GTM #220 - There's a Saboteur In Our Midst!
by AMIGO Games


You’re digging for gold deep in the shadowy maze of a mining tunnel, when suddenly a pickaxe shatters your lamp and the cavern goes pitch black. The saboteur has struck again . . . but who is the saboteur?

Since 2004, gamers have asked this question as they’ve played the classic card game Saboteur™. But there’s another question to be asked: What makes Saboteur such a great game? Is it the elements of cooperative play? The betrayal? The secrecy? The theme? The fact that it’s easy to learn and takes about 30 minutes to play? Or maybe it’s because large groups can play together? Saboteur fans gave a broad range of answers--all of these factors contribute to its success.

This led to a broader question: If you had unlimited access to a large German game company’s archives that has hundreds of games, including classics and Spiel des Jahres winners, how would you pick games to launch in our market? While working on a team with the good fortune to have this opportunity, we chose three criteria:

  • European quality--great gameplay and quality components
  • Easy to learn rules
  • Moderate prices (suggested retails between $10-20)

With Saboteur (now available at a suggested retail of $10) as our centerpiece, we set out to find games that are rich in strategy and entertainment value, but easy to learn. We started with Saboteur 2™, an expansion pack that adds team play, new characters (including one who’s more interested in crystals than gold), and devious obstacles. Saboteur -The Duel™ offers a two-player version and solitaire play, along with a troll that can block the miners’ path.

We then chose Ciúb™ and Portal of Heroes™. In Ciúb, players are wizards on an epic quest for the Opus Magnum, invoking strategic powers and magic with every roll of the cubes (there are 62 in the game). In Portal of Heroes, players summon fabled heroes through the portals of legends as they seek to fulfill an ancient prophecy and reestablish the sacred balance between Good and Evil.

Adding two Spiel des Jahres winners that have defeated the test of time was an easy choice. Five-time Spiel-winner Wolfgang Kramer’s Heimlich & Co.™ is a Cold War classic that may be the only Spiel-winning strategy game that players can learn in two minutes or less—the game revolves around capturing top-secret information while trying to figure out the other players’ identities. Café International™ offers mouth-watering strategy as players earn points for seating diners at tables, but lose points as the restaurant fills up and they’re forced to send them to the bar.

And then there’s AMIGO’s specialty: card games. Including No Thanks!™ (one of my personal favorites) was a no-brainer—it’s a game with just three rules that challenges players to get inside their opponents’ heads by playing chips (which are good) to avoid taking points (which are bad). Another Wolfgang Kramer creation, the well-known Take 5!™ (back to its original name after stints as Take 6!™ and 6 nimmt!™), is now combined with a free bonus game, Take a Number!™ (X nimmt!™, in German). And Double Down™’s simple rules and addictive gameplay made it a natural too—players add cards onto a running total, trying to avoid doubles, such as 11, 22, and 33, and playing the card that pushes the total over 99. Eye Sea™ is great for groups and solitaire play—its 120 cards have images that players combine to make phrases and sayings—combine a chili pepper and a chair to form “hot seat,” and dice and a clock to make “game time.”


Déjà Vu™ offers a unique twist: It’s the only game I know of that gets harder the more it’s played. Players flip over cards with pictures of objects on them; the second time an object appears they scramble to grab it from the table. And we couldn’t leave out Fruit Punch™ (known in German as Halli Galli™), since it’s AMIGO’s top-selling game of all time with more than 11 million units in print.

The next gem from the archives was a classic game called Escape from the Hidden Castle™ (Hugo - das Schlossgespenst™, in Germany, and formerly known as Midnight Party™). Originally launched in 1989, it was one of the first games to feature, literally and figuratively, a phantom mover—a ghostly specter that moves at random, chasing guests around the castle until only one player escapes.

Our title with the most pre-orders is Haim Shafir’s Clack!™, in which players use magnetic discs to pick up other magnetic discs with matching colors and shapes. One of the world’s most successful inventors, with tens of millions of units sold, Shafir’s Connect the Thoughts™, Ring-a-Ding-Ding™, and Cake Off!™ all feature simple gameplay that challenges kids’ brains . . . and fingers.

To finish things off we added two children’s games with astonishing value: Engine, Engine No. 9™ features 12 toy trains and a two-layer board that moves on every turn, while Duck-a-Roo!™ includes 4 large plastic duckies and an elegant memory-based gameplay mechanism. Both of these games have suggested retails of $19.99.

With Saboteur in the middle of it all, the AMIGO product line launches in mid-August.

Jeff Pinsker has invented more than 150 games that have sold more than 38 million units at retail. His inventing career started at the age of 9, when his mother bought him a board game that was missing its instructions and he had to invent rules—he made up a different rule set every day for a week. Since then, he’s held top management roles at Spin Master’s Cardinal division, Pressman Toy, Klutz, University Games, Infinitoy, and currently, AMIGO Games.