Doug Reuter

Doug Reuter of Eden Prairie explains the genesis of his board game, Sequence. In 1992, more than 80,000 copies of the game had been purchased in the 10 years it had been on the market.

In the past 10 years, more than 80,000 times across the United States, people have bought a slice of a dream that woke Doug Reuter one night in the mid-1970s.

In the dream, Reuter - an Eden Prairie resident - saw the scheme for a board game.

The dream was the impetus for Reuter to invent Sequence, a board game now in its 10th year.

"It was real clear to me in the dream," said Reuter. "I forced myself to get up and write it down. It's a good thing I did, because so often, things that come in dreams are lost in the morning."

The idea for Sequence wasn't. Instead it continued on through the process of inventing, perfecting and marketing. That process has resulted in the sale of more than 80,000 copies of the game and in Reuter's receiving a certificate of appreciation from the state of Minnesota last month during the Annual Inventor Awards sponsored by the Minnesota Intellectual Property Law Association.

It was a lengthy process, and along the way, there was a moment when the game was nearly discarded - literally.

That was in 1976, when Reuter moved from Minneapolis to Eden Prairie.

"You know when you move, you tend to clean out and throw stuff away?" Reuter asks. "Well, I almost pitched the game when we moved out here."

By that time, the game was in its final form, but it was still in residence on Reuter's closet shelf. He decided not to throw the game away, and it came to Eden Prairie with him.

PERFECTING THE GAME

What Reuter perceived in that long-ago dream was a game played on a board made up of playing cards. The object of the game was to draw cards from a deck, then place a token on a space on the board correlating to any of the cards in your hand.

The winner would be the first to create a sequence of five occupied spaces, vertically, horizontally or diagonally.

"It's real simple," said Reuter, "and it's simple to play."

But it wasn't so simple to design the playing board. He tried first simply laying the two decks of cards out in order from one line to another. That didn't look right. Then he tried a purely random distribution of the two decks of cards that made up the playing surface.

"But it took too long to find where the spaces were," he said. "You'd be holding the three of clubs, and it would take a long time to find the two spaces for the three of clubs."

Eventually, he came up with an arrangement that has the decks of cards spiraling out in sequences - two of hearts, three of hearts and so on, followed by the other suits - from the center of the board.

The resulting pattern looks random, but it isn't.

Once the board was settled and a few minor adjustments to play were made - determining the frequency of wild cards and so on - the game was finished.

And it sat on the shelf.

'SOMETHING NOBODY'S PLAYED'

In the late spring of 1981, Doug and his wife, Nancy, were invited to a game night at a friend's house. The host asked Doug to bring a game.

"Bring 'something nobody's played,' is what he said," Reuter remembers. "That was easy."

The group at the party enjoyed Sequence; some of the parties wanted copies of their own. So Reuter checked with a printer he knew in Golden Valley about the cost.

The printer said Reuter would be better served if he showed the game to Jax Games in new Hope.

"I brought the game in at 5 p.m. one afternoon," Reuter said, "and they didn't seem too excited about it. They said they'd look at it.

"I was kind of disappointed. I didn't think they were interested."

The next morning, the phone rang at 8:30. The president of Jax told Reuter that the company wanted a license to manufacture and sell Sequence.

Within a day, the basics of the licensing agreement were completed. The agreement was signed in June 1981, and Sequence hit the market in early 1982.

A PERENNIAL GAME

Sequence is easy to learn and to play, Reuter said, but the real attraction of the game is its variety.

No two games are ever alike, because of the randomness of dealing the cards and the inter-weaving of the players' various styles.

"You can start the game on any of 96 of the 100 squares," Reuter said. "It's not like other games that always have to start in the same spot."

And games rarely last long.

"It's about 20 minutes and the game is won," he said. "It's long enough to have some conversation - although there's little talking when the game gets close to someone winning - and it's short enough to not drag on."

The 10-year life of Sequence is a long life in the game business, Reuter said.

"I'm told that it's the type of game that will be available forever," he said. "Lots of games come and go with a few years' popularity. Then there are the perennials, like Monopoly, Clue, Scrabble.

"I've been told that Sequence will be a perennial, too."

The sales - after 10 years on the market - seem to bear that out.

A total of 18,000 games were sold in the past year, more than ever before.

And during the seven weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's, Sequence was the top-selling game every week in the Games by James stores around the Twin Cities.

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