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History of Trivial Pursuit: 20 Must-Know Facts & Events (Origins, Inventors,…)

Last Updated on January 25, 2024 by Gamesver Team and JC Franco

Trivial Pursuit is a team board game where the objective is to answer as many general knowledge and pop culture questions. Players move pieces across a board and pick up cards corresponding to spaces on the boards. The topics on these cards typically include questions from several different categories.

In this article, we’ll take a look at some historical events related to the board game Trivial Pursuit. Read on to learn about this popular trivia board game.

Here are 20 historical facts about Trivial Pursuit:

1. Invented by Canadians

Trivial Pursuit originated in Canada. In 1979, Chris Haney and Scott Abbott sat drinking beer and playing board games when they came up with the idea. At the time, Haney worked as a picture editor for the Montreal Gazette, and Scott worked as a sports journalist for the Canadian Press.

2. Scrabble Was the Inspiration

In the previous section, we mentioned how Haney and Abbott were enjoying other board games when they came up with the idea of Trivial Pursuit. One game, in particular, served as the inspiration behind the trivia game: Scrabble.

 As Haney and Abbott played the word game, they discussed how much money the inventors must make, considering the game’s popularity. That’s when they decided to enter the board game industry.

3. A Shareholder Created the Artwork

The initial artwork on Trivial Pursuit, from the cover of the game to the designs of pieces and cards, was created by an eighteen-year-old Michael Wurstlin. Michael was unemployed at the time and agreed to take a few shares in the company in exchange for his art.

Thanks to his investment in the company, Michael went on to earn enough money to start his own marketing company in Toronto.

4. The Prototype Was Pieced Together at Home

When Haney and Abbott struck upon the idea of Trivial Pursuit, they immediately gathered raw materials to create the game. They cut out squares of cloth and stuck them on cardboard to make the base. Haney also rummaged through his collection of board games to collect different playing pieces for Trivial Pursuit.

5. The Initial Investment Was $75,000

During the 1980s, as Haney and Abbott began creating Trivial Pursuit, they calculated that they needed roughly $75,000. This initial investment allowed them to create the game board, pieces, and print the cards. 

Haney and Abbott struggled to find investors willing to put money into a new board game. Eventually, thirty-four people bought initial stocks of Trivial Pursuit — and this investment would prove financially beneficial.

6. Chris’s Brother Got In on the Action

Chris and Scott knew they couldn’t market a successful product without help, so they got more people on their team to distribute the load. One was a lawyer by the name of Ed Werner, and the other was Chris’s brother, John. This team of four managed to successfully launch the game in 1981.

7. They Initially Sold Over 1,000 Copies

As mentioned earlier, Scott and Chris came up with the idea of Trivial Pursuit in 1979 — and it took two years to launch the game. They had to find investors, set up distributors, and secure manufacturers. By 1981, the team released the game to the public and managed to sell 1,100 copies across Canada.

8. The Game Wasn’t Popular With Retailers

After its release in 1981, Trivial Pursuit wasn’t much of a hit. Many Canadian retailers refused to stock the game in their stores, as they didn’t believe it was a game that appealed to adults. As an added blow to Abbott and Haney, video games continued to outsell board games, making the potential success of the board game appear bleak.

9. The Game Was Sold at a Loss

Due to the cost of manufacturing, the company produced only a little over 1,000 copies of Trivial Pursuit. High production costs meant that it took roughly $75 to produce a single edition of the board game. Retailers refused to pay more than $20 for the game, so Abbott and Haney ended up selling the game at a loss.

10. Selchow and Righter Took Over

Two years after its launch, Selchow and Righter, a major games manufacturer in the United States, purchased the rights to Trivial Pursuit. To promote the game and increase its appeal, Selchow and Righter began a public relations campaign, quickly turning a once-unappealing board game into a popular game of trivia.

