I was recently introduced to Laura by Mary Couzin from CHITAG. Mary knows that one of my family's favorite games is BALDERDASH; which when played between 6 Scottish brothers, can be a pretty spectacular affair. Meeting Laura was an absolute honor, but this was only the tip of the iceberg. Laura has also enjoyed a successful career as an actress with many roles in film television and theatre, both in Los Angeles and Toronto. She is also the co-owner of Out & About Productions who created and sold the original Celebrity Name Game format, hosted by Craig Ferguson, which was based on her successful board game, Identity Crisis. Laura is currently in development to co-exec produce a prime time television version of Balderdash for fall 2015 and will host this year's PlayCHIC Fashion Show November 20th.
First and foremost, I have to ask you about how Balderdash was invented. Not only do I love Inventor stories, but Balderdash happens to be one of my family's favorite games. How did it come about?
Well, first of all, I have to tell you, Dougal, that I never get tired of people telling me that Balderdash is their favorite game. It still gives me the same thrill as it did in year one! I can picture you and your Scottish brothers playing it and making your family, or grandmother in your case, read aloud all those wild and wacky definitions - so much fun! Balderdash was based on a parlour game that I played as a child with my family. We just called it The Dictionary Game. I loved it because it was so hilarious and also because it was one game that I could actually win! I come from a very competitive family, my mom was Scottish too and a triplet and they were always trying to beat each other, so I guess I come by it honestly.
In 1985, good friend of mine had invested in Trivial Pursuit and he was making a ton of money, so my boyfriend at the time, Paul Toyne and I decided we should make one too! He and I both loved playing Dictionary and we decided to make it into a board game. We didn't really know how to do it, but we figured out a plan and dove in. We knew we had a great game, because we had been play testing it for years with our friends and family. We hired a graphic artist we knew to do a cool box design and another one to design a very unique board and we got to work researching crazy, obscure words and even crazier definitions. From the inception of the idea to getting Balderdash on the shelves was done in less than a year! We made a prototype, trademarked our name (a suggestion from my mom) and our entertainment lawyers introduced us to a company called Canada Games. They gave us a deal out of the gate! We did all the research and compilation for the game without a computer. Crazy to think of it now. I remember assembling our final game cards on our dining room table. We cut out strips of paper with our typed-out words and definitions, placed them in alphabetical piles and then would walk around the table, grabbing random lettered words and gluing them down on large index cards. 500 cards, 2500 words, and a ton of work - but it was a labor of love. The game launched in a test market. 2500 units were placed in six small independent game stores in Toronto. We did some great PR, created a great press kit, did radio, print and TV interviews across the country and the game took off. We sold all the inventory out before Christmas and the stores were taking orders. Balderdash was born and growing fast. It was such an exciting and great time in my life!
For me, games are the best way to bring together a family or friends; so what game gets the most airplay in the Robinson household (apart from Balderdash!)?
We love to play a homemade game at Thanksgiving and Christmas that my parents taught me. It's a simple pen and paper game where you have to fill in a grid with names of people, places, food, animals etc. but it really gets your brain going after all the turkey. We've always just called it Guggenheim. We also love to play Charades and Taboo and used to play a lot of the parlor game, Celebrity, which became Identity Crisis and eventually, the game show.
CELEBRITY NAME GAME, based on your game IDENTITY CRISIS, launched in September. What has been the most exciting part of this project?
Yes, CNG just launched September 22 and it's on all across North America! We're getting great ratings and reviews, so I am extremely happy! I would say the most exciting part is really just to see the project that my partner, Richard Gerrits, and I have worked so hard on, and persevered with for so many years - it's been an eight year journey - finally come to fruition in such a fantastic way.
Famous Scott Craig Ferguson hosts the show; but your connection to Scotland goes much deeper, correct?
"Ach, aye," indeed laddie, my mother's family come from Glasgow. Her family emigrated to Canada and settled in Ontario. All my aunts and uncles had those wonderful Scottish accents which I adore and they were so much fun! And man, they loved to party and play music, tell jokes and play games, so it really formed my personality and life. It's so fitting that Craig became the host of our show, we're so lucky to have him!
You have appeared in CHEERS and FRASIER, absolute American TV classics. If there was one TV show you could have starred in, what was it , and why?
I loved my acting years and my favorite parts were always comedic. I was fortunate enough to have lots of great roles in great shows, but I never got to be on Friends, and that was and still is my all-time favorite show. An amazing cast, fabulous characters and writing. My kids love it too, so we watch a lot of reruns. Courteney Cox, aka Monica is now my producing partner on CNG, so that is actually a pretty cool turn of events!
One common thing I notice with inventors is their uncanny ability to be inspired by absolutely anything. What inspires you to create?
I am inspired by so many things - my kids, music, pop culture, what's current in the zeitgeist. I recently created a television design makeover show format with a southern flare that was inspired by all the interest and popularity with the American south right now. And I write music about my life, my relationships. I also love to collaborate, in music and games and television. Working with people whose creativity sparks mine, bouncing ideas and back and forth and finishing something that we both are excited about - there is nothing more fun for me!
You certainly seem like someone who won't stop creating. So what exciting projects do you have coming down the line in the future, be it in games or TV shows?
Well, as you mentioned, I am in development on a prime time TV version of Balderdash, we are partnering with someone very well-known and accomplished, so I am super excited about that! And the design show is about to go into development too. It has a cool comedic title and flare, hopefully they both will launch in 2015! And I do have a fun new family party game that I am starting to work on too. Life is crazy, flying back and forth between LA and Toronto, but I guess that's the way I like it. :) I know you are travelling all the time too. Our jobs are so fun, we can't really complain, yes?!
If you were not a game designer or working in TV, what do you think you would be?
No question, I would be a full time professional singer and songwriter. I grew up in a very musical household, my dad was a jazz saxophonist and my brother plays too. I started singing and performing at a very early age, did tons of musical theatre in school and beyond and hung out with a lot of fantastic singer songwriters in my twenties. I love music so much. I have a bunch of original songs and want to finally make my record one if these days! I feel like that path would have been a very fulfilling and happy one for me... but I love the life I have too!
Lastly, for any new Game Inventors out there: what pearls of wisdom would you give them about getting into the business?
I always tell inventors to thoroughly research their idea. Find out if there something else in the marketplace that is very similar. Make a simple mock up and play test, play test, play test! Do that before you spend a bunch of money on an elaborate prototype because it is in the playing that you will find out so much about your idea. And you have to do real "blind" play tests. In other words, you can be there to watch, but not to show people how to play or answer questions. You have to let them read the rules and play just like they would if they bought the game and brought it home. Make up a questionnaire and have anyone who plays it, fill it out anonymously so you can get candid answers to your questions. What did you like best about the game, packaging, design? What don't you like? Is there anything that you think would make it more fun, easier to understand or play? Things like that. You can listen to the feedback, make changes and then make your professional prototype. Make the best one you can. And it's always good to make up a sell sheet, just a one page with some details on it. Suggested age range and number of players, possible price point. Box size and dimensions is good to add too. It's a great leave-behind for the game companies you may pitch at a Toy Fair, and a good way for them to remember your game when they are reviewing possibilities after the show. And finally, I always think a good rule of thumb when it comes to games, writing, life in general - is "simple is best!" ... and make 'em laugh whenever you can!
Thanks for a terrific interview, Laura!