How Trivial Pursuit launched the board game rush of the 1980s
Blockbuster success of Montreal inventors' creation inspired a new crop of games a few years later
Inventing a board game led to riches for its Montreal inventors, and a lot of Canadians tried to repeat their success in the years that followed.
According to a 1982 profile of the game and its inventors from CBC's The Journal, "ex-newsmen" Scott Abbot and Chris Haney came up with the idea for the game on Dec. 15, 1979.
Three years later, sales had reached 100,000 and 3,500 more were rolling off the assembly line daily. Stores couldn't keep them in stack at $30 a game — equivalent to $78 in 2021.
It wasn't long before Canadians from all walks of life tried to duplicate that success with a wide range of board games. Here are just a few.
Steve Perano, an Indigenous man from The Pas, Man., told reporter Jim Compton about his invention Shaman, "a trivia game about North American Indians," on The National in December 1985.
Perano said he and his family had played "a lot of board games" when he was growing up.
"I always felt there was something lacking, and the money board games didn't really teach anybody in my family anything," he said.
Newfoundlanders could test their knowledge of the province with Newfoundlandia, which reporter Kathryn Wright described as "Newfoundland's answer to Trivial Pursuit" in a report for The National in November 1986.
History teacher Cliff Brown, the game's creator, believed Newfoundland and Labrador was "one of the few places in the county" with a strong enough identity to make such a game possible, said Wright.
"I don't feel there's any province in Canada that you could make such an interesting game about," said Brown.
In 1988 a Weyburn, Sask., man was hyping his invention First Star (or FIRSTAR, as it was spelled on the box), which sought to translate the game of hockey to a game board.
"I didn't have to invent the game," said Gary Hoyen. "I had to take the game off the ice and put it into a box."
First Star was a family affair: Hoyen and his daughter played the game with reporter Larry Keet for CBC's Countryside, and Gary and his wife were seen assembling the game in their basement before it hit the market.
In an era where, as Peter Downie noted on CBC's Midday in 1989, Canada had "more game inventors per capita" than any other country, Balderdash was a legit hit.
"One game that made a couple of Canadians millionaires recently is called Balderdash," Downie said, introducing an interview with its creators, Paul Toyne and Laura Robinson.
They readily admitted that the game was not exactly an original innovation. They'd just improved on a parlour game, informally known as the dictionary game, "that probably your grandmother played," Toyne told interviewer Valerie Pringle.
"We decided we could embellish this thing... and choose the words and package the thing, so it plays better and faster," he went on.
A game of music theory
In 1990, CBC Toronto reporter Justin Smallbridge filed a story from the city's Roy Thomson Hall, where yet another game was being launched with a live brass quintet and jazz pianist Oscar Peterson.
He was there in support of Tina Fisher and Leonard Dodd, who were trying to make it fun to learn music theory by turning it into a board game, said Smallbridge.
"It's the equivalent of about six months of music lessons," explained Dodd. "Anyone without any knowledge of music can play the game."
The CBC catalog describes more would-be successors to Trivial Pursuit than those described above. Among them: Junior Trivia (1984), Box Office (1985), Fit Friends (1985), Invest in Timmins (1985), The World According to UBI (1986), Psychologizer (1986), Endurance (1986), Globetrotters (1986), a P.E.I. trivia game (1987) and Zooquest (1989).