11. Selchow and Righter Were Skeptical at First

Despite the success of Trivial Pursuit once Selchow and Righter took over, it wasn’t an easy decision. When Haney and Abbott approached the company, the offer sounded ridiculous. Was it possible to sell a Canadian game in the United States for $35? It sounded like a risky investment, and naturally, Selchow and Righter felt hesitant.

It turns out that the company made the right decision, as Trivial Pursuit went on to help them earn millions.

12. The Founders Were (Almost) Sued Twice

In 1984, Haney and Abbott found themselves in court. Author Fred Worth filed a suit claiming that the men copied the idea of the game from his published trivia books. Fortunately for Abbott and Haney, the judge dismissed the claim — you cannot copyright trivia.

That wasn’t the end of court proceedings for the Trivial Pursuit founders, however. Another man eventually filed a case claiming that he gave Haney the idea for the game during a hitchhiking trip. This case, too, was dropped without consequence.

13. The Game Was Produced in Different Languages

Trivial Pursuit went on to sell many millions of copies worldwide. The company eventually published the game in dozens of different languages. Trivial Pursuit achieved considerable popularity all over the world. Additionally, each board game sold in different countries is customized with questions relating to the country in which it’s produced.

14. Trivial Pursuit Fascinated Older People

During the ’80s and ’90s, the older population looked for something to keep them entertained and socializing during parties, gatherings, and other events. Trivial Pursuit became the perfect game for these occasions, as it fostered open communication between participants.

It certainly helped that the majority of trivia included in the game was from a time that older adults could relate to.

15. The Game Sold 20 Million Copies in 1984

In 1984, when Selchow and Righter stepped in, Trivial Pursuit’s sales skyrocketed. The company sold over 20 million copies of the game in the third year of its launch, earning over $800 million in revenue. At the time, selling 100,000 copies of a board game indicated immense success. Needless to say, Trivial Pursuit far exceeded that goal.

16. Trivial Pursuit Was in the Hall of Fame

By 1993, Games Magazine awarded Trivial Pursuit a spot in the “Games Hall of Fame.” Induction into the Games Hall of Fame is one of the highest honors available to those working in the gaming and entertainment industries. A game that started with two men enjoying a few beers over Scrabble eventually became a legend.

17. There Are Many Special Editions

When Trivial Pursuit first came out, the game was limited to trivia on specific topics. But over the years, Trivial Pursuit came out with several editions, some of which include:

  • Star Wars Classic Trilogy Collector’s Edition
  • Lord of the Rings Movie Trilogy Edition
  • Power Rangers 20th Anniversary Edition
  • Baby Boomer Edition

18. The Game Was Bought by Two Gaming Franchises

Following the success of Selchow and Righter, after the purchase of Trivial Pursuit, another gaming company, Coleco, decided that they wanted to buy them out. In 1986, Coleco purchased the gaming giant for $75 million. 

However, Coleco purchased the games’ rights — not the name itself — so Trivial Pursuit became their property.

Eventually, Coleco went bankrupt due to wayward expansion plans, and Hasbro purchased the rights for $85 million.

19. Chris Haney Died at 59

Thirty-one years after Chris Haney and Scott Abbott came up with the idea for Trivial Pursuit, Chris passed away. On May 31, 2010, Chris succumbed to a long, debilitating illness at only 59 years old. Chris was survived by his first and second wives, as well as his three children.

20. Scott Abbott Became a Hall of Famer

Scott Abbott retained some success after selling the rights to Trivial Pursuit. In 2005, he obtained ownership of the Ontario Hockey League team, the North Bay Battalion. After becoming owner, he assisted in building a hockey club for the league. This hard work went on to earn him an induction into the Brampton Sports Hall of Fame.

JC Franco

JC Franco serves as a New York-based editor for Gamesver. His interest for board games centers around chess, a pursuit he began in elementary school at the age of 9. Holding a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Mercyhurst University, JC brings a blend of business acumen and creative insight to his role. Beyond his editorial endeavors, he is a certified USPTA professional, imparting his knowledge in tennis to enthusiasts across the New York City Metropolitan area.