In 1985, 24-year-old Rob Angel, then working as a waiter in Seattle, US, borrowed $35,000 (around Rs15.5 lakh now) from his aunt and uncle to launch a new board game he’d devised. For nearly four years, he’d been tweaking and testing the basic idea at parties—he would open the dictionary to a random word, and attempt to draw illustrations for friends so they could guess what the word was.
In spite of a disastrous “launch party”, where Angel and his two start-up partners Gary Everson and Terry Langston managed to sell only 42 copies out of a batch of 1,000 they’d prepared, the game took off eventually. For the last two-and-a-half decades, Pictionary has been eliciting groans of despair and squeals of joy in family gatherings and drunken parties alike. It has sold over 30 million copies in 42 languages, and Angel managed to buy that “nice car” he’d always wanted. The game has spread its tentacles to TV shows, video games and competitive world championships.
A classic game of Pictionary. Ramesh Pathania / Mint
The basic formula has remained intact throughout—teams take cards with words written on them, and one team member must draw scribbles within a time limit for partners to guess. The sketcher is not allowed to speak. Descriptive words such as “grape” or “ice cream” are easy enough, but try drawing “rejuvenate” within 60 seconds. Pandemonium ensues when an “All-Play” is triggered—this is when sketchers from all the teams draw simultaneously, and guesses fly furiously.
Angel has since designed only one more game—a tepid Rorschach test-inspired family title called ThinkBlot, where players attempt to find images in strange ink patterns.
Pictionary turns 25 this year, and Mattel is unveiling a number of fresh takes on the formula.
A digital version of the game is being launched for social networking site Facebook. While drawing with the mouse isn’t quite the same thing as scribbling with a pencil, Facebook Pictionary manages to retain the addictiveness of the original, allowing you to play in short bursts with your friends. This version also allows two-player mode (unlike the original, which requires a minimum of two teams of two).
The company is also launching a special Indian edition of the game that includes a separate set of 50 cards with India-centric words. These include understandable choices such as “Mahatma Gandhi” and “kulfi” and curiouser ones such as “Dhyan Chand” and “Ram Teri Ganga Maili”. “We estimate that around 300,000 families play Pictionary in India,” says Rahul Bhowmik, head of marketing for Mattel Toys India. “The international variant of Pictionary was introduced back in 2003, and proved to be an instant hit among a wide-ranging audience.”