Though its contents got a rave review in Games magazine, you won't find a dark blue box labeled "Kassle" in any of the toy stores during this season of frenzied shopping. You also would search in vain for a white box labeled "Chasse" (pronounced chase) or a red box with "STAK" in bold, white letters on the front.
The 3,000 of those boxes -- collector's editions, numbered and signed -- are in a warehouse in Rockville, where they are likely to remain unless a lot of people look up "DMR Games" in the yellow pages and phone an order in to an answering machine.
DMR Games is David M. Rea, a 28-year-old computer whiz who left a good job as a systems analyst last January and become a consultant so he could devote more time to inventing board games. "Kassle," "Chasse" and "STAK" are the first three games Rea has decided to market. He has invented others, including two card games that use special decks, but he is monitoring sales on his first three games before deciding to develop more.
He has no budget for advertising, so he is relying largely on word-of-mouth, notices on college bulletin boards, a listing under "Games" in the Maryland suburban yellow pages and a little descriptive brochure he gives to anyone who seems interested.
He has no retail outlets except phone and mail orders. "I have rented a free long-distance number, 800-DMR-2-DAY," he says. "I think that's easy to remember, and I expect to get some action on it." The games sell for $12.95 each plus $2 for shipping; all three sell for $34.95 plus $4 shipping.
"Orders have begun to come in since the notice in Games magazine," he says.
Rea himself is playing a game that could be called "David and Goliath": DMR Games competing with the big companies -- Parker, Ideal, Milton Bradley and all the other names you see on television at this time of year. Rea hopes one day to lick them since he discovered he can't join them.
You think maybe some day you can invent a brilliant new game and be discovered and become rich and famous? Rea thought so too, until he began going to those big game companies and trying to market his inventions.
"One executive told me that they looked like good games, but that didn't matter very much," he says. "What they wanted were games that would look exciting in television commercials."
It all began in 1977, when Rea was a student at the University of Maryland, because he loved games but didn't like backgammon, which everyone was playing that year.
"I wanted a game I could play," he recalls, "so I decided to invent one." He studied the essentials of chess, checkers and backgammon and tried to work out something that would combine the best elements of each. One sleepless night was spent without results; the next night, he invented Chasse in his sleep.
"I woke up at 2 a.m.," he says, "and it was all there in my mind: the board design, the pieces, the rules. I jumped out of bed, went to my desk in a trance, wrote it all down and went back to sleep."
The next morning, he discovered he had written all the rules -- 30 lines of them -- on a single line, producing an unreadable blur. But with a bit of work, he was able to reconstruct his midnight ideas, and the second time he wrote them out clearly on a single piece of paper. He still has it and shows it proudly, though the rules have changed a bit since that first draft -- refined after playing the game with friends for two months, listening to suggestions and thinking of how it could be improved.
In its final form, Chasse has elements of chess (pieces can move more than one square at a time), checkers (a modified checkerboard is used and pieces are removed by jumping them) and backgammon (a die is cast to determine the direction of the move and the number of squares). As in backgammon, you can win the game by getting all your pieces off the board; as in checkers, you can do that by forcing your opponent to jump them.
Chasse has all the earmarks of a classic game -- the kind that can push the true gamesman into addiction, and the kind that has a structural interest transcending the limits of time, geography and culture. The elements are familiar to game players, but they are given new, inventive twists. The rules can be learned in a few minutes, but the tactical complications seem inexhaustible; it can be played enjoyably at many different levels of skill.
From a purely structural point of view, Chasse may be slightly less classic than two of Rea's later inventions. Kassle is a blocking game in which the players try to arrange five pieces in a row -- with the mind-bending complication that a player can use his turn to move a row up or down, right or left, rather than put down another piece. STAK is played by stacking tiles with various point values in three tiers on a board -- saving the highest valued tiles, if possible, for the top stack, where they are worth more.
Unlike Chasse, both are games of pure strategy with no chance element involved, and the rules of both are somewhat less complex -- fewer than a dozen rules for each game. The possibilities for both also seem inexhaustible -- unlike tick-tack-toe, for example, or Trivial Pursuit.
Despite all that, when Rea took Chasse, Kassle, STAK and three other games to the big companies, he was greeted with indifference, he says.
"One year, all they were interested in was video games. Another year, they only wanted trivia games," he says. "I got the impression that they didn't want games that people would go on playing year after year; they wanted people to buy new games every year. 'We don't care if people play the games,' somebody told me. 'We just want people to buy them.' "
Games like these went on for several years, during which Rea observed the curious habits of large corporations.
"When a group of executives looked the games over," he says, "nobody wanted to express an opinion until he was sure most of the others would agree. Then, an executive would pick three or four games out of the six I brought and tell me they would look them over and get back to me.
"They were never the same three or four games, and they would always be sent back to me two weeks later. Every six months, when I went back to try again, there would be a new vice president in charge of acquiring new games. Apparently, that job doesn't have much longevity."
At one company, executives began by asking him, "What is your marketing strategy?" Then they told him the games were good and they might take them, but only after he had developed and marketed them himself to get a good track record.
"I decided that if I was going to get a good track record before they would invest in my games, I could do it with my own company," Rea says.
So David finally decided to take arms against Goliath.
Midway through college, seeing what lay ahead, Rea had switched his field of concentration from information-systems management to business administration. He began putting that learning to work to form DMR Games -- drawing up business plans, designing the final games packages on his home computer, working out production schedules and marketing strategies.
Rea is his own production and shipping departments, putting together the game parts, which are manufactured by subcontractors, and wrapping them up to be mailed.
He has emptied his savings, borrowed the cash value of his insurance, borrowed money from his brother and run his credit cards up to their limits for the $15,000 he needed to start DMR Games.
He thinks the price is right.
"You don't bet more than you can afford to lose," he says. If necessary, he thinks he can get his investment back by selling the games door-to-door for half-price. And whether he wins or not, he thinks, "this is a game worth playing."