Joseph Cornacchia, co-founder of The Games Gang that published (or co-published) Pictionary and Balderdash, passed away about two weeks ago. (source and image) The other co-founder, Tom McGuire, passed away in 1992.

Since 1990, Joseph was known mostly for his ownership of several derby-winning racehorses.

The Story of The Games Gang

Tom and a host of other people worked at Selchow and Righter, promoting Scrabble in the 1970s. They pushed to acquire publishing rights to Trivial Pursuit in 1983, turning it into a massive hit game. Coleco bought S&R in 1986 but didn’t recognize the talent of the people behind the company, nine of whom, including Tom, went on to form The Games Gang. Joe’s printing company was regularly contracted by S&R; Tom, and then Joe, were the initial driving force behind the new company.

The Games Gang discovered Pictionary Inc (its management company was called Seattle Games), and, through Joe’s legendary deal-making skills, began co-publishing the game with them, turning it into another big hit. Similar story with Balderdash, and several other popular games.

The Games Gang outsourced production to the Western Publishing Company; outsourcing was supposed to keep them from being too dependent on the rise and fall of fickle consumer interest. In contrast, Coleco, after having invested in video game consoles (whose market crashed), the Adam computer (which failed) and the wildly (but briefly) successful Cabbage Patch Kids and Alf dolls, plummeted from great heights in 1985 to great lows by 1988. Coleco sold the production rights for Trivial Pursuit to Parker Bros in 1988, and Hasbro scooped up the rest of the company’s assets in 1989. Hasbro went on to acquire Parker Bros, along with its production rights to Trivial Pursuit, in 1992. In 2008, Hasbro acquired all rights to Trivial Pursuit.

The Western Publishing Company bought The Games Gang and its assets at the end of 1991. Why? According to Mike Gasser, an original founding member of The Games Gang (though not from S&R), Western Publishing increasingly considered The Games Gang to be a competitor, rather than a partner. Hasbro picked up Western Publishing in 1994, along with the production rights to its games, including Pictionary. In 2001, Mattel acquired all rights to Pictionary. They acquired the rights to Balderdash around the same time.

The average age of the Games Gang’s personnel at its founding was around 60. Most of them have already passed on. At least Kevin McNulty, Frank Martin, Mike Gasser, and Angelo Longo are still with us.

Kevin McNulty and Mike Gasser, along with game designer Brian Turtle, went on to form Endless Games in 1996, a company that is still going.

(source, source, source, conversations with Richard Gill and Mike Gasser)

Also see Tim Walsh’s Timeless Toys: Classic Toys and the Playmakers Who Created Them.