The Summer’s Hottest Board Games and How They Play


Happenin’ in Hollywood but Will They ‘Do Lunch’ in Shreveport? Goin’ Hollywood is described by co-creator Michael Wiese as “the Spike Lee approach to the board game business--it’s a couple of little guys biting the hand that starves us.” In the game, player/producers trying to get movies made are invited to “wheel and deal, schmooze and steal, do lunch, take a meeting, cheat your friends.” Thus far, the game has only been marketed in Los Angeles but it is currently sold out until more copies are manufactured, says Wiese, who also produced and directed Shirley MacLaine’s “Inner Workout” video.

How does he reconcile promoting inner peace on video and outer greed at the game table? “The game is a way to experience all the frustrations and humiliations (of the movie business) within the privacy of your own home,” Wiese explains. “Nobody will know.”

Player analysis: Neal Schusterman, a Los Angeles screenwriter/novelist, calls Goin’ Hollywood “ruthless. ... It feels like the way Hollywood really works. It’s cutthroat and there are no rules. You can manipulate the rules to make any type of deal that you want. ... It’s very draining, but you get to get all your frustrations out.”


Are They Serious? A Bible Version of Outburst? In Outburst, the hot-selling party game notorious for being crazier and spicier than Trivial Pursuit or Pictionary, a category is selected. Then players have one minute to free associate and shout out words that can be linked with the category, hoping to match 10 answers listed on a card. Sample topics: celebrities who married repeatedly, buxom actresses, characters from “Gilligan’s Island” and descriptive words for fat.

Outburst may be the most honest game on the market in that it advises players to appoint a master of ceremonies to control cheating and keep rowdy players from fighting. The master of ceremonies reads a “little speech” that declares: “This game is unfair! It is possible for there to be more than 10 appropriate answers for a topic. You may think of one that is not on the list. Tooooooo bad!”

The Outburst attitude toward injustice has proved popular enough at the cash register to warrant several new versions of the game, among them Bible Outburst, due in September, Outburst Jr., due this month, and Outburst II, next year. According to 38-year-old inventor Brian Hersch, a principal in the Century City real estate firm Hersch and Co., the Outburst category that has received the most reaction since the game was introduced in 1987 has been “baby words for biological functions--it’s wonderful to see a group of adults sitting around yelling out words like doo-doo. . . .”

Player analysis: “Outburst is a terrific game. ... The kind of people playing games like Outburst are the kind of people who would feel threatened by a game of strategy,” says Scott Marley, review editor of Games magazine. “They’re the people who are never going to take the time to learn to play chess or bridge or even backgammon.

Trump the Game vs. Monopoly Perhaps the juiciest topic of speculation in the game industry this year is whether Donald Trump’s new game of wheeling and dealing (Trump the Game) will become a bona fide hit and have any effect on sales of Monopoly and other board games. The battle pits the two biggest names in the business (Parker Brothers, which owns Monopoly and turned down the Trump game) and Milton Bradley (the world’s largest board game firm and manufacturer of the Trump game).

Trump the Game is characterized by those who play it as a far wilder romp through the world of deal-making than Monopoly. But Phil Orbanes, senior vice president of research and development at Parker Brothers, doubts the game will have the staying power of Monopoly, which a Parker Brothers spokesman says is the best-selling game in the world.

“Trump the Game . . . is not the kind of thing you want to pull out on the spur of the moment when grandma comes over,” Orbanes says. “It can leave you exhausted and feeling like you don’t want to play again. As accurate as it may be at capturing the feeling of insecurity in the real world, the game doesn’t give you a feel-good experience, which is the purpose most people rely on for playing games.”

Board game trivia buffs remain fascinated by the fact that Donald Trump was publicly challenged to play the game bearing his name and refused the offer. Earlier this year, Bob Stupak, a high-stakes poker player who owns Bob Stupak’s Vegas World Hotel Casino, took out full-page newspaper ads inviting Trump to play Trump the Game with him--for $1 million, in real money. Trump reportedly declined. Says Stupak: “He said that even when you’re used to winning it’s always possible to lose.”


