a motley crew of Investors took a flier on a new game called
Trivial Pursuit -- and are on their way to becoming newly
pick the best investment of the past decade. Gold at $30
an ounce? A hundred shares of Apple Computer Inc.'s
first public offering? Art? Real estate?
Wrong. The right
answer is five shares in Trivial Pursuit, the most successful
board game since Scrabble (1953) and Monopoly (1935). By
now nearly everyone knows about the enormous fortune accruing
to theguys who invented it. But you may not yet have heard
about the 34 people who backed it in the first place-friends,
passing acquaintances, drunken strangers. Many of them had
never invested in anything riskier than a Canada Savings
Bond. Today they're collecting five-digit dividend cheques.
And no one knows when it will stop.
Take Jo Ann
Sauk, 34, the very first investor. She took a thousand-dollar
flier on Trivial Pursuit back in 1980, when she was still
a student and working part time as a nurse. She'd gone to
high school in Hamilton, Ont., with Chris Haney, one of
the game's inventors. That summer she visited Haney at his
in-laws' farm. "Chris told me about the game they were
working on, and I really liked the idea," she says.
"I just knew that people would love it." She borrowed
the thousand from her boyfriend, Toomas, now, lucky for
him, her husband. To date she has earned about $50,000 on
her investment; by Christmas of 1985, her dividends will
add up to half a million dollars or more. She had never
invested in anything in her life. "I never had any
money before," she says.
should earn more than $225 million in 1984 - as much as
the entire board game industry earned in 1983. Sauk and
the other investors are splitting 20% of the profits; the
rest goes to the inventors, Chris ("Horn") Haney,
34; his brother John, 38; Scott Abbott, 35; and their lawyer,
Ed Werner, 35. Their own story has been widely celebrated
in People magazine ("It may be the best thing
to happen to board games since Pac-Man began gobbling up
industry profits") and Time ("the hottest
game in town").
like this: Haney, then photo editor of The Montreal Gazette,
and Abbott, then sportswriter for Canadian Press,
sat down over a few beers in late 1979 and thought up a
new game, based on questions of trivia, in less than an
hour. It would consist of 6,000 questions in six categories
(entertainment, geography, sports and leisure, etc.). Haney
and Abbott were soon joined by brother John Haney, who was
then house manager for the Shaw Festival Theatre in Niagara-on-the-Lake,
Ont. John Haney, in turn, recommended a fellow hockey player
and buddy from his days at Colgate University in Hamilton,
NY, Ed Werner, who had been practising law in nearby St.
Catharines, Ont. He helped them incorporate Horn Abbot Ltd.,
which was all well and good. But they needed money
-- about $75,000 -- in order to test market an edition of
the game, so they decided to sell five share lots at $1,000
each. They also needed time. Chris Haney was to quit his
job at The Gazette and go off to Spain with his wife
and child, his brother and, later, Abbott, where they spent
much of the fall and winter of 1980 doing research for the
questions for the firstgame. It was two years, says Chris
Haney, before they "saw
a nickel" from their idea.
Jo Ann Sauk
was an old friend. But nearly all of Haney's and Abbott's
colleagues at The Gazette turned them down flat.
And who could blame them? Recalls Terry Mosher, the editorial
cartoonist Aislin at the paper: "I did some posters
to advertise their new game for a thousand bucks. They offered
me cash or part of the action. But Haney is notorious for
bumming beers. Under the circumstances, and knowing how
tough games are to sell
-- I'm always being approached to put up cash for one project
or another -- I took the cash."
he's not sorry, though his wife has given him a hard time
for his shortsightedness. "But she's conveniently forgotten,"
he says, "that she urged me to take the cash in the
first place." He adds, "Since Haney got famous,
he still pays me the same for posters, the cheap bastard."
Chris Haney has his own recollection of the Mosher connection:
"I tried desperately to get Aislin to take shares.
He's been trying to remove his foot from his ass ever since."
But there was
one colleague who fell in with the starving dreamers - Derrick
Rarmsey, 27, a copy editor in the entertainment department.
