Darlene Calhoun – Chuckle Games
Brainstrain and Fabrication games

We’re a typical baby boomer couple.  My husband and I had regular jobs at the US Postal Service.  But, we invented a great award winning game.   In just 18 months, we’re rich now.  We bought a bigger house and I quit my day job.  I am spending my days lounging by my California poolside.  Everyone loves our games and the warehouse can barely ship out our games fast enough.   Brainstrain is flying off the retailer’s shelves.  Hollywood is making Brainstrain – The Game Show for big royalties.     We’re sweeping the globe with the Brainstrain phenomenon.  Game companies all over the world want to license our game.   Wake up Darlene.  Wake up…you need to get those brochures out and make those follow up phone calls. 

Rarely, do things happen as in your dreams.   True, Brainstrain won the 2001 MENSA Select Mind Games Competition Award and The National Parenting Center’s Seal of Approval – Fall 2001 as a great family game.   Brainstrain is also the “hot pick” game for many retailers and catalogs.   Hollywood producers “pitched” the game show idea to the Big 3.  Hasbro even requested to take a closer look at the game.  Game companies in England, Germany, Australia, Norway and Sweden requested copies of Brainstrain for license consideration.   It’s a great game…so how come we’re not rich?

The game business is no game.  It’s work.  Fun, but work. 



We’re in this business quite by accident.   Around Christmas 1999, tired of the same old games, we invented Brainstrain to play with family and friends.   We called it “Head Trip” then – but Head Trip didn’t sound very “family” friendly.   Admittedly, Brainstrain is not real original – but very fun.  We didn’t invent it to start a game company.    It’s a cross between 20 Questions, Password and Indian Poker.  You have 60 seconds to ask as many questions as you can (everyone answers simultaneously) to guess who, what, or where you are.  After 60 seconds, it goes into the “Password” mode to get a one-word clue – but you both score with the correct answer.  The first person to complete the board in all three categories of person, place or thing is the winner.  The “Indian Poker” part is because you must put the card in a headband on your forehead that shows who, or what, or where you are.  That’s so everyone can see…except you.   Originally, the game was going to include preprinted cards with people, places and things chosen for you.  But, like our “home” version, it was much more fun to have the players come up with the words used in play.  So, the game includes blank laminated cards with dry erase pens.  The personalities of the players really shine through adding to the fun.

Everyone that played it loved the game and encouraged us to “market” it.  People we didn’t even know called and asked the rules and such so they could play at their house.   So…like a lot of people, I was not really happy with my “real” job, so we thought we would give it a go.  I decided to look into the possibility of launching our game and found out one very important thing: It costs a lot of money to make a board game.



All the free game advice I found on the Internet from “turn-key” manufacturers said a game should cost no more than $7.00 to make.  If that was so, how come the bids I received to make Brainstrain was $11.00 to $16.00 each game??   Plus the warehousing costs, shipping, etc.  Ouch.   We’re talking $50,000-$60,000 to make a run of 5,000 games.  That doesn’t even count the graphic art and the all-important advertising costs.   So, we did it the hard way to save money.  I scoured the Internet for vendors to get the best quote for each part.  We had the cards laminated locally and family and friends spent many, many hours at our kitchen table collating 90,000 cards.  I had the rules printed myself and ordered the sand timers direct from China.  I found Sierra Packaging to print and produce the game board, box, shrink-wrap and carton.  Sierra Packaging even gave me free warehousing.   I bought Adobe Illustrator and designed the box myself.  (Which was a mistake and a whole different story).   We were able to make the game for better than half the quote costs.  With help from good ol’ Mom and Dad, in one year from conception to completion, we finally had our 5,000 Brainstrain games just barely in time for the New York Toy Fair 2001.

 Thank goodness I found the discovergame.com site.  Without Mary and discovergames.com we couldn’t possibly have afforded to have our game showcased at the New York Toy Fair.  It was there that The Good Toy Group found and selected Brainstrain for their retail shelves.  Also, The American Specialty Toy Retailers Association and several others.   It was at the discovergames.com booth that a Hasbro executive and European game companies found Brainstrain as well.

 Game production was complete February 2001 – just one week prior to the New York Toy Fair.  We sold almost 2,500 games by Christmas 2001.  I know you’re dying to ask…. “How much money have you made?”



Well, we haven’t broke even yet…almost.  I did quit my day job (which is not recommended and it’s a good thing one of us has a “real” job).   We’re releasing a new game this fall called Fabrication – The game that’s FULL OF IT!    (Chuckle Games Company is now truly games – plural!)   About.com’s Erik Arneson has Fabrication in the Top 5 Pick Storytelling games!   But, remember the “wake up” call to get busy mailing those brochures to retailers and make those follow up calls?   The game business is no game –it’s hard work to get the word out there and sell, sell, sell!

Someone wrote that you’d have better luck if you put $50,000 on “red” at the Roulette wheel in Las Vegas than creating the “next Monopoly”.    That may be so…but would we do it again?  Absolutely.  Fun work, fun people, great industry.  Plus, ya’ just never know! 

If you would like to ask us any questions on “how we did it” please feel free to contact me.  I’d be happy to help my fellow game inventors.   Darlene@chucklegames.com.  

Darlene Calhoun
Chuckle Games

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