Player analysis: “It’s hard to argue with a classic like Monopoly, but I find Trump more fun,” says New Yorker Sid Sackson , who owns what many consider to be the world’s largest collection of board games and is a contributing editor of Games magazine. “I think Trump’s a very well designed game. It’s for aggressive people.”

Holy Hype! It’s a Board Game Too! Batman, the children’s game designed to be played with lights out on its glow-in-the-dark board, is said to be flying out of the stores in record numbers. With sites such as the Gotham Institute of Technology, Gotham Memorial Cemetery, and the obligatory Bat Cave, the game is won when a player manages to get inside a villain’s hide-out.

An admitted fad, the game is not expected to become a classic, despite Batman’s enduring charms. “We expect it to sell through Christmas and possibly a bit longer,” says David Andrews, a co-inventor of the game who is also public relations director for the manufacturer, University Games in Menlo Park, Calif.

Player analysis: “Me and my friends really like it. There’s no Robin in it, just like the movie,” says 12-year-old Ferhan Quresi of Menlo Park, Calif. “It’s not a long game and it’s not boring. And it always has suspense.”

The Ultimate No-Brainer? “A game, to be successful today, has to be a no-brainer,” insists Carl Smith, games editor of the trade publication Model Retailer. “It has to be designed so that I can tell you everything you need to know about the concept and the concept is basically the rules. . . . After you’ve watched it for two minutes, you feel like you know how to play.”

With Adverteasing, a fast-selling no-brainer, players needn’t even know how to read or write. Claims Bethesda, Md.-based co-creator Richard Levy: “All you need to play the game is to be born in America.”


Competitors simply identify the products associated with advertising slogans, for instance, “Snap, Crackle, Pop” (Rice Krispies) or “Cleans Teeth, Freshens Breath” (Milk Bone dog biscuits).

Adverteasing was introduced last winter and sold so well a junior version is already in the stores. “Life’s a jingle out there,” says Levy. “Kids know ads better than they know their lessons.”

Player analysis: “It’s a great game for people afraid of losing,” Marley says. “People who are looking for a good quiz game should look elsewhere. It’s the sort of thing you’d take out when you have a bunch of people with wildly different levels of knowledge. It puts everybody on more or less equal ground.”

Son of Trivial Pursuit? Chris Haney, the 38-year-old Canadian who invented Trivial Pursuit and created the genre of socially interactive games, has a new game out: Gender Bender, from the Games Gang. “It’s not so much a game, as it gets things going,” Haney says, explaining that men play against women in predicting what they would do in various situations if they were suddenly in a body of the opposite sex.

Lately, Haney, who edited the game for the seven Mensa members who created it, has been working the kinks out of what he calls “the first 3-D jigsaw puzzle.” And he still has a piece of the Trivial Pursuit action, though the game was sold to Parker Brothers. Due this summer is a new, 1980s edition of Trivial Pursuit with information dealing with the current decade. (Sample question: What pop star said of Ireland’s Blarney Stone: “No way am I going to kiss that--I might get AIDS or something worse”? Answer: Michael Jackson.) A Silver Fox edition (“all pre-1950s stuff”) is coming out next year.

And, next time you’re in Moscow, check the airwaves for the TV version of Trivial Pursuit. Haney says he recently negotiated a deal with Soviet television and the game is set to air on Moscow TV two nights a week.


Player analysis: “Gender Bender feels like you’re reading a book of psychological questions,” Marley says. “It’ s not a game. It’s a conversation.”

“I still play Trivial Pursuit,” Schusterman says, “just so I have a sense of having some important information left in my brain from my childhood.”

You Want to See Your Pals Look Really Silly? Invite Them for a Game of Encore Unlike the old “Name That Tune” TV quiz show, in which players merely identified songs by title, the new music game Encore encourages players to be far more vulnerable and outrageous. After a category is named--say, “angel”--there’s a sing-off. A player or team must then sing a song aloud that has the word angel in its first eight words. Sides alternate warbling songs containing the word angel until one fails.

Shower singers, music buffs and New Yorkers who enjoy hearing competitors attempt to belt out songs they don’t quite remember--they’re all reportedly snapping up the new Parker Brothers entry. That’s because the game’s been heavily advertised in New York, allows Parker Brothers marketing vice president Ron Leong. He’s convinced the game will be a national hit when the advertising campaign is expanded in the fall.

