"Do you know your emergency number? Do you know what to do if your clothes catch fire? Well, we want everybody to know. And we want it to be fun," says Hoelzer, a tall, stocky man in his fifties. "So we got together with the wives, and they were behind us 100 percent. We wanted full control of this game, but we had to go from paycheck to paycheck, so it took us two years." Hoelzer says he and his buddy invested $20,000 in the game, and then took out a loan for an additional $40,000.
They designed a "typical children's board game," which they called Fire Smart Kids and targeted for four to twelve year olds. Then they trademarked their title. The object of the game is to navigate to the end of the board some tiny, brightly colored fire hydrants--"high-impact styrene," Hoelzer asserts, designed so kids can't swallow 'em.
The board, illustrated by Hoelzer, is cluttered with messages: "Never hide under a bed during a fire!" and "Never play with matches," and "You know 911 is the emergency number." There are also cards that players pick up: "Remind Mom to turn off the iron. Go ahead four spaces" and "You never use fireworks. Go back two spaces." The hitch to this game is that little kids can't read the board or the cards. Hoelzer explains that it "requires a parent or teacher, at least initially, to show what's on the board." He adds: "There's nothing really very difficult in here, everything is self-explanatory once you learn the board."
The game is endorsed by former TV news anchor Mary Jo West, who played it with some young friends and pronounced it a success. It's also been approved by a group called the Teachers of Fire Safety Instruction.
Hoelzer and Garrison had 5,000 games manufactured. They were delivered last September, Hoelzer says, and he's learned that marketing the game, takes a lot of time. He has to travel from school to school "knocking on doors." But he reasons that if toy manufacturers could market Cabbage Patch dolls, which he calls "those ugly little things," he can certainly sell his "brilliant concept."
"The really neat thing about this game," he says, "is that even a dummy like me can sell it. We really don't sell it, you see. It sells itself. . . . I don't see this thing ever dying. Because every three or four years there will be more of those little rug rats who will [get old enough to] play the game," he says. "I envision this thing going international."
THE BATTLE OF WATERLOO Some people just never grow up. Take 39-year-old Scott Bizar, for example, and his 22-year-old sidekick, Paul Lidberg. Bizar is a boyish-looking high school history teacher, a Napoleonic Wars buff and the owner of two game enterprises: the Waterloo Games store in Gilbert and the publishing outfit of Fantasy Games Unlimited. Paul Lidberg is a college student who manages Bizar's store and writes satirical games on the side.
The genre that intrigues Bizar is war gaming--it used to be called playing soldier. He opened Waterloo Games in September, which is frequented by high school and junior high kids, mostly boys. In the middle of the store is a large table holding battlefields of scrap carpet and felt, the turf of miniature armies in imaginary battle. Kids come in after school with their books and a cold drink from a nearby Circle K and have at it until closing time. Lidberg, an enthusiastic fellow, wanders around the room helping out with difficult rules, joking with the students, bursting into loud laughter every now and then.
Bizar first became involved in war gaming in 1974 as a hobby. By 1975 he'd invented and published his own game, "The Royal Armies of the Hyborean Age; A Wargamer's Guide to the Age of Conan." The 55-page rule book is, to say the least, complicated: "Horse archers may fire only one rank deep when in line, but they may fire three ranks deep to the side when in column. Thus, the horse archer unit may sweep out and back behind its lines in road column and every figure could be able to fire." And so on.
Soon, Bizar began publishing fantasy role-playing games. And war games written by other people. And more war games of his own. Fantasy Games Unlimited publishes about 100 games or game-related products. One third of his games, which are written in English, are exported to Europe and other foreign countries. He wonders how non-English-speaking kids can figure out the rules. "Maybe they use 'em as wallpaper," he says. "I just don't know."