All Original Toy Concepts, Written and Photographic content is Copyright MEL BIRNKRANT
In the early 1980s Colorforms broke into the game business. This, at first glance, would appear to be an impossible feat. At the time, and even now, the entire game business was dominated by two toy companies, Parker Brothers and Milton Bradly. Curiously, both of these were owned by Hasbro. Mattel had tried to break into the game business many times before, and ultimately failed. So, how did Colorforms manage to succeed? For once, we had an angle. We included some token Colorforms vinyl plastic “Stick-Ons” in every game. Thus, every game idea that I came up with could legitimately be called: “A Colorforms Game.”
This page will not be about the ideas that succeeded, like “Dont Tip The Waiter,” or “Tummy Ache.” Those are revealed, elsewhere, in the website called, “The Colorforms Years.” Instead, what follows, here, will disclose some of worst ideas I ever had. Having said that, I must admit that I still like a few of these, or, at the least, they might be found amusing, if only because they are so bad. Many are simply too ridiculous to throw away. Others were so stupid that even I could see it, and therefore, I never showed them to anyone, until today.
Before we really get started, here are a couple of odd game ideas that date from the early years, the days before I was permitted to get my paws on Colorforms. I kept trying to get my feet wet, nonetheless. This failed example was called “Colorforms Bingo.”
Still early on, before the push for games began, Colorforms was trying to come up with any piece of crap that would qualify for a license from Sesame Street. This was my opportunity to “invent” the kind of game that every armature game inventor thinks up. These easy to concoct concepts are inevitably based on Monopoly. So, here we have Oscar’s Beautiful Game of “TRASH.” Henson Associates trashed it in a heartbeat. Miraculously, I saved the drawing. Why? is still a mystery!
Here’s another attempt, a game that operates through the miracle of Scratch, n’ Sniff. I was later to use the name, “What’s Cookin’?” for a Colorforms game. In the game below, one has to turn Ernie’s nose, until one of many scratch n’ sniff patches appears at random in the smoke. Then the player scratches and sniffs the patch, and tries to guess what’s cookin. Lifting the cover on the pot reveals if their guess was correct, or not.
Now, my attempts to create games for Colorforms became more serious. “Over The Rainbow,” "Hey Diddle Diddle,” and "Hickory Dickery Dock" were similar in play. I hadn’t, yet, quite figured out how to incorporate Colorforms Stick-Ons in these games. Later on, Hey Diddle Diddle, and Hickery Dickery Dock actually got made.
“Buzzy Bee” was based on similar games that contain a buzzer and batteries: the classic, “Operation” is one. Here, two bears try to tiptoe through the flowers to get the honey, without getting stung.
OK, From this point on, things get kind of crazy. There is no way some of these games could be made. But, nonetheless, I was having fun. A rough pen sketch is how all of these game ideas were begun. This one, called, "Bubble Trouble" made me laugh. I always thought naked fat men were funny, provided they were not anatomically correct. And this guy reminded me of my dad, which made it funnier yet. The game, like most that follow involved a surprise ending. The writing on the lower left is a list of alternate names.
Believe it or not, this was a sort of fishing game, in which, the "hooks" were really magnets. The object was to fish objects, like soap and rubber duckies out of the tub, without tripping a "secret trigger" that "pulled the plug." No comments, please!
Now, my imagination traveled into the world of wishful thinking, as I visualized this fully sculpted in three dimensions, the kind of thing a real toy company could make. That would permit the tub to be filled with real soap bubbles, to hide the stuff the players are fishing for. And when Pop pops out of the bathtub, he would really make a splash! The toy would come with a small amount of bubble bath.
So much for that! At this point, I realized that this was Colorforms, and thus, there was no way these games could be made of anything but cardboard, with a few small vinyl plastic pieces added. Therefore, from this point on, all my game ideas were constructed of die-cut cardboard, and most of them, including the most successful one, “Don’t Tip The Waiter,” involved tipping something over.
“Ho! Ho! Ho! The Santy Claus Game” was just the germ of an idea, I never carried it any farther. Even I realized how stupid it was: “Santy’s too fat to fit down the chimney - help him lighten his pack - but be careful, he might lose his balance.... What an X MESS!” I came across this sketch last week, and it still makes me laugh.
This game called, “Humpty Dumpty” traveled a long way towards happening. I made this working model to test how well it played. The gimmick was based on a simple toy principal that usually appears as a clown that rotates on parallel bars. The curved edges cause the figure to spin for a long time. That was the problem, the play turned to be slow and boring. When Humpty finally stopped spinning, which took forever, the player whose turn it was to spun him, either got, or lost a piece of Colorforms plastic eggshell, depending on whether Humpty stopped sunny side up or upside-down. The winner was the first player to put their individual Humpty together again.
