Epic Gumdrop Ep 15: Licensed Versions

Adventure Time Monopoly

Ever wonder why there are 14,976 versions of Monopoly on the market? Or why you can’t find a version of your favourite game without a familiar cartoon character on it? We may have found the answer, and the answer isn’t just money. Well, it’s always money, but it’s also something else.

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(Length: approx 26min)


Here’s James’ opening rant:

Licensed Versions

Before starting this episode I don’t know that I’ve played a reskinned or licensed version of a board game. There is something about them that does not appeal to me. Even if it is a license I’m fond of I’m not likely to play it because I have the assumption it is nothing more than an attempt to dress up a game without any substantial game mechanic alterations. In other words, I have always felt they are a cynical cash grab.

In looking at the story of board game reskinning I started by compiling a list of versions of popular board games. And within a few minutes the same name kept reoccurring. USAopoly. USAopoly. USAopoly.

Who is USAopoly? Why does the beginnings of an explosion of licensed film, TV and brand versions of so-called “classic” board games begin in the mid to late 1990s? Should I get over my licensed version aversion and just enjoy a familiar game with an equally familiar pop-culture re-theming?

USAopoly began in 1994 in Carlsbad, California, as a way to produce localized versions of Monopoly. They worked with Hasbro to acquire the ability to use the Parker Brothers license and started off by producing a San Diego version of Monopoly.

In their words:

“We started with cities, colleges and popular themes like The Simpsons®, Harley-Davidson ® and the NFL. Over 100 different specialty editions later, USAOPOLY started putting spins on other timeless games we all know and love to play like Yahtzee, Jenga, The Game of Life as well as Chess, Checkers, Tic Tac Toe, Dominoes and Puzzles.”

This explains a lot. I always assumed that once one board game company struck gold with a popular re-theming of their game that all of the board game companies simply followed suit. But it’s really a case of everything being a subsidiary of Hasbro. Or at least Parker Brothers, Milton Bradley, Wizards of the Coast (and Avalon Hill) and Cranium. In other words:

  • Axis & Allies
  • Battleship
  • Candy Land
  • Connect 4
  • Cranium
  • Clue (Cluedo)
  • Diplomacy
  • The Game of Life
  • Monopoly
  • Ouija
  • Operation
  • Pictionary
  • Risk
  • Scrabble
  • Trivial Pursuit
  • Yahtzee

That’s a lot of properties. So when I see a Dungeons & Dragons version of Clue next to a Bratz or Corvette version of Monopoly I should realize that these are all the work of the same evil masterminds. I mean the utterly brilliant work of one little company with ambitions to give us regional versions of one of the most well-known board games out there.

But wait, their work does not stop there. That recent Adventure Time version of Munchkin? Thanks, USAopoly. It makes sense as they also brought us Adventure Time Monopoly, Adventure Time Memory Challenge. How about Adventure Time Risk: Battle For the Candy Kingdom? Coming soon, perhaps.

Now I know you’re thinking that it all couldn’t get any better than this. It does. If you are a company or organization and you want a rethemed version of Monopoly, Yahtzee, Trivial Pursuit, Memory, Connect 4, Clue, Life, Telestrations, Tapple or Reverse Charades you can have it! Fill out the web form and it can be yours.

Monopoly Epic Gumdrop? I know you will be searching GenCon next year for our booth. I’m sorry to say you’ll have wait until Essen 2057.

Part of me is a little sad that there isn’t more story here. I wanted to read about the titans of the game industry playing a pop-culture arms race as they battled bravely, often fatally, in boardrooms across the land in a bid to secure the holy grail of product licenses. I wanted to learn of fist-fights and lawsuits and blackmail and assassins. Or maybe I simply wanted the story about the many versions of Monopoly to be more than a story about a monopoly.