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Fun and Games

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Fantasy Games Unlimited grosses from $150,000 to $450,000 yearly, Bizar says, but he only nets as "much money as I make being a teacher." In fact, it was economics that prompted him to move to Arizona last year. Warehouse space in his home state of New York was "skyrocketing," he explains, and he could no longer afford to stay.

Bizar says he runs into a lot of would-be game inventors who think they can make it big with their own war-game versions. "They're stupid," he says. "Four out of five fail. And, of the people in it who succeed, no one's made any money to speak of."

Fortunately, Paul Lidberg, Bizar's store manager, wasn't driven by fantasies of instant wealth when he invented and produced about half a dozen games in the past year. Lidberg says that when he has an itch to invent a game, he simply writes out the rules and takes his rule book to a cheap printing company and has, say, twenty copies printed. He's lucky if he sells a few at science-fiction conventions. "If I tallied it all up, I'd lose money," he says. "But the whole point is just to have fun and get attention at conventions."

He invents or publishes games that he hopes will offend "right-wing, left-wing and Libertarian" people. "Most gamers," he says, "profess to be Libertarians or Republicans." Among the titles of Lidberg's games are: "Hostage of the Government: Rescue Ollie North Game"; "Kill the Commie Bastards"; and "Nuke the Gay Baby Whales for Jesus."

Lidberg is even working on games that satirize games. For instance, he's designed a war game called Ribbitech. It revolves around "Battle Beasts," a miniature army of cartoon-like animals who blow each other up. They are hideous, brightly colored lizards and apes and bats with eye patches, all dressed in armor. "Just like the Saturday cartoons," notes Lidberg. "If they get shot, they get giant holes. But they can reach through the holes and shake hands if they want to," he says enthusiastically.

Lidberg works two jobs to earn enough money to support himself and go to college. He still lives at home and says he thinks his mother would rather he'd chosen a more lucrative career: "Mom wishes I'd get serious."

HIGH HOPES Back in 1949, Phoenix print-shop owner Jim Palmer tried to sell a game called Tippy Turtle to cereal companies. Palmer thought the game, which involved cutting out a design of a turtle and tying it to a chair, would be perfect for cereal boxes. But the companies he approached didn't agree.

"Oh, well," says Palmer. "I didn't count that as a failure. You never fail, you know, as long as you try."

In 1976 Palmer had another brainstorm. By now he had seven kids. One night, he and his children played Ninety-Nine, an "old, old card game that goes a long way back." Palmer recalls, "I got excited. I said, `Let's invent a deck just for this game!'|" He had a few thousand dollars in savings, he says, so he asked his wife, "Would you rather have a Cadillac or would you go for broke?"

Palmer's wife wanted to go for the jackpot, so he spent $20,000 on his idea. First he copyrighted it, then he printed 30,000 decks of the game, which he called Jimbo's 99. Next he advertised feverishly: in TV Guide, in the newspapers, on local television. He also placed an ad in a farmers' magazine. "They're the greatest card players in the world, you know, because of the cold winters," he explains.

But it was very tough selling Jimbo's 99. Palmer even formed an international corporation, hoping to peddle the card game in places like Hong Kong. He still couldn't sell it.

Then one day International Games, a small company that published the wildly successful card game UNO, offered to buy Palmer's game. They redesigned it and changed it to ONO 99. The idea was to sell a second game with UNO, says Palmer. "They'd sell UNO and give away ONO. That was their only way of advertising. Without UNO I don't know what ONO would have done."

The company paid Palmer his original investment and negotiated a royalty amount that he refuses to disclose. "I got pennies from each game," he says modestly. ONO sold about four million copies. Then it petered out. "It was just luck and timing. They just happened to be looking for one card game. Sales were great the first three or four years, but now it's died down to nothing. . . . My friends thought it made me a millionaire, but that's not true. I did get a new Buick, though."

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Terry Greene