From Balderdash to Blessings

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings

  
From Balderdash to Blessings

Life is the game that must be played.
~Edwin Arlington Robinson

I often say I’ve been selling laughter for twenty years … but it hasn’t always been funny!

My name is Laura Robinson and I am one of the co-authors of this book and the co-inventor of Balderdash, the classic bluffing game that has sold millions of copies all over the world. Balderdash is based on an old parlor game my family started playing when I was twelve years old—we all just called it “Dictionary.” Everyone loved it and I made them all play every chance I got. It was so creative and funny and fun—all the elements that to me, make up a great game.

In my early twenties, I had a close friend who invested in Trivial Pursuit. He was making bundles of money, and I thought, as did many people, “Hey, why don’t I make a game?” With a partner, I created a prototype for that dictionary game we loved to play—my mom suggested we call it “Balderdash”—and we went looking for a license. Not sure if it was beginner’s luck or just that the game was so fabulous, but we got a deal with our first meeting. The whole process was remarkably fast—from inception of the idea to product on the shelves was under a year, but it was one very intense year. We basically worked around the clock, and did everything ourselves, researching words, finalizing packaging, making prototypes, procuring trademarks, doing the deal … the list goes on.

Luckily, Balderdash rose to the top fairly quickly. We made fantastic radio commercials that really helped with sales. I actually dreamt the characters and the script the night before we produced the spots. The games sold out their first run, and the stores were taking orders and creating waiting lists of customers. It took a while but the climb was fairly steady. In my hometown of Toronto there is a strong “weekend culture”—people get out of town, winter and summer, to ski or to go to cottages in the beautiful lake regions north of the city. This demographic really embraced the game and helped us gain recognition and word of mouth.

We hit a bit of a roadblock when we first took the game into the States by picking the wrong company to distribute and we were almost discontinued. Eventually, Balderdash was picked up by the right large U.S. company, which made the game a hit in the mass market. They produced some hilarious television commercials as promotion, Howard Stern even played a version of it on his radio show and the game was officially “on the map.” We branched out into many other countries, and millions of people worldwide have loved playing the game. I am so happy and grateful to have made an impact on families everywhere, helping them laugh and spend quality time together!

Many years later, through Rachel Naples, a friend I’d known for years, I was introduced to Elizabeth Bryan—an artist, designer and writer who was midway through a book proposal called Embracing Divorce. Elizabeth and Rachel were both newly divorced and Rachel was also working on a book proposal; they decided to join forces and Rachel thought it would be a great idea to create a board game to go with it.

The three of us sat down in Rachel’s backyard to create the game, and spontaneous combustion occurred. Before we knew it, the Embracing Divorce game had practically invented itself. Part of the game logic centered around the idea of counting your blessings by collecting plastic jewelry “charms” that had things written on them like love, hope and giving. By the end of the game, each player would have made a “count your blessings” charm bracelet.

I flew back to Toronto, where my family and I were living. Later that night, Elizabeth called me with the idea to make real charm bracelets and sell them. Coincidently, I had a close contact at QVC, the U.S. home shopping channel, who was looking for new products to take on the network. Before any of us could blink, we were on the air, selling out our newly developed “Count Your Blessings” jewelry. We still had the game about divorce in the queue, so I pulled out the stops and the three of us headed to meet Phil Jackson, then president of the games division of Mattel. Phil and his team loved the game, but felt that they could not sell a game about divorce to their mainstream audience. I heard myself saying that we “really intended to make a whole suite of games and products, all under the umbrella of ’Count Your Blessings.’” Phil replied, “Now, that could be big!”

Recognizing the potential of the brand, Rachel, Elizabeth, and I applied to trademark the phrase “Count Your Blessings” across several categories, and by some miracle the marks registered. It was clear the message was meant to be shared. The three of us worked tirelessly for several years trying to build the brand.

Elizabeth and I also licensed the rights from Franklin Covey to create a wonderful family game inspired by The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and truly counted our blessings every day that Rachel had put us together.

The world of game inventing had changed dramatically in the twenty years since Balderdash. Along the 7 Habits journey, our first choice in manufacturers turned us down, and our second choice completely changed development teams at the onset of negotiations. A huge blessing-in-disguise appeared right then and there when game company number two introduced us to Family Games America, which ultimately became the publisher for both our games.

It seemed that doing games on a grand scale today would take great perseverance and belief in your mission—Elizabeth and I were both determined and committed to share “good message” games with people and families everywhere, and we weren’t about to give up.

In December of 2008, I got a call that would connect me to the management of Chicken Soup for the Soul to discuss a game, and Elizabeth suggested we pitch “Count Your Blessings.” We hopped a plane to Connecticut and from the moment we walked into the Chicken Soup for the Soul office, we knew our game had found a home.

The wonderful team at Chicken Soup for the Soul had always wanted to do a book called Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings; in fact they already had the title in their line-up. They had been gathering stories for a book called Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times, Tough People and the submissions had been pouring in—ironically filled with the phrase “count your blessings.” It seemed that our joining forces was destined.

We created a new, updated version of the Count Your Blessings game, further inspired by Chicken Soup for the Soul. Our experience and journey over the previous year and our wonderful synergies allowed us to take our renamed Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings game to a new level of content and design.

I may not always be laughing as I create games that make others laugh. But I am learning and re-learning how to be grateful for the process and the “journey,” which is a wonderful gift, all on its own. In getting our games done, we’ve come up against many obstacles that seemed like the end; delays and dead ends that always turned out to be huge blessings-in-disguise. More than anything else, I have personally learned to trust that amidst the chaos, inside of every cloud, there really is a silver lining.

It’s amazing to think that I would still be here making games, twenty years after inventing Balderdash. I count my blessings that I can share my work with the Chicken Soup for the Soul audience and continue making people everywhere laugh and connect for many decades to come.

Gratefully,

~Laura Robinson

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