Top Trumps is a series of themed card decks that have been scientifically proven help kids gain reading skills, learn new words, and retain new facts while boosting their number skills by comparing heights, weights, dates, or rating scales. The cards come in an array of themes and styles including a “Harry Potter” and “Shopkins” set. Each illustrated card in the deck boasts facts and figures that youngsters from 6 to 12 comprehend then negotiate in friendly competition as they shout out their newly learned stats and trivia.
Only costing around $10 a pack, the games are gaining popularity in the United States after having been a smash hit in the United Kingdom since the 1970s. Commercial Director Mark Hauser recently discussed the brand and his hopes for its future:
Meagan Meehan (MM) of Entertainment Vine: What most inspired you to get into the game industry and how did you get involved with “Trump Cards”?
Mark Hauser (MH): To be honest I completely stumbled into the games industry…I was interviewing for a couple of roles, including one at P&G, as I wanted to get into a brand development role, but then from my first interview here I was completely drawn to this company, the people, the working environment, and the chance to work on some of the game brands I had loved as a child. That in turn leads me to how I got involved with the Top Trumps cards – I had loved playing them as a little boy with my sister on car journeys and my friends at school, so the chance to work with this brand and try to expand it further overseas became a dream proposition!
MM: These cards are now popular in the United States and elsewhere, but they have a long history in the United Kingdom. Can you elaborate a bit on the history of this game play?
MH: The first Top Trumps was created by a Belgian company called Dubreq and also incorporated the Dutch game “Kwartet” (AKA Quartets) within the packs. This was back in the late 1970s! Dubreq got purchased by Waddingtons who subsequently got purchased by Hasbro in the mid 90s… Unbeknownst to them this acquisition included the Top Trumps brand. The brand remained inactive for a few years until 1999 when the Managing Director of Winning Moves Int. explored Hasbro’s archives and found the Top Trumps game which he too had played and loved as a child in the UK. Winning Moves Int. purchased the Top Trumps brand from Hasbro Inc., and has since gone on to sell over 100 million packs of Top Trumps worldwide, with distribution in over 25 countries worldwide.
MM: What are the earliest versions of the game and why do you think it’s so addictive?
MH: The earliest versions of the game focus predominantly around machines and vehicles of one sort or another, and also some slightly quirkier titles like Goblins and Faeriefolk (Fantasy) Top Trumps. Some of the earliest titles included Ships, Tanks, Dragster Bikes, Jumbos & Jets, Fire Engines and Horror, among others.
As for why it is so addictive, I think Top Trumps gently blends a few different characteristics which make it so addictive. Firstly, it is amicably competitive, in so far as players will naturally want to “know more” than their opponents. Also, while not crucial to playing the game, there is a benefit to knowing the packs and the content matter better than your opponents as this then improves your chance of choosing the right stat each round. The more you play the decks, the more you end up learning about the content, so there is a self-serving cycle of learning which aides one’s ability within the game. There is such a variety of titles that the game can tempt you into new areas of potential interest, and can even lead to a fun game around a topic which may not otherwise be of obvious interest. The game itself ebbs and flows leading to what can be a very exciting game with multiple changes in momentum.
MM: How many versions or versions of card decks do you currently have and are any especially unique or popular?
MH: We currently have just over fifty titles of which the majority are what we’d say are part of our Classics range around un-licensed content such as Baby Animals, Skyscrapers, US States, and Space. There is also a supplementary Entertainment range which contains packs around some of the biggest entertainment brands such as Harry Potter, Star Wars, Marvel, and Paw Patrol. There are a few which are particularly popular, such as Wonders of the World, Countries of the World, US States, and Marvel Universe.
MM: How did you secure the licenses for “Harry Potter” and “Shopkins”?
MH: As a proprietary brand, Top Trumps has thankfully now become a staple for more or less any serious licensed range at retail. The beauty of the game and brand is that we provide a fun, playable guide to whatever the subject of the pack is. As such, we can provide a really engaging guide to the characters from the latest theatrical release from J.K Rowling’s Wizarding World, or the latest Shopkins collectable range if there is sufficient demand there. Thankfully due to the nature of our game, we do not conflict with other games on the market.
MM: How do the designers decide how to “rate” each card/character to give them their specific “trump” ratings?
MH: We have a team of researchers who carefully research each topic, and play test the categories until we’ve got them right. Meanwhile for topics of particular specialism we will often recruit expert consultants to work with us in developing suitable and engaging content. We’ve also been blessed in some instances such as having JK Rowling ask to write the content for the first few Harry Potter Top Trumps decks herself!
MM: What are your favorite things about working in the games industry and how do you envision the Trump cards expanding?
MH: There are two things which stand out above anything else. Firstly, the end result of what we do is kids and families playing together and connecting with one another in a positive and special way. We often think Top Trumps has the ability to provide key moments of fun and connection with friends and family which will remain as fond memories throughout life… no doubt part of the brand’s success to date as there are now three generations of Top Trumps players who will all be able to reminisce about their favorite pack of Top Trumps, and even their favorite card, from their younger days. You’ll often hear British celebrities, such as the actor Robert Pattinson on the Ellen DeGeneres show, share their nostalgic recollections of Top Trumps from their childhood.
Secondly, most of us who work in the games industry are games fans ourselves, and so we actually care about and get excited about bringing new, quality, games and products to the market. I’ve happily spent time in “competitor” booths at various fairs simply enjoying their games, and there is a sense of community amongst most games manufacturers which is a joy to work amongst.
MM: What new offerings are you working on right now or actively planning?
MH: We’re currently putting the finishing touches to a STEM range of Top Trumps which I’m personally very excited about as I think this could be a really neat way of kids learning more about STEM through a fun game of Top Trumps. We have a new product for the new Star Wars – The Last Jedi movie releasing in November which I think looks really good, and will be playable with the Star Wars Turbo (a mega edition of Top Trumps) which will be launched early in 2018. We’ve also just launched a new product in the US as part of the Top Trumps family. It is called Top Trumps Match and we’ve launched, or are in the process of launching, versions of “Despicable Me 3,” DC Comics, Super Mario, Emotis, and even have a Harry Potter version which will be exclusive to Barnes and Noble, available from October onwards. Target has been an early supporter of the game and it’s going well. It’s super simple to play and is easy to transport!
MM: Is there anything else that you would like to mention or discuss?
MH: I guess I would love to highlight the importance of encouraging game play across all ages, but particularly for children, whether via Top Trumps or other games. Through games, we are establishing meaningful connections with one another, and this socialization is helping to counter some of the concerning trends we’re seeing amongst children with regards feelings of isolation, loneliness, and signs of an addiction to screens.
The second thing I’d love to highlight is the ability for retailers, schools, camps, party organizers and/or communities to set up Top Trumps tournaments themselves as a brilliant way of bringing kids together in a really fun and enjoyable way, at a reasonable cost. We offer support to organize such tournaments via our website but we often receive stories of various retailers and camps setting up their own tournaments so it needn’t necessarily follow our established structure. The feedback is perpetually positive, and independent research conducted by the National Children’s Bureau in the UK has highlighted the benefits seen by children playing the game in the development of certain cognitive skills (grammatical, analytical, and numeracy skills particularly noted) and even more significantly – the development of social skills and self-confidence levels.
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To learn more, visit the official “Top Trumps” website.