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How Trivial Pursuit launched the board game rush of the 1980s

Inventing a board game led to riches for two Montreal inventors, and a lot of Canadians tried to repeat their success in the years that followed.

Blockbuster success of Montreal inventors' creation inspired a new crop of games a few years later

A boom in board games

Digital Archives

36 years ago
2:31
After the success of Trivial Pursuit, a rush of inventors begins to bring a new bunch of board games to market. 2:31

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.

Shaman

Shaman: a game of Indigenous culture

Digital Archives

35 years ago
3:29
An inventor from The Pas, Manitoba creates a trivia game as an alternative to the games he and his family grew up with. 3:29

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.

Newfoundlandia

Newfoundlandia: The game of Newfoundland trivia

Digital Archives

35 years ago
1:58
A 1986 board game tests Newfoundlanders' knowledge of their province. 1:58

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.

First Star

Firstar: a hockey board game

Digital Archives

32 years ago
2:31
In 1988, a Saskatchewan inventor translates a game played on ice into one played on a board. 2:31

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.

Balderdash  

Balderdash: classic parlour game gets an update

Digital Archives

32 years ago
6:12
Two Toronto inventors make a successful board game with inspiration from the dictionary. 6:12

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

A game of music theory

Digital Archives

31 years ago
1:57
In 1990, Oscar Peterson is among those lending his support to a new game that teaches music theory. 1:57

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."

Games galore

The story of the creation of Trivial Pursuit

Digital Archives

38 years ago
4:41
Scott Abbot, Chris Haney and John Haney talk to the CBC's Fred Langan for The Journal as their wildly successful invention flies off shelves in December 1982. 4:41
 

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). 

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