Abra Palabra! An Old Game is New Again
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August 2003 | Vol. II - No. 8

August 2003 | Vol. II - No. 8 TDmonthly SEARCH

The Brass Ring

Abra Palabra! An Old Game is New Again

Ed You can now add the title of entrepreneur to that of clinical pharmacist and actor/singer. His company, Palabra Enterprises Inc., was born out of a love for the game of the same name which saw production from 1990-’95 with 37,000 games sold. “I was such a big fan my playing cards were completely worn and tattered,” says You. He was zealous enough about Palabra to make his own cheat sheets (now included in the new game) to share with friends, “So I wouldn’t annihilate them,” he says.

You describes the game as a cross between Scrabble and Poker, and since buying the rights from the original designer Jim Kondrick, the new Palabra has sold 2,700 games in the company’s first year, keeping You busy. “I haven’t seen my friends in a year,” he says, with a mixture of weariness and pride. With plans for a Spanish version and computer Palabra in the future, he might have to get used to email friendships.

Ed You

My company, Palabra Enterprises, got started a little over one-and-a-half years ago because of my passion for the game. I think Palabra should be in every home in the United States. It's clearly better than Scrabble and a lot more fun. Scrabble is mostly an intellectual pursuit. Palabra is that and more. By allowing the players to make very high scoring combinations, it psychologically and intellectually validates its players. As one player put it, "I like this game because it gives me immediate feedback on my own brilliance."

High scores in Palabra routinely run 150 points and above. Once players score 90 points with 3 cards, or over 200 points, they get addicted. Some kind of mental endorphin kicks in and they start looking for that next high. It's this great variety and cleverness and the interactions that it creates that makes Palabra so much fun. Last weekend, someone scored 1080 points with the five-letter word, "GUSHY." I almost felt guilty canceling it.

A Game Fan Becomes an Entrepreneur

When Palabra went off the market, I acquired the rights and brought it back, fixing several design problems along the way. I always thought the original box was flawed in that it didn't explain or "sell" the game enough. Now, that's fixed. The box top entices by showing a 504-point score being made and canceled. The box bottom shows several other scoring options involving straights, flushes and color locks.

Then I created laminated reference sheets (or "cheat sheets") to improve the learning of the game. Besides answering 95% of a beginner's questions, the reference sheets also include well-honed strategies. Next, I differentiated the confusing "joker" and "wild card,“ both of which were black. I added "cancel" to the joker, since its sole function is to cancel the points of your opponent. Since the wild card can be used as any letter of the alphabet and be in any of the four colored suits, I added "A-Z" to it and those four colored suits. Lastly, I created a contrasting colored "blue deck," intended to be played with the original "red deck" so that people could play a double deck version.

Don’t do the Math

Generally, we aim for anyone who knows how to multiply and who likes games. That would put the age at nine, or about the fourth grade. You don't necessarily have to be able to multiply 12 times 14 to play the game; you just have to understand the concept of multiplication. (Thank goodness calculators have been around for 30 years and everyone has one.)

Other markets include toy stores, teacher's and educational stores, PTA’s, parents who emphasize education, home-schoolers, gaming groups and anyone that isn't afraid of a little mental stimulation. Ideally, our market would be the college crowd (But aren't they the ideal market for just about anyone?).

Spreading the Word

We've done promotions and demos at a variety of toy and educational outlets, college campuses, gaming conventions, Mensa functions and private parties. We also use the Internet as much as possible. We also attend toy fairs and use our game/toy/educational reps and our game distributor. We're also getting Palabra into the hands of celebrity game players. Soon we'll be pushing a few more ads and soliciting several game reviewers and competitions.

Color Makes a Difference

When Palabra was originally released from 1990 to 1995, it was only available as a red deck. After some market research, we've deduced that [the blue deck sells better] because it's a nice, enticing shade of blue, and it's relatively tranquil. The red deck, by contrast, is vibrant, and coupled with the red box and red reference sheet it might be a bit too red for a lot of people.

A Good Time for Games?

Before and during the war [in Irag], the industry was slow because of fear, uncertainty, and the slow overall economy. Who knows, since Palabra is an interactive, sit-down-around-the-family-table-kind-of-game, maybe we'll benefit from all this upheaval as families pursue escapism.

Games are a frivolous luxury, but also a necessary distraction. Either way, games are tied to the economy, like almost everything else. Our market or industry will not improve until the economy improves. I only wish "George W." was as focused or as competent with the economy as he is with the "Axis of Evil."

Palabra retails for $16 and is sold in 126 retail outlets across the country. Visit the company’s website, palabragame.com, for more information.




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