Player analysis: “It’s a fun game,” Marley says. “You could really play it without the board.”

Number 1 and Still Champion, Knockoffs Notwithstanding According to Seattle-based Pictionary inventor Rob Angel, there have been about 20 clones of Pictionary in the United States and perhaps 40 worldwide, with good reason. Pictionary (the game of charades on paper) and its official variations have sold more than 14 million units.

Knockoffs have done well, too. For example, “Win, Lose or Draw” is at No. 2 behind Pictionary among the board games on Toy and Hobby World’s list of best-selling toys. The game’s an unofficial Pictionary clone, and there’s a television show of the same name.


Among official Pictionary takeoffs are Play with Clay (a children’s game in which players create clay sculptures instead of drawings), the second edition of Pictionary, Pictionary Jr., and Bible Pictionary. Expected this year are Party Pictionary, with an easel and wipe-off boards, and Travel Pictionary.

But watch out for one of the clay knockoffs: Charado, for adults. “I’ve taken it to parties and people find it more fun than Pictionary,” says Laure Levin, a buyer for Imaginarium, a toy and games chain with eight stores in Southern California. “(Adults making clay sculptures) sounds really difficult and hokey, but it’s not. The manual, hands-on aspect makes you feel like a kid again. And once you get the hang of it, it’s almost easier than drawing.”

Player analysis: “Pictionary -- in any form--makes you laugh so much it’s the closest you’ll get to wetting your pants playing a game ,” Los Angeles screenwriter Ted Neff says. “But never let couples or spouses play on the same team. They’re always at each other’s throats midway through the game.”

The Games-as-Art, How-Does-It-Look-on-Your-Coffee-Table Competition Vying for honors in the most visually dramatic arena are two relatively new entrants: Abalone, a stark, black-and-white strategy game based on the principles of sumo wrestling and designed in a modern, minimalist style. And Zomax, a strategy/action/suspense game with a magnetic, vertical game board resembling a Jackson Pollock painting. Board game critics have praised both games for their intelligent designs and simple rules. Both games are more popular in Europe than in the United States.

And both are used in schools--Zomax in two school systems in Idaho, says inventor Gary Bellinger of Sun Valley; Alabone in French schools, co-creator Michel Lalet says.

Though Abalone (pronounced to rhyme with Avalon) is an abstract strategy game, it was created to teach a young friend of Lalet’s how to deal with emotional issues: loneliness, getting beat up by bullies and importance of making friends.


A basic strategy of the marble game is that if your marbles stay together, they’re safer from trouble than if they’re isolated and alone. “If you do what’s obvious, it’s always the right move,” Lalet says. “If you have a problem, you just go back with the group.”

Player analysis: “If you really like strategic problems with tactical subtleties, Abalone’s the game,” says gamesman Jonathan Kamras, an assistant county attorney in Grayson, Tex. “And played at the deeper levels, sometimes it’s so complex it’s really baffling.” “I can play Zomax with my children . . . or with my friends,” enthuses game collector/Air Force Maj. Jerry Butt, of Spokane, Wash. “You have limited intelligence. You can see your opponent’s hand moving ships, airplanes and tanks on the opposite side of the board, but not exactly which ones or where. The only drawback is that the game’s expensive--about $60.”

Off the Air but Still on the Board The Morton Downey Jr. Show may be going off the air in September, but Downey can still be found on some retailers’ shelves in the form of his board game, Loudmouth. In it, players debate, yell, sing Irish songs and more. A moderator arbitrarily judges players as most provocative, most logical, most entertaining, most outrageous, loudest and best tellers of jokes. “Obviously it (Loudmouth) is not America’s biggest seller. I’ve probably bought more of them than anyone. I give them away to people,” says the talk show host. But don’t look for Downey to be holed up playing the game after he folds his TV tent: “I invented the game with them (Cardinal Industries) and that’s the last time I played it. I get bored with board games.”

Player analysis: “Loudmouth is hardly a game at all,” Sackson says. “It’s a chance for amateur actors to act and to put on a Morton Downey mask and utter some of Downey’s biting remarks such as ‘You’re a real Pablum puker, pal.’ ”