Howling wind, bitter cold, massive snow.
Was this fun or what?
Surviving a snowstorm was child’s play in Akron-Canton’s Great Blizzard, a Monopoly-style board game that cashed in on a 1978 weather catastrophe.
Memories of the infamous Jan. 26 blizzard were still fresh in Northeast Ohio when the game arrived on store shelves at J.C. Penney and Kmart.
“GREAT BLIZZARD … the exciting, new travel game that’s taking the country by storm!” the advertisement read.
Retailing for $10, the game included a set of blizzard cards, a set of weather cards, a set of destination cards, two dice and six wooden tokens shaped like 1970s vehicles.
Players rolled dice and moved tokens around a two-sided board, trying to make it safely home from trips to the bank, hardware store, pharmacy, grocery store and work. The game started on the Sunny Side, but when someone drew a BLIZZARD STRIKES card, the board flipped to the Snowy Side.
And then mayhem ensued. Players had to overcome such obstacles as snowdrifts, zero visibility, jackknifed trucks, dead batteries, driving bans, frozen gas lines, empty fuel tanks and stalled vehicles.
Along the way, motorists navigated the Akron Expressway, Market Street, Main Street, Tallmadge Avenue and Interstate 277.
Here’s a little secret about the game. It didn’t originate in Akron. In fact, it was based on a different storm in another state.
Origin of the game
Buffalo graphic artist Charles P. Marino developed it a year earlier as the Blizzard of ’77 Travel Game after surviving that infamous snowstorm in upstate New York.
The blizzard, which began Jan. 28, 1977, dumped more than 100 inches of snow in some locations with drifts up to 40 feet. Temperatures plunged below zero with wind chills near minus 50 while gusts topped 70 mph. More than 20 deaths were reported.
After being stranded in his car on a New York highway, Marino, 32, took shelter at a volunteer fire department about 30 miles from home. He remained there for days.
“A lot of other people were stuck just like me, but we made the best of it, talking and playing cards,” he later recalled.
When he finally made it home, Marino found his 9-year-old son, Paul, playing with toy cars on the floor, trying to imagine his father’s ordeal in the snowstorm.
“That’s when the idea for the game struck me,” Marino said.
Snowed in for five days, Marino sketched out a design for a Buffalo blizzard game. He and his wife, Donna, formed their own company, Char-Donn Creative Marketing, to develop the product.
Released in balmy July 1977, the game flew off Buffalo store shelves. New Yorkers bought more than 40,000 games in three months, and Marino went on to gross more than $200,000 (nearly $1 million today).
It just snowballed from there.
Two big storms
While not nearly as bad in New York, the Blizzard of 1977 was no picnic in Ohio. More than 20 inches of snow fell that month and the subzero cold shattered records from 1918. The National Guard rescued stranded motorists on impassable roads. At least eight Ohio deaths were attributed to the weather. Stores sold T-shirts that boasted: “I Survived the Blizzard of 1977.”
Then another winter arrived.
The Blizzard of 1978, which slammed into Ohio on Jan. 26, was even worse here than the 1977 storm. Shrieking winds gusted up to 76 mph as nearly a foot of snow fell on top of a 16-inch storm from days earlier. The storm paralyzed much of the East Coast. In Ohio alone, it killed more than 50 people and caused at least $100 million in damage. New T-shirts proclaimed: “I Survived the Blizzard of 1978.”
The weather disaster created a lot of misery, but it provided a windfall for a game inventor in Buffalo. Marino took his 1977 game and retrofitted it to the 1978 storm. This was bigger than Buffalo.
“We’re designing a personalized game for every major city that got hit with a blizzard,” Marino announced that spring.
He released local versions of the Great Blizzard Travel Game in more than 30 cities, including New York, Chicago, Boston, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Denver and even Dallas.
Ohio was also well represented with games set in Akron-Canton, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Toledo.
Char-Donn plastered the names of individualized cities on boxes and game boards and added well-known streets from each community.
Marino said he wasn’t attempting to compete with giant companies such as Milton Bradley or Parker Bros.
“I look at my game as a collector’s item, something related to a newsworthy thing that people want to talk about,” he said. “It relates to something that happened to all of us.”
Sales were brisk, especially before Christmas 1978. Marino’s 12-employee company produced about 45,000 games a week.
“You know who buys a lot of these games?” he told the Detroit Free Press. “People with friends in warmer parts of the country. They want to send them a game to show exactly what they went through during the blizzard. Deep down, people are proud of the fact that they survived it all.”
Today, online auction sites list vintage versions of the Great Blizzard Travel Game for $30 to $40.
As seen on television
Northeast Ohio residents might also remember Marino’s next creation. In 1980, he developed the Eyewitness Newsgame for WKBW (Channel 7) in Buffalo. Players assumed the roles of TV reporters and moved around a game board, gathering facts to get a story on the air that night.
Like the blizzard game, Marino adapted it for other markets. WEWS-TV (Channel 5) in Cleveland became the second station, followed by WAGA (Channel 5) in Atlanta.
“The concept and the play of the game basically remains the same from market to market,” Marino told the Beacon Journal in 1981. “What we do is localize it, customize it for the station, use their reporters, their stories and their logos.”
The Cleveland version included photos of Dorothy Fuldheim, Ted Henry, Jeff Maynor, Don Webster and Gib Shanley.
About 10,000 copies were sold in each city. TV stations donated proceeds to local charities. An online auction site recently listed a Cleveland version of the game for $50.
Marino returned to his New York roots for his last big game. In 1984, he released the Buffalo Style Chicken Wing Game, which came in a bucket. Players answered chicken-related trivia questions
Charles P. Marino, a community philanthropist, was 75 when he died Jan. 24, 2020, in Alden, New York, after battling Alzheimer’s disease.
His obituary featured a photo of him holding the blizzard game.
“People wonder who would want to remember the Blizzard of ’78 but there are parts of it we do want to remember — the people you helped, and the people who helped you,” he once told the Indianapolis Star. “The bad memories seem to fade away.”
Mark J. Price can be reached at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Local history: Great Blizzard board game was an indoor snow day