Drayton Valley entrepreneurs revive oil exploration board game

An Alberta-based oil exploration board game is aiming to strike it big after being out production for more than a decade.

Four years ago, Sanford Greve lost his copy of The Oilman Game, a board game centred around drilling for oil. 

Based on his online search, he wasn’t the only one searching for a copy of the game, which was in high demand but no longer produced.

“The prices started to go sky high,” Greve said. “The demand of these old games was going up and what originally was selling in the 1990s for $42.95, people were asking up to $500 on eBay and Kijiji for one of these games because they just had to have it and I had to have one too.”

The game has players bid on areas to drill for oil, using a map of the world as the game board. Plastic pegs of different lengths are used to check for oil, which is signified by striking a surface within the disclosed box of the game

“When you compare it to all the other board games out there, there’s nothing like it,” Greve said. “It has a feel and heft, all the internal parts that you don’t know what’s in there. It’s kind of like the Cadbury secret.”

His search led him to finding the person who owned the rights, along with some production moulds.

Greve, now the president of Cardium Games, and his business partner Stephan Fertig purchased the rights and moulds. 

For the last two years, the game has been manufactured in a warehouse in Drayton Valley, a town with strong connections and a rich history in the oil industry.

The two partners behind Cardium Games also work for a pressure services company, which works with oilfield companies in the area.

“It’s just such a good fit because we’re oil men,” said Greve. “That’s what feeds our families, to have an oilman game, something that has a direct connection with what we do for a living is pretty cool.”

Boom and bust

Bud Norris knows all about The Oilman Game. 

In the early 1990s, Norris owned a board game store in Red Deer and would often get asked by customers if he carried The Oilman Game. The game was created in the 1980s in the Rocky Mountain House area, Norris said. 

Norris wanted to find out why people were so interested in the game and his search led him to the rights holder. 

He decided to buy the rights and production of the game started back up around 1995.

“When we took it over in our little store in Red Deer, we sold 700 games in a matter of four months,” Norris said. “And a lot was the backlog of people wanting that game and the cult that it had created.”

Bud Norris, a former rights holder and manufacturer of The Oilman Game holds the original artwork of a version of the game he launched in the 90s. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

Norris recalls playing long games into the night in conference rooms, and hearing stories of people in the oil industry using it as a travel game.

“We built 25,000 of them and they literally were all across the world: Russia, South America, Australia. Typically anywhere where there was oilfield activity and gas activity,” he said.

Norris stopped producing the game around 2005, and says many circumstances led to that — mainly the amount of work it took to produce it.

He said he’s happy the game is being manufactured once again.

“I’m proud just to be one cog in moving this game forward,” Norris said. “I have no doubt that they are going to find perhaps applications other than oil and gas. Could be mining, could be forestry, could be animal hunts.”

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