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Take a Chance? She’s Game

As someone who spent many a boyhood hour rolling the dice or spinning the dial, I’m glad people like Cheri Norgaard still are around.

In all honesty, I didn’t know there were.

But apparently infused with some of the same DNA that found its way into Milton Bradley and the Parker Brothers of yesteryear, Norgaard thought it would be a hoot to invent a board game. That is not an occupation you will find at many “Career Days” at your neighborhood middle school.

But here she is, 45 years old and a wife and mother of two teenagers in Laguna Hills, and hoping that “Up the ... Corporation” can become the next Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit.

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Call her crazy (I did), but the first shipment of 5,000 games arrived from China last July at the port of Long Beach, and now comes the rest of the story: Can she sell the game at $48?

That will become the sequel to her story -- a story of that weird strain in some people that convinces them that, for whatever reasons, they can deliver something brand new to the world.

It’s called the entrepreneurial spirit. While most of us would say, “Uh, not today,” people like Norgaard say, “Hey, there’s no time like the present.”

She remembers the old days when families would spend an occasional evening playing board games. In my family, that usually ended with me crying, but at least now I appreciate the bonding. Shortly after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, Norgaard says, a trend emerged of families again playing home games together, and she wanted to capitalize on it.

She’d had a varied business career that had nothing to do with games and deduced that every possible incarnation of Monopoly had been invented. So, with some early help from her mother and sister, she hit upon creating a game that was both rooted in and poked fun at the business world.

Realizing that people relate more to the personal struggles at work than the bottom line, she created characters such as Becky Backstabber, Annalee Airhead and my favorite, B.S. Artista.

You win by getting to the top of the corporate ladder (the “board” is shaped like a ladder), and along the way you deal with typical office politics. In a particularly nice touch, if two players start the game on equal footing, the one who drew the male character goes ahead of the female, because, as the website (www.upthecorporation.com) explains, “Sorry, ladies, it’s just like the real corporate world.”

In case you didn’t know, you don’t just snap your fingers and create a new game. For Norgaard, it was a four-year odyssey that began in the way lots of things do: with an idea and a passion.

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She thought of the concept and then set about learning how to pull it off. “If I’d walk past a computer in the morning, I couldn’t walk away from it,” she says. “I said, ‘I love what I’m doing.’ ”

She learned things she didn’t know, even though she’d helped her husband with his small construction company. “The learning process was huge,” she says.

I ask if, early on, she thought of giving up. “Yes, the first time someone said I need to send $25,000 to China and another $30,000 in 40 days.”

Norgaard says she’s now sunk $150,000 into the effort and is confident the game will sell. She hand-delivered some to various outlets over the holidays and will attend her fourth trade show next month.

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Although the first 5,000 copies arrived in bulk in 850 boxes inside a 40-foot container, the manufacturer had sent her a single last January -- for her inspection.

I ask what that moment was like. It struck me as taking your first child home from the hospital.

And judging from Norgaard’s reply, maybe the analogy isn’t so far off:

“Everyone wanted to play, and I was afraid to,” she says. “I was so afraid of playing this game and having the thought, ‘Oh my gosh, what was I thinking?’ ”

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Dana Parsons can be reached at (714) 966-7821 or at dana

.parsons@latimes.com. An archive of his recent columns is at www.latimes.com/parsons.


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