Big Monster Toys’ Sam Unsicker on Monopoly Scrabble’s 15-year journey to market

Sam Unsicker, Big Monster Toys, Monopoly Scrabble

Sam, it’s always lovely to catch up. We’re here today to delve into the fab-looking Monopoly Scrabble. There are two big clues in the name, but for anyone yet to see the game in action, how would you pitch it?
Hi there Billy! Always a pleasure to chat with you! First of all, I have to agree with you, Winning Moves and Hasbro did an amazing job on the game and it does look FAB! Ha – yes, the name does kind of give it away – we originally called it Scrabblopoly.

We feel that it takes the best of two iconic games and melds them into a fast-playing game that still retains the flavour of the originals. This game amps up all the action with players zipping around the board and properties changing hands several times throughout the game. Everyone is always “in it” until the last tile is played.

Sam Unsicker, Big Monster Toys, Monopoly Scrabble

It sounds – and looks – like a winner! How did the idea come about?
Probably not the way anyone would have expected. I was at home playing around with different food and drink mash-ups… For example, I combined Strawberry hard cider with Guinness for a very tasty new Black and Tan. Then I removed the pimentos from large green olives and replaced it with the cream filling from Oreos. You all may be thinking that sounds disgusting – but I know that a few of you reading this will try it… And you won’t be disappointed! The sweet with the salty… Mmmmm!

Ha! I’m with you all the way – as soon as we wrap up here I’m trying that!
Do! But anyway, I started thinking about mashing up different games as well – and Scrabblopoly was born!

Sam Unsicker, Big Monster Toys, Monopoly Scrabble

From an Oreo/olive mash-up to a game on shelf – I love that. I wonder how many other games out there have stemmed from kitchen experiments! Anyway, the game feels like a seamless, smart union of the two brands! Was it a fast ‘yes’ from Hasbro!?
Nope, no, nada – not even close! In fact, this all came about around 15 years ago.

Seriously. From the time we first played this game until it finally hit the market, it was well over a decade. In fact, the person who became the first champion of the game was Phil Orbanes Sr from Winning Moves. Winning Moves has been partners with Hasbro for many years and creates games based on the Hasbro licenses. Phil and his team really fell in love with this game and brought it to Hasbro for permission to produce it.

We are not privy to what actually happened in those meetings, but Hasbro denied Winning Moves from pursuing this game. This happened several times over the years, with BMT showing it to Hasbro and Winning Moves showing it to Hasbro – and it never seemed to get any traction. But, as we all know, you have to have thick skin and tons of patience in this business. So, since we really believed in this game, we would keep pulling it out every few years.

Is that a familiar story in terms of ideas not getting picked up, going back into archive only to find a home years later? Are there any other BMT items that went through that cycle?
It certainly does happen from time to time. This is why we keep everything we make and try to store it in a way that makes it easily accessible to pull out and present again at any time. We have had success in both pulling out our products that have been produced and our prototypes that never quite made it to market yet.

Some of the items that pop to mind are the Ogre with Fisher Price, the Bird Loving Barbie with Mattel and UNO Showdown with Mattel.

Sam Unsicker, Big Monster Toys, Monopoly Scrabble

Each one of these was shown a number of times before actually going to contract. Timing is everything, so you just need to be aware of what is going on and bring things back out at the right time.

So, who do we have to thank for Monopoly Scrabble finally getting over the line?
Hasbro’s Tanya Thompson and Naomi Brugnatelli – the Dynamic Duo! – both really helped push this one over the finish line. They had begun travelling again after the pandemic and joined us at our office for several hours of game playing. I believe it was the first time either one of them had seen Scrabblopoly and we played it through a couple of times. They seemed to really like the flavour of the two games combined into one – and the fact that it plays so quickly.

Sizzle videos are obviously vital in today’s inventor landscape, but do you think playing the game in-person with Tanya and Naomi helped its chances?
Videos are great – and they certainly became very important during COVID – but sitting down and actually playing through a game is key. There are certain features, especially with games, that you just cannot capture in a sizzle.

Speaking of sizzles, our video team did an incredible job on the sizzle for this game – I did my own little segue there!

Ha! I can take the day off! But yes, do tell me about the sizzle for this one?
They took the old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups “You got your peanut butter in my chocolate. No, you got your chocolate in my peanut butter” gag and made such a great video. Hasbro and Winning Moves are actually using it for the online commercial for the game.

Oh great! Let’s put that in here so we can check that out…

Fantastic video! And there’s a link to slightly longer version here. Going back to Tanya and Naomi, how important is it for your ideas to find a champion within the toycos?
Having the Inventor Relation person go back and champion your idea is crucial. These folks are the ones that go back and sell for YOU. You want them to be excited about your item and eager to get it in front of the team back home. Their enthusiasm and drive can make or break the next step of the process.

Speaking of inventor relation folks, you’ve worked with lots of them over the years. What do you think makes someone good at inventor relations? What traits do the best ones share?
Passion. That’s it in a nutshell. The best IR people treat every idea as if it were their own and are passionate about getting it to market. They’re in a tricky situation because they represent both the inventors and their company – so they are trying to get the best deal for both sides.

The ones that take each idea as their own then present and fight for your submission are the best in the business. As you know, there is tons of rejection in the business… When you have an IR person who feels the rejection as much as you do, then you can tell that this is a person who truly cares.

Absolutely. Now, Monopoly and Scrabble are obviously huge brands. Is there a science or method to how BMT looks at inventing for brands versus totally original concepts? I imagine there are risks and rewards unique to both.
We probably look at the risk/reward the same way that all the inventors do. One of the first things that we think of is: “If this client passes on this, can we show it to other clients?” If the answer is “yes”, then you’re more likely to give it a try because you have multiple chances of getting it placed. If the answer is “no”, then you have to really try and calculate how much time and money it will cost you to make this idea… And do you think this brand could be strong enough to get that money back and then some.

With Monopoly Scrabble, we were sure that we could get the game done very quickly and we did have TWO clients to show it to in Winning Moves and Hasbro. So, it seemed well worth the risk… We will see if it pays off.

Sam, as always this has been a joy! Before we wrap up, are there any other recent BMT launches we can highlight that folks should keep an eye out for?
I always choke when it comes to this question… Brian answers it way better than I do! I am always focused on what we are trying to place now and what we need to come up with in the future – but I will give it a shot!

Here goes… I know that we have about 10 new games coming out – many of them placed through TinkerTini – and we have a girl’s collectible, some pre-school stuff, an animated plush and some boy’s collectible stuff! How about that! See, I told you I’m not good at answering that question!

Haha! You nailed it Sam! Big thanks again and congrats to you and the team on the arrival of Monopoly Scrabble.
Billy, it’s a pleasure to chat with you and, as always, thank you for everything you do to promote this industry that we all love so much!

To stay in the loop with the latest news, interviews and features from the world of toy and game design, sign up to our weekly newsletter here

Stay up to date with the latest news, interviews and opinions with our weekly newsletter
Back to top arro

Sign Up

Enter your details to receive Mojo updates & news.