Foible and Folly #1 – “Chairman of the Board”

One creative spark flared up and involved my whole family, then extended family, even the Boston Globe. (Self)Publication of my board game, “Chairman of the Board,” took five years, exposing my personal once-and-future hubris – rush to publication!

The Spark: In my first three years of acclimation into IBM world, I saw promotions announced every week on the bulletin board, supporting the birthing of the mainframe computing explosion. Several job titles had multiplexi of words. Along came a television ad in the Wall Street Journal, depicting three businessmen on the three-squares of the third rung of a three level pyramid, one unarmed, the second with a Journal folded under his arm, the third reading the Journal. At the first bell, the two with the journal moved up to the two-square second rung. At the next bell, the Journal reader advanced to the top solo rung. Along with business instruction 001 I was absorbing, I thought I could create a game to model, and satirize, climbing the ladder of success.

OCD might have been the propellant, and five years later, with endless hours of developing and testing, the game was in play, and the Globe provided me my fifteen minutes.

The Forging: The object of the game was to climb the LADDER OF SUCCESS and reach the gold-sealed position in the center of the Board, CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD, and survive the position for three years! The gold seal was centered in a black square representing the BOARD OF DIRECTORS. Each square was headed by a Corporate Division President, atop a ten-level pyramid of jobs in the four divisions: FINANCE, PRODUCTION, MARKETING, and PUBLIC RELATIONS. Most job titles represented real jobs, but a few were fanciful, such as “Chief Idea Rejector.”

I’m not sure how the key playing technique emerged, but I realized that, using three dice, a player could roll any number between 3 and 18. But, if the dice were not added, but “wheeled” – the first die meant one choice, the second another, and the third a final option, the result would be 6 x 6 x 6 = 216 option combinations. Players could choose one of the six roll-of-the-dice assigned options from the three columns: ADVANCEMENT, WEALTH, or EXPERIENCE, specified in a TABLE OF MOVES

A major success factor I had observed was being “at the right place at the right time.” Two players rolling the dice 2, 4, and 5 might expect the same results from the table of moves. But, using three colors of dice and a SELECTOR DIE defining the order of the dice (245, 254, 425, 452, 524, or 542), “time and place” further scramble the decision choices.

The game Monopoly models real estate, but all players start from an equal base. In the corporate world, employees enter from different launching backgrounds. The first three pages of Chairman’s rules describe the basic game, in which all players begin on Level 1 in any of the four Divisions, and try to gain experience in all four Divisions as they climb the pyramid to Chairman.

Page 4 of the rules, “The Real World,” describes the Advanced game. Players start by rolling the dice for an assigned “personality” including three factors: beginning WEALTH, EDUCATION, and RACE-CREED-COLOR, each with six options defined by the order of the dice. Some players start on Level 1. College grads start on Level 2, PhD’s or Harvard grads on Level 3. Other personality or background factors advance or hold back some players. The selector die adds GENDER, STATUS, and LIFE STYLE designations, three new indicators resulting in 3 x 3 x 3 = 27 different “assigned personalities” to the 216 options above (based on the order of the selector colors: RedWhiteGreen, RGW, GWR, GRW, WGR, and WRG). These 27 personality variables times the 216 starting position variables result in 27 x 216 = 5832 possible playing “characters.” The intent was to assign players different personalities to role play, and maybe escape their own attitudes and emotions at work.

The Character Matrix and the Table of Moves:

Chairman rules

Legalization: My intellectual property attorney filed my copyright and trademark applications, did a patent search, and wound up patenting my “Board Game with Selector Die” based on the novel use of the dice. The official United States Patent number is 4,046,381, dated Sept. 6, 1977. My “Chairman of the Board” official trademark was 1,058,600, dated February 8, 1977.

The Components: In addition to the game board and player tokens and dice, the game contained a scorecard where each player recorded financial gains or losses and progress through the corporation, and “character” if playing “The Real World,” plus black marbles to indicate a lost turn, from an opponent exercising a “CUTTHROAT” move. The player with the most money at any time in the game was the “MAJOR STOCKHOLDER” and could, on his or her turn, for any reason, assign a black ball (one of three each player started with) to any opponent. The Major Stockholder at the time also had the authority to interpret rules in any dispute.