The kid used to go for beers with Haney at the American
Tavern across the street from The Gazette. "That's
where I signed the two cheques - $500 each - for five shares,"
he says. "One of them was postdated because I didn't
have enough money to cover the whole amount. And I had to
cash in a Canada Savings Bond to pay up." He adds,
"At the paper, they call me `poor little millionaire'
some of his dividends on a trip to Brazil for Carnaval,
and he's now planning to buy himself a big house. He had
never invested a cent in anything before Trivial Pursuit
came along, but that's all changing. "I hope to start
studying financing and slowly invest in other things,"
he says. Of course, there's always the downside. Says Ramsey:
"This year I had to go to an accountant for the first
time. A friend used to do my taxes for $10."
John Nason is
also stirred by the game's prospects. He's no investor,
though. He's the vice-president of marketing for US games
giant Selchow & Righter, of Scrabble , and Parchesi
fame. In 1982 his company signed a distribution agreement
with Horn Abbot for an unspecified royalty (probably about
$5) from each game sold in the US. There it wholesales at
$19 and retails for $30-$40; bootleg copies of popular new
editions, such as the new Baby Boomer edition, have sold
for much more.
to sell more than 20 million games in the US this year,"
says Nason with scarcely suppressed excitement. "We're
following the pattern in Canada, where you sold 100,000
in the first year, and 2.4 million in the second."
That includes all the versions: the Genus, the Silver Screen,
the Baby Boomer and the All-Star Sports editions. "The
real job is to get all of them made," says Nason. "We're
selling more than a million a month, and by late summer,
we should be able to manufacture two million a month. There
has never been a board game like this before. Scrabble,
our last big winner, sold three million units at about $3
each in 1953; in more than three decades, it has sold nearly
100 million games. Parker Brothers' Monopoly has taken half
a century to sell the same amount."
Only five of
Horn Abbot's lucky 34 shareholders have 10 shares, which
means they shelled out a giant $2,000 or so. Each investor's
share will be worth millions by 1985. One of the big winners
is journalist David Cobb, 50, who was writing for the television
show Live It Up when a researcher on the show, Susan
Ferrier Mackay, who knew the Haney brothers, convinced him
to shell out $2,500 for 10 shares. "The price had gone
up by then," he explains. Unlike most of his fellow
speculators, Cobb had invested frequently in penny stocks
and, surprisingly, "done 50-50 on the whole."
Says Cobb: "I never even saw a mockup of the game.
It was a pure flier. And I didn't even think there was an
enormous market for board games. Diplomacy was touted highly
some years ago, and it failed. I figured the chances were
slim, but what the hell?"
was justified. Even Chris Haney admits today: "If I
bad known the toy business, we never would have done it.
We just went blindly ahead." Selchow & Righter's
Nason concurs: "We review dozens of new games every
year, and bring out two, three, maybe four. But we haven't
had a success like Trivial Pursuit in more than 30 years.
And I doubt if there will be another like it in our lifetime."
Haney didn't know any better, and for the first time in
his life, freelance journalist Cobb is considering buying
a house. He plans to take a year off and will probably spend
it in Italy with his family. "Scott and the Haney brothers
deserve all the credit," he says. "They never
wavered. How many of us would mortgage everything, be a
pain in the ass to our friends and follow it through to
the end? They deserve everything." His matchmaker,
Susan Ferrier Mackay, didn't do too badly either. She also
invested in the dream, and was last seen buying her dream
house, wearing her dream mink jacket.
30, is the art director who designed that gorgeous board.
He was out of work at the time Haney and Abbott hired him.
"I entered the project skepticalthey were scruffy,
red-necked guys, if pleasant enough - and I was - absolutely
dead broke," he says. "I wasn't even getting unemployment
insurance. I was convinced that I should take the thousand
they owed me." But Haney, living from hand to mouth
at the time, was persistent: "Are you sure? We'll give
you the money, but are you sure?" When the hungry artist
said that he was damn sure, Haney dug in the knife: "You're
being very Canadian!"
the line that really did rice in," says Wurstlin. "I've
always railed against the lack of risk taking in Canadians."
