A fascinating conversation on boardgamegeek has inspired me to write this post. Most of what I’m writing here is covered in the 6+ pages on BGG. However, I would like the story to be read more generally than on the Twixt “news” forum on BGG.
Who owns the rights to Twixt?
What is Twixt?
Twixt is an abstract game where players place posts and fences in an effort to connect their pieces from one side of the board to the other. The board is a 24×24 grid of peg holes. You place one post in the grid on your turn. If you have posts on the opposite ends of a 6 peg rectangle (a 2×3 rectangle) then you may connect your posts with a fence. Fences may not cross over other fences–they must go around,. You are free to rearrange your fences on your turn so long as you follow the rules above. If you connect your pieces across the game board, you are the winner.
Twixt holds a solid 6.6 game rating on BGG. Considering it’s an abstract from the 1960’s, this is high praise. I find copies at thrift stores and I always pick them up. I haven’t played Twixt yet but by all accounts I am doing myself a disservice by not giving it a whirl.
Background with 3M
In 1961, Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing (3M) added a board game division to their line of consumer products. In addition to making Scotch™ tape, 3M would make Mr. President, Stocks & Bonds and Acquire. The decision to add a board game division to their company required them to find game design talent. They added Sid Sackson and Alex Randolph to their line up.
Sid Sackson has a plethora of games under his belt. The aforementioned Acquire but also Sleuth and Can’t Stop. When you think of Sackson you should think of him as the 1960’s version of Reiner Knizia.
Czech born Alex Randolph was also a notable game designer. While not as prolific as Sackson, Randolph has some nice credits under his belt. Enchanted Forest comes to mind.
And so does Twixt.
Randolph created a pencil and paper version of his posts and fences game and brought it to Minnesota. 3M bought the rights to it and made it into a mass market game in 1962. 3M made a few changes to the rules but overall the game was what Randolph had intended. The 1962 Copyright Catalog shows 3M as the copyright owner. This would cover all the printed material such as the wording of the rules and the artwork. This would not cover the mechanics or the name.
Avalon Hill was a publisher of high-end strategy games. In 1976 AH acquired the rights to 3M’s board game division. Avalon Hill got the rights to Twixt along with a host of other classics.
It’s long been believed that Randolph made a deal with Avalon Hill buy his designs back. Randolph’s estate has always believed the rights to his games were passed on to his heirs after his death.
No such record in the U.S. record has been found however. A failure to reapply for a copyright is quite common. It’s also a bit unfortunate in this case for the estate of Alex Randolph.
Hasbro bought Avalon Hill lock, stock and barrel in the 1990’s. I remember this dark day because I knew I would never see a reprint of any AH games. I was mostly right.
Hasbro had a trademark on Twixt, part of their agreement with Avalon Hill. This mark was cancelled in 2003 because Hasbro did not renew. The trademark only allowed Hasbro to the name Twixt, not necessarily the wording or the artwork (which would be protected by copyright law) or the game mechanics (which would be protected by patent law).
So where are we at now?
The copyright has expired on Twixt. This hardly matters since if anyone who wants to publish the game would rewrite the rules in their own words and modify the artwork along with it.
Any patentable mechanics are long expired. The game was published by 3M in 1962 and designed in large part in 1957. Patent protection does not extend that far back.
Trademarks, however, can offer protection. Trademarks are for commercial names like “Coca-Cola” or “Vaseline”. You can make a soda pop. But you cannot call it “Coca-Cola” because there would be public confusion with your product and Coca-Cola’s flagship product. You can make a petroleum jelly but Vaseline is a name brand.
The name “Twixt” does not have anyone who owns it. At least not until this past summer. One Wayne Dolezal bought the trademark. After studious researching the game, Dolezal found that Randolph and his estate had made the common mistake of not renewing their trademark. Dolezal filed an application in July to secure the rights to the name.
What does this mean?
The mechanics of Twixt are more or less in the public domain. So anyone could publish a game of “fences and posts” just like anyone could publish a chutes and ladders aka snakes and ladders et. al. But the eponymous name of Twixt would only be allowed to be published under the authorization of Dolezal.
Mr. Dolezal mentioned this long winded but fascinating history recently on BGG. Many in the BGG community were not pleased with him or his tactics. I do not share the community’s contempt–mostly because Dolezal has been very congenial in his discussions. The link I provided shows an outstanding example of an internet argument that is actually constructive.
Dolezal says he plans to republish the game. He will put Randolph’s name on the cover. But he is reluctant to share royalties with the Randolph estate at this point.
The story is ongoing. I will blog again about this as new developments break.
Until then, follow us here…