I had wanted red, white, and blue die, to represent full Americana, but I couldn’t find blue, hence the green. For the selector die, the printer said he could print up labels just the right size to stick on to a blank die, and I became a skilled label applier.

The Glitches – Let Me Count the Ways!

1. Listen to Wife! My ultra-patient wife stated at least twice, beginning and end of the project (and maybe another hundred times during my OCD), that the game was “too complicated!” She never said “I told you so!” It took me to the end of the project to concede she was right from the beginning.

2. Parker Brothers, Milton Bradley, Selchow & Righter – I made some early contacts, but game publishers had their own game designers, and I became my own production channel, involving the whole family in the final production line.

3. Family Testing – Most of the time I simulated the game to shake down the rules by individually playing multiple tokens, but frequently I requested all hands on deck for less biased reactions. I’m not sure total enthusiasm resulted from the summons to help test, and often I would explain and direct one of the family on the next move. I was surprised when one of the younger kids would grimace on an unfavorable roll of the dice, indicating he was catching on to the concept.

4. 100 copies – My best GameBusiness idea from the start: Build 100 games, get feedback. Worst business decision: On discovering the component cost for 1000 games was only twice the cost of 100, it made no sense to stop at 100. Crash! Now this was a business, not an experiment, and decidedly NOT ready for prime time.

5. Trademark Qualification — A requirement for trademarking was to have the game on shelves in interstate commerce. My neighbor assisted by volunteering her Father’s resort in New York’s Catskills. So I took the family for a nice weekend, and “Chairman of the Board” established its interstate presence in the gift shop of a Ukranian resort. We didn’t have time to translate the rules.

6. “Peddling” – details, details… and the elevator pitch – To capitalize on the Boston Globe article (see below), I took a day off and headed to the Cape and elsewhere. Puritan clothing store in Plymouth had a game shelf and took a dozen or so. The purchasing manager at (long gone) Brentano’s bookstore in Boston ordered a dozen for his Boston, Chestnut Hill, and NYC stores. On a business trip to Chicago, I spent lunch hour at Marshall Fields, and learned a Marketing 001 lesson – the buyer asked how you play the game, and I told him, in detail. Oops! I should have prepared an elevator pitch, just “it will make you lots of money” – instead, as I explained the sophisticated intricacies, too late I detected a second-by-second decrease in interest. I eventually came up with a slogan: “Your boss is playing ‘Chairman of the Board’ – shouldn’t you be?” Too late. That made some later print ads, but should have been on the box cover. It didn’t take long for me to discover I no interest or skills at peddling.

7. Bleeding Colors, Release #2, 1976 – A nearby non-profit enterprise shrink wrapped my 1000 games. When my Uncle in Louisiana volunteered to test the game, he provided some demoralizing feedback: “When we roll the dice, perspiration in our hands rubs off the colors on the selector die.” Ouch! Recall #1 quickly proceeded. First the unwrapping, then the experiments to color-freeze the dice. I tried varnish (too sticky) and other sprays, but the winner was clear fingernail polish, so 1000 selector die, all six sides receiving separate attention, were now made colorfast, and the games sent back for shrinkwrap #2. I also contacted all known buyers to offer an official recall.

8. The Rules – were the toughest, and worst, four pages I ever wrote. Telltale clue was when I brought the game home to Texas to play with family. My Dad offered enthusiastic support and organized a game, then started reading the rules. Forty-five minutes later, we began playing. My lame defense was that no one reads Monopoly rules, someone teaches them the game in five minutes.

9. Evaluation: “Games People Play,” “All you need is a little luck” – I brought the game into Games People Play, a store in Cambridge which hosted a weekly game night. The only conclusion I remember is the critique that “In New England we play strategy games.” There on the box cover was a slogan, “All you need is a little luck!” The common critique was that the roll of the dice totally controls player moves. If I tried debating that there is real strategy with players selecting between an ADVANCEMENT, WEALTH, or EXPERIENCE move, I wasn’t successful.

