great new game in the Pictionary tradition this season. But there are plenty of new games, based on every conceivable gimmick. Some of the oddest include:

-Octopus _ "The wild and crazy new party game that brings friends close together as they join Velcro-wrapped wrists, ankles and heads." In other words, Twister with a twist, fabricwise. (Random House, $15)

-Peak Experience: The Climbing Game _ "Progress up and down K2, the second-highest mountain in the world, is determined by answers to thought-provoking and often humorous questions about wilderness travel, climbing and the outdoors." (Armchair Adventures, $24.95)

-Tip the Cows! _ Subtitled "the game that's udder madness," this entry is big on bovine puns but short on imagination (it's exactly like Pigmania, with different mammals). (Decipher, $12)

-Auditions _ "Gives players the chance to reveal hidden talents in the comfort of their own homes as they take turns impersonating celebrities, telling jokes, or acting out charades, improvisations, mimes and two-player scripts." (Decipher, $36)

-Backwords _ "Players guess a word that has been read backwards and race to reach the University of Reversity." (Random House, $21.99).

In addition, there are scores of other word games, and clones of already popular games. There are "Balderdash" spinoffs, "Scruples" spinoffs, and Pictionary has spawned "Win, Lose or Draw," "Picture This" and even "Dirty Pictures: The Drawing Game for Consenting Adults."

Maybe the only game left to invent is Boardgame: The Game for Optimists.

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This season's big sellers

Big sellers and promising new games this season include:

Abalone: Force your opponent's marbles off the hexagonal board without having to know chess moves or answer trivia questions. Originally from France, it sells for $29.95

Cleaver Endeavor: Figure out the person, place or thing from a list of riddle-like clues. The clues were written by people all over America, including several from Utah. $35.

Encore: Players have to come up with a song line of at least eight words that includes a specific word, such as "dance" or "taxi." $26.50.

Quick Wit: Over 125 types of questions "that use your mind, not just your memory," says the blurb on the box. $39.95.

Scattegories: Players are assigned a letter, then must make lists of cheeses, bad habits, boys' nicknames, etc., starting with that letter. It sells for $35, but a lot of stores are already sold out. Instead, you could just as easily make your own version for the price of some paper and a pencil.

Trivial Pursuit, 1980s edition: Up-to-the-decade trivia questions for the grandfather of adult board games. A box of questions, without board, is $29.95, but may be hard to find.

Wrdz: A variation on Scrabble in which players only have to put down some of the letters in a word. Bluffing is allowed. Games Magazine calls this game intense, fun and, to date, unnoticed. In fact it apparently isn't for sale yet in Utah.