by University Games | 31 Mar 2022
Biographies and Interviews
The story of University Games is a story of adventure, hard work, lots of fun and a great deal of good fortune. We started the company on April 1, 1985 with two founders and a receptionist. We had a small office in Menlo Park, CA and $20,000 in a checking account. The founders, Bob Moog and Cris Lehman were college friends. That was part of where the name University Games came from. The other part of our name came from our initial plan to focus on distribution to university students through university bookstores. Our first product was Murder Mystery Party which has stayed in our line for 36 years. Our second product was the Aerobie which is now part of Spinmaster. We had other early products which were intended for college age audiences which included Topspin and Spinout (Binary Arts), Dare (Parker Brothers) and Rubiks Magic (Matchbox). Putting these distribution deals together led to lifetime friendships with people like Bill Ritchie, Andrea Barthello, Tom Kalinske and Phil Orbanes.
(Founders Bob Moog and Cris Lehman for the 1986 UG Holiday Card.)
While we didn’t have a mission statement we did have 3 guiding principles:
Unlike the Founders and CEOs of many toy companies, I started out as a game inventor and I still find that product development is my greatest joy. On my own and with colleagues over the years (Jeff Pinsker, Vince Kurr, Elise Gresch, Craig Hendrickson) I have been involved in hundreds of products at the inventor level. This year I am working on several products including Bob Moog’s Bad Dad Joke game. There is no greater thrill than going into someone’s home and seeing games that you created sitting on their shelf.
People often ask what I am most proud of in terms of the accomplishments of the company. There are three things I mention. The first is the great products that we have developed especially our Dr. Seuss games, 20 Questions, Totally Gross and Murder Mystery Party case files. Second is our reputation and success as a training and teaching company. Our alums are spread throughout the industry and have started many of their own toy companies including BeGood, Goliath US, Amigo US, and Pazow. It is very cool and I am proud of all of them. The third is that we have actually survived. I had lots to learn about managing cash flow, supply chain management and sales strategies to keep us going for nearly 4 decades.
(Our early Murder Mystery Party games from the 1980s.)
Many people today are wary of the issues that we all face in the board game industry. We have retail and manufacturer consolidation that means that there are less doors to knock on.. We also have a global pandemic, increasing inflation, raising oil prices, a war in the Ukraine and a very scary supply chain situation. I get that , but at University Games and at AreYouGame we are full of optimism about the future. We see a new generation of game players, digital marketing as the future of getting the word out and a renewed interest from parents in learning games and party games---our specialty. Hooray—the future is exciting and ahead of us.
As we approach our 5th decade in business I reflect on how important hard work and lots of good luck can be but also that it is super important to keep your ego in check when you have a good run and avoid what the great Richard Pain called the “God Moments”. Equally, to be successful a company needs to be constantly reinventing itself and looking at the next trend on the horizon. Oh…..and remember to keep having fun. When the fun stops it is time to roll the dice and start over.
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