How to Sell A Million Board Games - Becoming a Board Game Designer

Interview With Tim Walsh -- Board Game Designer

It sounds like fun playing board games for a living and according to inventor Tim Walsh, it is – lots of fun and hard work. 

Tim is the inventor of Tribond and Blurt!, both highly successful games. We’ve interviewed Tim Walsh to give you a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the world of board game invention. But first, here's a little background.

Dave Yearick, Ed Muccini and Tim Walsh were about to graduate from Colgate University in 1987 when they heard a rumor that two of Trivial Pursuit's creators had attended the school. In a discussion about Trivial Pursuit's phenomenal success, the three friends concluded that the game was too hard for many people because, "Either you know the answer to a trivia question . . . or you don't." This realization led them to the idea of a game where the questions are actually clues – a more user-friendly thinking game. 

The three friends never really did anything with their idea until two years later on a trip to Florida. In a one-bedroom apartment in the summer of 1989, the friends created a prototype that would become "TriBond.” The three entrepreneurs formed a company called Big Fun a Go Go, Inc. on December 1, 1989. They raised money through family and friends and hired Patch Products to print the first 2,500 TriBond games. 

Soon the three men would try to achieve their ultimate goal of licensing the game to Milton Bradley or Parker Brothers. Both companies rejected the game. In fact, Mattel, Tyco, Western Publishing, Games Gang and Pressman all rejected it, too. In October 1992, Tim Walsh contacted Patch Products and convinced them to discuss the possibility of joining forces.

Tim became the Vice President of Marketing for Patch, and together they sold 2,500 games that year. TriBond's breakthrough year came in 1993. The game was featured in mass-market stores for the first time in January. It was a risky move with no TV advertising to back it, but TriBond rose to the challenge. Some of the same companies that had initially rejected it came back and tried to acquire TriBond, but Tim and his friends stayed with the Patch brothers. (Reprinted from Patch Products) 

On Playing Games in Childhood

Question: What board games did you play growing up?​

Answer: Monopoly, Go Fish, War, Scrabble.

On TriBond and Blurt!

Q: For those who don't already know, can you explain TriBond and Blurt! to us?

A: In TriBond, you’re asked the question, "What do these three things have in common?"  For example, Florida, a locksmith and a piano? The answer is that they all have keys! Blurt! is a fast-paced word definition game. Players race to be the first to blurt out the correct answer to a definition like "The hair on a man's upper lip." The first person to blurt "mustache" would move along the board. Blurt! is a great vocabulary building tool for kids and a fun party game for adults. 

Q: Who writes all the questions?

A: I do. Also, we get letters from people all over the place that suggest their own clues. We consider them for additional versions of the games. 

On Patch Products and Keys Publishing

Q: Patch Products and Keys Publishing are two companies you are involved with. Can you tell us about both?

A: Patch is the company that printed our first run of TriBond. After being turned down by all the major toy companies, I approached Fran and Bryce Patch, brothers and owners of Patch Products. I asked them to hire me to sell and market TriBond. When they agreed, the first thing I did was contact radio DJs throughout the country. I asked them to play TriBond with their listeners in return for games to give away. This has proven to be one of our most successful promotions for the game. Keys Publishing is the company I formed myself when I invented Blurt! on my own.

Q: What other board games have you made?

A: TriBond Kids, Bible TriBond, Bible Blurt! 

Q: Where are you heading?

A: We’ll continue to expand our family game line and also more interactive games. 

On Getting Started and Facing Rejection

Q: Did you have any prior marketing or business skills?

A: I graduated from college with a biology degree. 

Q: What are the struggles involved with creating a board game?

A: Raising money to produce the product. It's difficult to come out ahead. 

Q: Milton Bradley, Parker Brothers, Mattel and Tyco all turned you down. Why?

A: They said that we were coming off the trend of Trivial Pursuit and that people in America did not want to buy something "that made them think." 

Q: What did you approach them with?

A: A TriBond prototype.

On Waiting for the Right Deal

Q: Did anyone offer you a deal that you had to say "no thanks" to?

A: Walt Disney. 

On Protecting Your Ideas

Q: How did you protect yourself with the show-but-no-sell situation? Did you sign a prior non-disclosure?

A: Yes, I signed a non-disclosure.

​Q: What precautions did you take? What would you recommend to others who approach manufacturers with ideas?

A: Protect yourself with proper documentation, and attain trademarks

On Being Successful

Q: Now that the shoe is on the other foot, are people approaching you with game ideas?

A: We have people from all over sending us their ideas. The game business is very competitive and it is difficult to make a hit. 

Q: You said that after the big companies turned you down, you went on to become a game expert yourself and market two successful products -- Tribond and Blurt! How was that experience?

A: I learned that the most successful games actually came from independent inventors like me rather than research and development departments at big toy companies. Monopoly was created by an engineer, Pictionary by a waiter and Scrabble by an architect.

Advice for Those Getting Sarted

Q. Have you seen changes over the years that someone trying to develop a board game today should be aware of?

A: It may sound obvious, but games have to be fun! All the products we develop at Patch are fun and they’re also educationally based. We feel that is very important in creating our family products.

Q: Is the game industry moving away from physical board games and opting for computer and network games instead?

A: Both will be able to co-exist for some time. 

Q: Where do you think the toy industry is heading as a whole?

A: The industry is leaning toward more interactive and family games.