Byline: Donna De Marco, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Operating on Shrek, buying up the Simpsons' hometown or taking a Risk to conquer Middle-earth - they're twists on classic board games that have found prominent space on toy store shelves and have helped keep the board game industry in play.
Toy companies have capitalized on the popularity of pop culture icons like "Shrek," "The Simpsons" and the "Lord of the Rings" to revamp their classics.
"By doing [licensed] games, we are co-branding two well-known entities," said Mark Morris, director of public relations for Hasbro Games, which makes such games as Operation, Clue and the Game of Life. "It's a great way to bring a fresh connection to it."
For the first time in Operation's 40-year history, Cavity Bob - the patient on the operating table - was replaced this year. Surgeons-in-training now can operate on Shrek, removing the ogre's ear wax, among other nasty things.
Monopoly's "Simpsons" edition lets residents of Springfield - including Homer and Bart - buy up places like Moe's, Barney's Bowl-A-Rama and the Kwik-E-Mart.
This year, 21-year-old Trivial Pursuit introduced a "Saturday Night Live" edition featuring 2,000 questions plus a digital video disc highlighting famous sketches throughout the show's 30-year history. Trivial Pursuit also has a "Lord of the Rings" edition. So does Monopoly, Risk and Stratego.
Thirty-two-year-old Uno has 26 variations, including "SpongeBob SquarePants," "South Park," "The Simpsons" and "Peanuts."
The Memory Game, introduced in 1966, has a "Finding Nemo" version. And the Game of Life, which started in 1960, has "Simpsons" and "Monsters Inc." editions.
Despite all the competition, board games - old and new - are still a popular pastime. Americans are shelling out money to buy the new versions - whether they are an updated edition of the classic, a new licensed version or a technologically advanced edition.
The original, generic versions still exist and still sell.
In 2003, consumers spent $909.8 million on board games. That was about a 4 percent increase from the previous year, according to the NPD Group, a market research firm.
Board games make up about 38 percent of the $2.4 billion games and puzzle industry.
"Board games are very hot right now," said Maria Weiskott, editor in chief of Playthings, a monthly trade magazine. "This resurgence is a post-9/11 phenomenon and it hasn't stopped."
Many in the industry credit Hasbro's push for Family Game Night - a campaign that for Family Game Night - a campaign that began in 1998 to encourage families to play board games together. …