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Why 3M no longer makes games: Foil

"This totally sucks. That's it, I'm stealing the smoking jacket."

Back in the late 60's/early 70's, 3M (the Scotch Tape people), introduced a line of board games aimed at adults. There were business simulations (e.g., Acquire), war games (Feudal), games based on sports (Challenge Football), card games (Foil), and many others. In 1976, Avalon-Hill bought 3M's game line and continued to publish many of the best titles. Oddly, or perhaps not so, Foil was not among them.*

I think at some point in the creative process Foil was a good game. The best way to describe it is as a Scrabble/Rummy hybrid that all of a sudden turns into the Junior Jumble right at the end.

Everybody gets 10 cards, and on each card is a letter. With the leftover cards you create a draw pile and also, using the first card of the draw pile, a discard pile. Then everyone goes around picking up a card(s) from the discard or draw pile, then discarding a letter, all the while trying to make words out of what they have in hand.

There are rules that govern word length and acceptable word types, pretty basic Scrabble-y stuff. And this first part of the game is great, everybody drawing/discarding for a little while.

When someone is able to make words using all of their cards, that person lays down their hand (knocks) and then everyone scores their hand based on however many letters they were able to use. There are bonus points for various situations, and the person who knocks gets a small bonus as well. Nice and easy.

"But wait!", said some vice-president at 3M back in 1967, "Why not, after a player knocks, have everybody scramble up their words and lay the cards on the table. Then you set up this little sand timer and make the players unscramble and write down all the other players' words! And you get points for each word you unscramble!"

"Um, okay", said the nervous game designer, "but how do we score anagrams?"

"How do you mean?"


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"Well, suppose a player makes the word 'THREAD' and scrambles it D-H-E-R-T-A, but then another player unscrambles it to be 'HATRED'? How is that going to work?"

"Easy. We have everyone, after they've scrambled their own words, write down the correct solutions."

"Oh okay, so words unscrambled to anagrams won't be counted?"

"No, they're fine."

"What about scoring them?"

"They're scored the same as if you had gotten the correct word."

"So it doesn't matter what the original word was?"

"Of course it does, that's the whole point of the game! In fact, make sure you put into the rules that you have to unscramble your own words."

"Wait, what? You have to unscramble your own words?"

"Yeah, and it's a 20 point penalty for each one you get wrong."

And with that, the sad game designer threw up his hands and made a mental note to call his friend over at Parker Brothers first thing the next morning. True story.


Direct from the em-effing rules.


*Or maybe it was, I didn't really look into it that hard.

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Copyright © 2005-2013 Graham Cranfield