The thinking, or lack of it, behind this game is visible in blue pencil. From this scribble, an elephant emerges in full color. I guess, it was intended to be a combination ring-toss and balancing game. When enough rings are tossed onto the elephant’s trunk, he tips over, catapulting the monkey, and possibly kicking a clown. I didn’t show this sketch to anyone.
Here’s another obscure concept that was clearly going nowhere. When enough rings are tossed on the monkeys tail it breaks off. Err, I mean, it triggers the rubber band powered canon to fire, sending the cardboard daredevil inside to fly into the air. This failed attempt had "impossible," written all over it! And so, another bad idea was eliminated. Who said inventing games was easy?
I took this next concept more seriously; serious enough to mock it up. Looking at it now, I can’t remember what I was thinking. This was another circus game that clearly involved tipping teeter totters and tossing rings.
“Don’t Upset The Cart!” This was another name that led to a game. It was clearly inspired by "Don’t Tip The Waiter!" Thinking this would actually work spectacularly, defied the laws of gravity. Attention Walmart Shoppers!
The next idea was an instant loser. Grossly over produced, I instantly rejected it. I forget what it was called.
They say that mediocre minds think alike. Years later, I was amazed to discover that someone had essentially the same idea as mine. And Penguin Pile-Up became a genuine three dimensional game. I think this game was intended to be played, in the bathtub: not something that could be done with cardboard, anyway.
“U-F-OW!” I really liked that name! I believe this was a balancing game, in which the players had to balance their aliens on the flying saucer, without tipping it over. Of course, this was just the germ of an idea. It needed further work. I also liked the comment, “Take Me To Your Ladder!” It suggested, perhaps, a more amusing game.
“Kissy Kissy” “The kissing Booth Game” was far too controversial, as well as too complex and impractical. Nonetheless, I liked it a lot. It was based on a phenomena I found fascinating as a kid, the kind of carnival booth, in which a thousand prizes were hanging from the ceiling, each supposedly attached to a jumble of identical strings. For a price, one got to pull a string and, hopefully, get a decent prize. This game was intended to operate the same way. Each player would pull a string, and the kisser that popped up would be a surprise. Depending on who or what popped up, the player would, either get a Colorforms vinyl plastic kiss, or a Stick-On Band-Aid.
Of all the game ideas that could have happened, but didn’t, this one was my favorite! “Don’t Let the Bed Bugs Bite!” My God! I just realized that my mother used to say that to me every night. And as for that figure lying on the bed, he too, is a sight I spied, every time I passed my parent’s bedroom. Just add the sound of snoring, and you have the story of my young life. I might hasten to add, except for Bed Bugs, which Thank God, we never had.
This concept was clearly inspired by the tipping formula of “Don’t Tip the Waiter.” This added the element of cause and effect. Here, the tipping effects a second figure. I guess, it says something about me that I think getting kicked in the butt is funny! The name “Don’t Tip the Bellboy” is also quite Amazing. I say that, because years after all these games were over, I came across a vintage game at an antique show, with the same name. It predates the games that I invented by many years. I plan to include it on the next page.
Last of all, we come to a game that came very close to happening. It was called “Kick in the Pants,” and it was not only developed to a full color comp, but it was also taken to a local school and tested by several classes of kids of assorted ages. Andy and I did this in person. And the game tested very well. The students thought it was hilarious.
The art and subject matter was based on a comic strip that was popular a century ago, called, “And Her Name Was Maud.” by Fredrick Opper, who also drew Happy Hooligan. The plot was always a variation of the same scenario. It inevitably ended with Maud the Mule kicking her master, Sy, in the pants!
I don’t know what happened to this game, or why it was never made. Furthermore, I never saw my full color comp gain. What you see below, is the mock up I made to work out the details. Missing, also, are the die-cut cardboard objects that players had to hang, one at a time, on Maud’s ears. When they became too heavy, she would tip over, kicking Sy’s pants on the way. A series of cards, one for each player, the sketch, for which is shown on the above right, along with Stick-On horseshoes, were how the players kept score.
Old man Sy appeared once more, in the concept shown below. This one was a rural extravaganza. Mama’s hanging up the clothes. If she puts to many on the line, they weigh down the clothesline, tipping over the outhouse with Sy inside. He flies out the door, pulling his pants up, just in time. And the newly scrubbed laundry ends up in the mud.
There was, also, an even more complex variation of this concept, in which Maude appears again, and kicks over the bathtub, while Pappy is taking his monthly bath. With that, my brief career of game inventing was washed up.
This second concept is really early. It might have been done in New York City. God knows how the mechanics of this would operate, but the concept was OK. I don’t remember if the players had to put berries on the mulberry bush or take them off, but at a certain point, the weasel would POP!