Taking on 'Trivial Pursuit'
Bill and Gin Tolany's 'Dibs' parties smart
By Shawn Badgley, Fri., Dec. 19, 2003
Bill Tolany is hunched over a computer in his office at a software start-up in Northwest Austin, and he is concerned. "I just checked it this morning," he says. "I could've sworn it was here." It has two respective antecedents, actually; if this were the board game Dibs -- which is the second -- you as a player would have to come up with one of them. Imagine, if you will, that an opponent has correctly responded with "Dibs" to the question "What are the antecedents in Bill Tolany's concerned statement?," and then please suspend your disbelief to grant that there are five possible answers, as is customary in Dibs, the party/trivia game -- the Best Party/Trivia game, according to Games magazine, of 2003 -- created by Tolany and his wife, Gin, at their Great Hills home with some friends and more than some margaritas as consultants.
Imagine that your opponent had been honest with himself about his categorically lacking antecedent savvy, and had "bid" -- with something akin to a playing card illustrated (by artist and occasional Chronicle contributor Nathan Jensen) with derby hats ranging in number from one to five signifying when a player would like to answer, ranging in order from first to fifth -- to take the first shot, figuring that he had the most targets and would surely get lucky at least. So, your opponent has responded correctly, but he can only advance his pawn one space on the Dibs board. There are variables, of course: He can move one more space for each of the other players' incorrect answers; he might be holding one of five wild cards, allowing him to take two guesses or steal someone else's answer or send someone backward on the board; or his pawn might be resting on a bonus space.
But back to you. Imagine that you've bid to guess second, and it's your turn, and you now have just four blind options on the (theoretical) Bill Tolany concerned-statement-antecedents question. You can't use "Dibs," unless you have a wild card, because, well, your opponent has dibs on it. Instead, you decide that the it in "I just checked it this morning" must mean "Amazon.com." You say so. You're right. You move two spaces. You're doing well.
Bill and Gin Tolany -- or, more specifically, Dibs -- are doing well, too, but the 33-year-old Bill is still concerned. Amazon has sold out of Dibs, and has yet to order more as the holiday crush approaches critical mass. Adults and teenagers from Texas to Arizona to Vermont are shelling out the 35 bucks to snatch up the box of 300 questions in 13 categories with 1,600-plus answers, and supplies are dwindling fast. That includes those at Wheatsville, Toy Joy, and Great Hall Games, as well as at local Borders and Barnes & Nobles. (It's also available at www.playdibs.com and www.funagain.com.)
When asked if Dibs' accessible appeal -- Bill calls it the anti-Trivial Pursuit, a "less taxing but still thoughtful" challenge, citing its hourlong playing time, "controlling trivia freak"-proof structure, and elements of luck and strategy -- has meant access to more money for the couple, he laughs and shakes his head.
"I wouldn't advise anyone to invent a board game to get rich quick, or even slow," the UT business-school graduate says. "It's publishing, and it costs a lot to make these games. But it's just something we wanted to do, so we're doing it."