10. “GOLD” indicates success, but… – I went looking for the game in the nearby Brentano’s, and, after three or four passes, eventually found it on a shelf at eye level. There I realized the gold meaning success was fine, but next to games labelled in bold red or blue on the box cover, gold hid on a white background side view. A designer would have noticed.

11. The Consultation, and Release #3, 1979 – Two years into this project, I learned that business students at Simmons College, role-playing executive positions in a corporation, would provide a missing link – critique, market survey, and business plan for the “experiment.” The executive committee made a terrific proposal: Deep discount the existing games for sale at a salvage store ($10 or $15 down to $1 or $2), and re-work the game board and rules.

I didn’t have enough time, energy, and financial resources to follow that path. (Would that this had been the 100-game version, not the 1000.) But I revised the playing strategy, replacing the scorecards (which made every player an accountant) with actual paper money, in denominations from $1,000 to $1,000,000; and DEPARTMENT cards (all four needed for winning). The black balls disappeared, and a “Cutthroat” now involved taking away one EXECUTIVE SPONSOR card (players needed to acquire three for final victory). And each player received three MAJOR STOCKHOLDER cards, to use only when they had the most money, to Cutthroat an opponent. I received invaluable assistance from my Mother-in-Law for providing the unpaid artwork for the new cards, touchy-feely replacing the individual paperwork.

The Release 3 games were not subjected to shrink wrap confinement again.

The Character Matrix and the Table of Moves:

12. Releases 4 and 5 – Version 4 came from a suggestion by a a friend that the wheeling dice could be use to provide a completely different “Easy Math Quiz” and “Easy Spelling Quiz” game, so I worked one up and added two new game cards to the unwrapped boxes, but the net result was nothing, not even interest by the author. Version 5 was modifying the game board by placing a job number in each of the 220 individual jobs on the board (4 Divisions x 55 jobs in each division) to simplify the TRANSFER move, so that “Transfer from position 42 in Marketing to position 42 in Finance” replaced “Transfer to the same relative position in the new Division,” which required an example and interpretation. As this required an entirely new game board, I repeat, the resources, and family patience, were exhausted.

The Interview: The Boston Globe, and 15 Minutes – As my 1975 publication date neared, a fortuitous article appeared in the Boston Globe. Reporter Susan Trausch wrote the only weekly satirical articles in a business section in the country, “Out to Lunch”. One of her articles, “The Corporate Job Title Game,” made fun of long corporate job titles. Bingo! I contacted her about my game, and she contacted me for an interview in her office. I was a very green thirty-one years old, doubly nervous because IBM liked to control external information, even though no trade secrets were in the game. And I was super spooked when I returned home and my wife said Susan had also called her for comments. My wife said she told Susan, “If this damn game doesn’t break up our marriage, nothing will!” Uh-oh. Then she said she was joking. But some of her comments were included in the article, including an anecdote about the arrival of the box of black balls in a giant truck, when the driver had to retrieve the 3000 marbles individually because the box had fallen over and opened up.

Susan said to expect her article on an upcoming Thursday. Then she called and said there were rumors of New York City going into default, and, if that happened, my story would be bumped. The default didn’t happen, so on Thursday, November 13, 1975. I jumped right to the business section and saw nothing on the first page, then a sub-headline “*GAME Continued from Page 1” under “Games business is no fun – president of this company is mostly warehouseman” atop the second page. The lead was there on the front page, in a recurring feature IN THIS CORNER, headlined “Business of games is no fun.”

Chairman Globe

Most curious to me was that I, who tends to see both sides of most controversial issues, with conflicts arising because each side has positive elements, was one of three citizens pictured on the front page: above me, headlined “Ailing Justice Douglas quits Supreme Court,” was very liberal William O. Douglas announcing his retirement; to my right, “Wallace makes it official – he’s running,” was hard-line conservative, George Wallace, announcing his candidacy.

(About forty-five years later, I re-met Susan Trausch when we were serving on the Board of Directors for Cape Cod Writers Center. She autographed my original edition front page. Susan had spent several years as a Globe reporter in D.C., practicing her satire on the political community. She published a compilation of articles, It Came from the Swamp, detailing some of those adventures, reporting times as contentious as these, but with most of the noise coming from the teletype, not the teletweet. Susan’s latest book, a guide to retirement, can be found at http://freestreetpress.com/ .)