So he took the shares. Now he's happy. "It's the father
I never had," he says. "I'm going to build an
Down the street
from lawyer-partner Ed Werner lives an engineering technician,
who desires to remain nameless. When he heard about the
game, he figured, "It's only a thousand-at the worst,
a tax writeoff." Soon after he made his investment,
he was laid off and was out of work for the next 18 months
-- the same 18 months Trivial Pursuit became the biggest
moneymaker in game history. Now he's starting a boating
business on Georgian Bay. He's also scouting such blue-chip
holdings as Bell Canada and Toronto-Dominion Bank stock.
How long will
he be cashing dividend cheques? For a long, long time. As
Werner explains: "When you bought Monopoly, you didn't
need a new one until the board fell apart. But we are constantly
generating new products." A children's version, the
Young Players' edition, is coming out this summer. Genus
II (6,000 new questions for the original game) is soon to
follow, and there are versions for Germany, Spain and 16
other countries due this year and next. As Selchow &
Righter's Nason explains: "The kids can play with their
Young Players, the husband with All-Star Sports, the wife
with Silver Screen, all at the same time. That extends the
life cycle of the game greatly."
Many of the
investors in Trivial Pursuit, as one can heartbrokenly see,
had the good fortune of either knowing Haney or Abbott,
or bumping into friends who did. One group was a regular
bunch in Toronto who met Fridays at an informal "Poet's
Corner" at a downtown bar. Jack MacLeod, 51, a professor
of political science at the University of Toronto and a
successful novelist (Zinger and Me), saw a copy of
the trial run of 1,200 games that Horn Abbot had produced
at a cost of nearly $75,000. "I was amused by it, and
was told they needed investors. I thought, I'll never see
this thousand again," he says. Afterward, in the sober
light of day, he even offered to buy another block of five
shares, but it was too late.
At the same
gathering was Bruce Blackadar, 39, an editor at The Toronto
Star who, typically, has "never invested in anything
in my life. I figured that, if I was going to go capitalist,
I'd do it with a twist-to go with something as trivial as
a board game, pun intended." He bought only two shares,
for $500, and fellow Star journalist Joey Slinger
put in $750. "I'm a naive business person," Blackadar
says. "Eventually I'll have to face all this money
head-to-head, but to me it's still a joke -- and unreal."
But it's no
joke to Lynda Hurst, a columnist at The Star, who
went to every Friday gathering except the one when the game
was passed around. "It makes me sick," she says.
"I'm stuck in an office with these two people every
day, and it's terrible. Of course, I bought Torstar at 23,
and it's now at 11 1/2. That's the story of my life."
But who knew,
Lynda Hurst? Who really knew? Certainly not even the people
who put in 12-hour days and seven-day weeks over long and
hungry months as they dug up the number of ghosts who appeared
to Scrooge in Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol and
the name of the dog that went up in that early satellite
and never lived to tell, or wag, the tale.
The Haney brothers,
Abbott and Werner have invested some of their millions in
the new Curtis Curve hockey sticks (which have special curved
handles), and more recently, they've been developing new
vineyards in the Niagara region of Ontario. You may be pleased
to know that Chris Haney's mom wanted to invest in the game,
but she lacked the money to do so. However, she hasn't suffered.
Haney recently bought her a ticket on the Queen Elizabeth
2. His mother-in-law wanted to buy 25 shares for $5,000,
but her husband talked her out of it. They have just returned
from a safari in Kenya. "I'm just paying back old debts,"
says their generous son-in-law sweetly.
of the matter is," says Haney, "Trivial Pursuit
is a money machine." The machine could well crank out
a quarter of a billion dollars for its creators within five
years. Says his earliest backer, Jo Ann Sauk: "It's
nice to see the system work - that you can start with nothing,
and strike it rich." To be sure. But we can't help
thinking that when capitalism works, sometimes it can be