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Blurt! – A Great Party Game

An interview with game designer and author Tim Walsh




Image courtesy of Educational Insights

The party game Blurt!, first published in 1994, is one of the few board games to sell more than 1 million copies. In 2009, Blurt! celebrated its 15th anniversary with an all-new edition released by Educational Insights.

The game's designer, Tim Walsh -- who also authored Timeless Toys (a previous edition was published as The Playmakers), a fascinating look at some of the best-selling toys and games in history -- was kind enough to answer a few questions about Blurt! for us.

Please tell us how Blurt! came into being -- the original idea, and how you developed it.

In 1990, I was helping keep third graders quiet in their classroom and failing miserably. I was dating a teacher at the time and I had come into her class to help out. My job was to quietly entertain a few kids in the corner while she worked with the rest of her students on year-end projects.

I was looking through some books with this small group of eight-year-olds when I picked up a children's dictionary. I opened it to the first page and read aloud to myself, "The nut of an oak tree." A kid next to me mumbled, "Oaknut."

"No, it's an acorn," I said, smiling. "But that's funny." I tried the next page and read aloud, "The fat of whales."

"Blubber!" The same kid yelled out, just before another student, who started cracking up over blurting out "Blubber!" I kept reading definitions and those five or six kids had a blast trying to beat each other to the answer. They were laughing and learning new words and... the light bulb went off. I knew I had discovered a great game.

I made a game prototype and hit the streets trying to license the game, which I had dubbed "DeFUNitions," to one of the big game companies. The game has the dubious distinction of being rejected by Milton Bradley, Parker Brothers, Mattel, Games Gang, Western Publishing, Tyco and virtually every other game company in North America, before finding a home at a small puzzle company in Wisconsin called Patch Products.

At some point along its evolution, I decided that "DeFUNitions" was a terrible name and trademarked a name that much better described the goal of the game. Released as Blurt! in 1994, the game went on to win numerous awards and entertain scores of families on its way to selling its 1,000,000th copy in 2000.

The game did so well that Mattel came courting and bought the licensing contract from Patch Products in 2002. Three years later, the rights reverted back to me after Mattel failed to produce a single new copy of the game (long story). I licensed the game to Sababa Toys in 2007, but they went bankrupt before producing their edition and again the rights reverted back to me.

In 2008, I found a great home for the game with Educational Insights; in 2009 they released a new edition of Blurt! just in time for its 15th anniversary. With all-new packaging and new content, the 2009 edition of Blurt! quickly sold out in many specialty toy stores.

Blurt! was invented for kids, obviously, since it came out of a classroom. Families and kids love it because it's fast and fun, but go on YouTube and you'll find more than few high school and college-age kids playing it as a party game because of its simplicity. It's not intimidating like trivia and it's hilarious what people Blurt on in the heat of play.

And that teacher? She's been my wife for the past 14 years!

How did you know Blurt! was worth the effort of submitting it to so many companies?

I had a fully playable prototype which I played with a lot of people. Of course I knew kids loved it, because I had seen that first hand. Why? Well it's simple and it's funny what people blurt out.

Reyn Guyer, the co-inventor of Nerf and Twister, contends that the best playthings break some sort of rule: Don't throw the ball in the house! Nerf. Don't invade my personal space! Twister. My research shows that he's onto something... Don't play on the stairs! Slinky. A boy will never play with a doll! G.I. Joe.

Of course, I didn't know this at that time I invented Blurt!, but I think kids are used to raising their hands in class, and here was a game that encouraged them to let loose. Blurt! broke a rule and teachers were okay with it because they recognized that it really was building vocabulary. So I knew the game would be good for and fun for kids.

What I did not expect was the fact that so many adults loved it. It was a party game for them because it was non-intimidating -- they already knew 95 percent of the words, it was just a matter of who was going to blurt them out first. And again, wrong answers and blurts that were off topic were very funny. When I saw that the game had an appeal from ages 7 to 90, it fueled my belief that some company would be interested.

Did you ever get discouraged by the rejections?

Oh, sure. But I've always loved the history behind games and toys and it was the stories of Trivial Pursuit and Pictionary being rejected that fueled me. Scrabble was hand-made for 17 years by the inventor. The research I did on the industry helped me understand that it wasn't going to be easy.

Did you consider publishing Blurt! yourself?

You know, I never considered it because I was broke. It just wasn't an option. I suppose I could have gotten investors and given away part of the company to try and raise funds to go into business, but I know my strengths -- and warehousing, shipping and bookkeeping are not it! Not only are those things not my strengths, I do not enjoy doing them at all.

Can you tell us a little about the process of preparing the latest version of Blurt!?

The latest version of Blurt was really a joint effort with the product development folks at Educational Insights. I wrote the 1800 clues, but they vetted them and suggested edits. The rules are true to the original game, but again were edited by EI. They really made it fit their line. I had very little say on the packaging art because as soon as I saw their first take on it, I loved it.

As far as playtesting, I did not do any additional playtesting beyond my initial playtesting with the prototype back in 1993-4, which was extensive. The Educational Insights staff played the game with kids and adults on numerous occasions and I got notes on those sessions in the form of rule tweaks and suggestions.

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