My fifteen minutes involved a couple of days of steady phone calls, and a lot of curiosity when I arrived with a totally sheepish grin in the office that morning. My wife had said in the article it was a great accomplishment. The business leaders in the office asked how many I had sold, a totally diametrical, but totally practical, inquiry.

The Competition: “Time and Place” are also major success factors for creative projects of all descriptions. 1975 also introduced the highly insignificant, flash-fad Pet Rock ($4.99, complete with training guide, which many employees gave their boss for a one-time-only “That’s funny”), and the tremendously inventive and super successful Mastermind (about $10, five minutes to learn, five minutes to play, for all ages, repeat play until worn out). Wish I had thought of that one.

The Denouement: Producing Version 5 was unsupportable, and I finally conceded, don’t remember when, when I retrieved about 40 boxes, 480 games, which I had carried from the attic of house #1 to house #2, and disassembled them, boxes flattened for recycling, game boards discarded, dice and playing implements consigned to teddy bear shaped plastic cookie jars, along with the earlier teddy bear filled with black marbles. In the attic, it seemed that every atom in my brain, protons, neutrons, quarks, electrons, and phargons were all spinning wildly, each buzzing why why why why why why why??????? My intention to provide an inside view of life in the corporate world, a “real world” experience for naïve liberal arts types, and “missing links” from business school graduates, achieved an advanced degree in impracticality. For some “hard to let go” reason, I retained about 10 boxes, 120 games.

Now reviewing my banker’s box of COTB experiences, I discovered I had more outlets than I remembered, and even a part-time agent. My last recorded distribution log shows on November 27, 1982, there were 433 in circulation, 186 of them “promotional,” including donations to parish and Boston Channel 2 auctions.

A few contacts recommended morphing into a computer game, but I was soon working on my first published books, A Rainbow Journey and Growing Up with My Animal Friends, mostly lesser-OCD efforts.

The Follow-Up: The “CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD” trademark was ‘almost’ and asset, and gave me two more glimpses of hope, one inbound, and one outbound.

1. Inbound: In 1977, another rogue game maker in St. Louis wanted to license the trademark. His financial representative took me to dinner in Boston, said the new COTB would be professionally designed with Monopoly-like graphics, and supported by a large advertising budget. For a nominal sum, I would receive 3% of profits up to a cap of $30,000, and 1% thereafter, with rights reverting back to me if $10,00 in payments was not reached in three years, or if the company went defunct. I had nothing to lose, and my other interests now included five children in residence (up from two at the start of the project), managing a Little League team, and surviving my day job.

Wondering what happened a few years later, I tried unsuccessfully to contact the author, instead called the financial advisor, who said the author had divorced his wife and moved to parts unknown, equaling zilch royalties. (But my marriage survived!) Just googled and found the 1987 https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/55819/chairman-board , with apparently not much traction. My ledger book shows that I renewed the trademark in 1983, so the supplement was short-lived.

2. Outbound: An article appeared in the local paper about a businessman in London who was in prison for financial fraud. He was going to use his time productively by creating a series of nine business board games, the first being “Chairman of the Board.” Whoa, Nellie! My trademark was still in force. I called my attorney and asked what to do. He said, send the guy a cease and desist. I said I don’t know how to locate him. He said, who wrote the article? I said, no author given. He said, what wire service? I said, UPI. He said, call the London office. I did, found the address, and sent the letter. Never received an answer, or heard anything about any of his nine games. Maybe he ceased and desisted.
I just googled upon a new COTB, 2009 https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/55819/chairman-board , supported by a German language YouTube video. My trademark has lapsed. That’s okay by me.

Finale: My wife reconciled that “You will always have a project,” and I have, with similar results but not on such a grand scale. She also advised that I should write to please myself, and not worry what the world’s reaction would be. Finally, I have arrived at that point.

Too late I realized, everyone is involved in real estate, not everyone wants to be Chairman of the Board.

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