Two California women turn divorce into a board game

SACRAMENTO, CALIF. — SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- It started as therapy.

Two women from Carmel, Calif. -- who once shared the ups and downs of their marriages -- began talking to each other about the pain of their divorces.


Divorce attorneys. Child custody laws. California's no-fault system. All that serious stuff that wore them down physically and emotionally. Eventually, after long afternoon talks around their kitchen tables, the two began to see the absurdity of the whole process.

"We started seeing the humor in everything," says Jean Moritz, "like the friend we have who found some clothes that belonged to her husband's new girlfriend in the trunk of her car. She got so upset that she drove around town passing out the clothes to homeless people."


Talking -- and laughing -- about what they had gone through helped. Soon Ms. Moritz and her partner, Dorothy Meheen, realized a lot of people have had similar experiences. They tried to think of a way to share the humor, which they saw as a kind of therapy, with others.

They came up with a board game they call the California Divorce Game . . . It's No Fault . . . of Mine.

The game is a humorous trip through the divorce process. The object -- as in many divorces -- is to keep all of your money. Men start with $10,000. Women start with $1,000. (A touch of reality, they say.) Players move their pieces (plastic nuts and screws, which of course don't fit together) around a board made of laminated paper.

Each player starts at the first level, called discovery. That's where players realize their marriage is in trouble. At this level, spouses leave to join heavy metal bands or take a vow of poverty.

Players then move on to the next level, called skulduggery or dirty tricks, where they do things such as cutting their spouse's pants into shorts or using their CDs as coasters.

The next and final level is recovery, where players learn to accept their new situation or they meet someone new.

L The game -- on sale at specialty gift shops -- costs $22.95.

Ms. Moritz says she and Ms. Meheen are targeting people who have been divorced or have been in long-term relationships that have ended. "I envision a bunch of people playing this at parties," she says.


Ms. Moritz and Ms. Meheen each divorced a year and a half ago after 22 years of marriage. Ms. Moritz says both divorces were "painful, but amicable." Ms. Moritz's ex-husband has not seen the game. Ms. Meheen's former spouse has seen it but will not comment on it.

"We promised them that the game would not be based on our divorces," Ms. Moritz says. "But I'm sure they could see our relationship in certain parts of the game."

She admits she gets both personal and professional satisfaction from the board game.

"For us, it's a business venture, but it's also a way of showing our former husbands that we can now look at [the divorce] with humor," she says.

Ever since a photographer and newspaper reporter from Toronto hit it big with Trivial Pursuit in 1984, inventors have been coming out of the woodwork with board games. Creating a board game is the easy part, say the experts. Selling one is a different matter.

"It's easier to have a hit screenplay," says Winston Hamilton, executive director of the Game Manufacturer's Association. "Everybody thinks they can come up with a successful game and make millions of dollars, but it's not that easy."


He doesn't think the California Divorce Game will be around a year from now.

Tim Walsh, an industry analyst and game creator, is more optimistic about the women's chances.

"The exciting part is that it can be done," Mr. Walsh says. "The big games were invented by people outside the industry."

Monopoly was created by an engineer. Scrabble by an architect. Pictionary by a waiter from Seattle.

Monopoly and Scrabble have been big sellers for many years. But the board-game industry was dying until Trivial Pursuit hit it big in 1984.

"At first, everybody in the game industry thought Trivial Pursuit was a fluke," says Mr. Walsh. "Remember, this was in the middle of the Pac-Man craze. No one thought people would be playing games again."


Soon more adult information games hit the market. Pictionary followed in 1986, Scattergories in 1989, Outburst in 1989 and Balderdash in 1990. Board games are now a $115-million-a-year business.

Analysts say the board game industry has been revitalized because the games are entertaining and economical.

"But don't underestimate the need for human interaction," Mr. Walsh says.

The new successful board games are generally derivatives of either Trivial Pursuit or Pictionary. They also have broad appeal. Mr. Walsh says the divorce game sounds like it may have a limited audience.

"It's good that they have a niche, but it may be too restricting and a lot of people may not get the humor," he says. "They may think they're making light of something serious."

Ms. Moritz is sensitive to this issue. "Divorce is serious," she says. "But it's also emotionally draining. This game gives people the chance to see it from another viewpoint and, hopefully, help them realize that there are some things in divorce that are funny."


If you have an idea for a board game, don't bother calling a major manufacturer.

"Parker Brothers and Mattel won't even talk to you, because they're afraid you'll come back to them later and say they stole your idea," Mr. Walsh says. "They have their own research and design teams."

Ms. Moritz and Ms. Meheen realize they have a lot of obstacles in front of them. "Will it be the next Trivial Pursuit?" Ms. Moritz asks. "I don't think so. I think it's more along the lines of the Pet Rock, something fun that everyone wants."