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How to Sell A Million Board Games and Become a Board Game Designer
Interview with Tim Walsh - board game designer
Tim Walsh
Tim Walsh - President of Patch Products - Invented Tribond and Blurt!
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• Play Tribond, Blurt!, Mad Grab, Tutti Frutti, and Tribond Kids
By Mary Bellis

It sounds like fun playing board games for a living. According to inventor Tim Walsh it is; lots of fun and hard work. Tim is the inventor of Tribond and Blurt!, and in the last year TriBond passed the one million mark in sales, and Blurt! blazed through the ranks of the top 15 best-selling adult board games. We have interviewed Tim Walsh, trying to bring you a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the world of board game invention. You also have a chance to play Tribond and other board games on-line, but first let's take a look at the history of Tribond:

In 1987, Dave Yearick, Ed Muccini, and Tim Walsh were about to graduate from Colgate University. In the spring of that year, they heard a rumor that two of the creators of Trivial Pursuit had attended Colgate. Through a mutual friend in the athletic department, they found that John Haney and Ed Werner had indeed attended the upstate New York school. In a discussion about the phenomenal success of Trivial Pursuit, 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 making a game where the questions are actually clues, and could be "figured out" by people. 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. Therefore, it was in the summer of 1989, in a one-bedroom apartment, that the friends created a prototype that would become "TriBond." On December 1, 1989, the three entrepreneurs formed a company called Big Fun a Go Go, Incorporated. By raising money through family and friends, they 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 rejected it too. In October of 1992, Tim Walsh contacted Patch Products, the printer of the game, and convinced them to meet and discuss the possibility of joining forces. Tim quickly became the Vice President of Marketing for Patch, and together they sold 2,500 games for the remainder of that year. 1993 was TriBond's breakthrough year. In January, TriBond was featured in mass-market stores for the first time. With no T.V. advertising to back it, this was a risky move, but TriBond rose to the challenge. With continued guerrilla marketing efforts, Patch sold 148,000 copies of TriBond. Some of the same companies that had initially rejected the game came back and tried to acquire TriBond, but Tim and his friends stayed with the Patch brothers. Against incredible toy industry odds, this ragtag team of underdogs sold their millionth TriBond board game in December of 1996! (reprinted from Patch Products)

Inventors Guide, Mary Bellis interviews Tim Walsh, inventor of TriBond and Blurt! Board Games
Q: What board games did you grow up playing?

A: Monopoly, Go Fish, War, Scrabble.

Q: When and where were you in life when you first started writing board games?

A: In college - I attended Colgate University in New York. Two friends and I found out that the inventors of Trivial Pursuit also went to school at Colgate. We were so intrigued by this that we came up with our own idea for a board game.

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.

Q: Did anyone offer you a deal you had to say no thank you to?

A: Walt Disney.

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 and would recommend to others who approach manufacturers with ideas?

A: Protect yourself with proper documentation, and attain trademarks.

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 & development departments at big toy companies. Monopoly was created by an engineer, Pictionary by a waiter and Scrabble by an architect.

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

A: I graduated from college with a Biology degree.

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 & Bryce Patch (brothers and owners of Patch Products).  I asked them to hire me to sell and market TriBond.  Once 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 giveaway. 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 are the struggles involved in creating a board game?

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

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

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

Q: For those who don't know. Can you explain TriBond and Blurt! to us?

A: In TriBond, you are asked the question, "What do these three have in common?"  for example, Florida, a locksmith, and a piano?  The answer is - 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: Myself. Also, we get letters from people all over the place that have their own clues. We consider them for additional versions of the games.

Q: How does it feel to have over a million copies of TriBond sold?

A: Incredible. I think back to all of the challenges we had to overcome and all of the companies that rejected us. It makes the success that much more rewarding.

Q: What other board games have you made?

A: TriBond Kids, Bible TriBond, Bible Blurt.

Q: Is the game industry moving away from physical board games, 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 as a whole is heading?

A: The industry is leading towards more interactive and family games.

Q: Where are you heading?

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

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all artwork copyrighted by Patch Products

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