Sunday, April 15, 2012

D&D vs. the Suits

My best buddy growing up lived in a cool house in the woods at the edge of a swamp. Like me, his dad had started out as an art teacher, but unlike me, had the balls to stop doing that and find success as a board game designer. He was a brilliant and affable man who designed the 70s classic board games Bonkers and Payday, as well as tie-in board games for popular TV shows like Barney Miller and Battlestar Galactica. (He missed the boat on the Star Wars tie-in by a nose, but he brought back a cool Darth Vader helmet and a Stormtrooper helmet from 20th Century Fox that gave me panic attacks when I put them on. I digress).
If you were a board game designer in Massachusetts in the 70s you were one lucky guy, because Parker Brothers was over in Salem, and Milton Bradley was out in Springfield. So he could shop them any idea he had, and would sometimes round up the neighborhood kids to go to Parker or MB to demonstrate his games while the suits took notes and figured out the production costs. Now this is the point in a post where I would usually add a jump break, but I've discovered that Zak doesn't like them so I will just plow ahead.
So my buddy was in my D&D group in that magical fall of '77, and we sometimes played at his cool house, which had a billiard room, a bar, and a footbridge connecting it to the main house. And his dad would come in and sip his Coke-and-something and watch us play D&D. He had heard of the game because some suits from Parker or MB had got wind of it and had actually gone out to Lake Geneva to scope out TSR. I think his exact words were, "It turns out some of them are barely out of their teens, and their warehouse is some guy's garage." Not an outfit they could do business with. After watching us for a while, he said, "I would love to do a game like this for a wider audience, but you need to be really smart to play D&D, and I don't think there are enough people out there who could understand the game to make it for a mass audience." And of course he was absolutely right in the long run, especially about his son's DM being smart.
Well he did develop a really simple board game called Dungeon Dice for Parker Brothers, which was very much like Dungeons & Dragons in the sense that both games had the word Dungeon in the title. So if you asked for D&D for Christmas 1979 and got Dungeon Dice instead, please don't hate me. And now Parker Brothers, MB, and WotC are all owned by Hasbro, the end.

8 comments:

  1. There's a dash of irony in that last sentence. Great story Doug.

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  2. Great origin story! I came across that game recently for the first time, and have no idea how it plays. The packaging is cool in a 70s fashion.

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  3. I have it, but haven't played it for years. I don't remember it being all that good.

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    1. The game wasn't all that fun to play, but it did include a set of dice with cool symbols on them like shovels, knives, and so on. The board game "Cartegena" has a similar theme and much better gameplay.

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  4. I have that game. My children love it. They ignore the flaw that if you keep rolling you will eventually get something good.

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  5. Great story. Thanks for sharing it!

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  6. I LOVED that game! (loved and still love D&D, play it regularly and have since about 1980) But Dungeon Dice was game I played a lot with my brothers and dad. It was really simple, but absurdly fun, especially with a dad who was (is) as goofy as mine, and gave it a lot of life. Our copy died more than 2 decades ago, but I've actually been looking for a copy just for old-time sake.

    My name's Jeremy and I'm from Michigan.... I add, since I had to post as "anonymous".

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