The Trivial Pursuit Arcade Game

Playing Trivial Pursuit at the arcade.

Trivial Pursuit Arcade Games

In 1984, Los Angeles hosted the Summer Olympics by default, an Olympiad that would be tarnished by Cold War era political scuffling and glitchy television coverage. 1984 also saw the release of the first Apple Macintosh computer, the appearance of nude photos of Miss America Vanessa Williams in Penthouse Magazine, and the release of the first of many Trivial Pursuit arcade games by game manufacturer Bally Sente. In case the news about the Trivial Pursuit game seems inconsequential compared to those other headline events, remember that in 1984, Trivial Pursuit was still the number-one board game in America, selling millions of copies. People gathered around Trivial Pursuit boards in 1984 the way they huddle around their Nintendo Wiis or 3D TVs today.

Bally Sente, a branch of mega arcade game manufacturer Sente, produced 22 titles for two different arcade game systems between 1984 and 1988. Their Trivial Pursuit arcade game would be their second most-popular title, second only to Hat Trick, a rudimentary ice hockey game itself based loosely on air hockey tables. Bally Sente's Trivial Pursuit arcade game was a smart move--remember that Trivial Pursuit was a phenomenon like none other in board game history, and Bally Sente saw how easily the game's simple rules and interface could translate to an arcade format.

Trivial Pursuit Arcade Game Versions

In total, six versions of Trivial Pursuit were ported to arcade game machines:

  1. Genus I
  2. Genus II
  3. All-Star Sports
  4. Baby Boomer
  5. Young Players
  6. A Spanish version called either 'Ataque Trivial' or simply 'Trivial Pursuit en Espanol.'

What's most interesting about these different editions is that more than one Genus edition was released. Imagine how popular the Genus I arcade game would have to be to warrant the release of Genus II.

The Baby Boomer edition of the Trivial Pursuit arcade game is a nice piece of arcade game history--remember a time when bars and adult clubs had banks of arcade games? Video games at this time were so basic that adults often got into the act. My mother and father had an early Pong set they used to pull out after the kids went to bed, probably over a few beers with pull tabs.

To date, Bally Sente's Trivial Pursuit arcade game is one of the most rare arcade titles in the world, with a rating of 1 out of 100 in terms of rarity (with 1 being the most rare) on arcade game collector's site There are only two known game machines in existence, one in the original cabinet, one refurbished model with the original game software inserted in a refurbished cabinet. Part of this rarity could be waning interest in the game that goes hand in hand with decreased interest in the Trivial Pursuit board game franchise.

Trivial Pursuit Arcade Game Features

The game was in full-color on a standard upright arcade game cabinet. Two players competed against each other at a time, with each player taking a turn one after the other--this is usually called "alternating" gameplay in the world of arcade games. Because only one player participated at a time, a single player control panel was all that was required, and players could not expect anything fancy in the way of sound--a single mono speaker with one audio channel provided the game's sounds.

Later editions of the Bally Sente Trivial Pursuit arcade game included other features, such as enhanced sound and graphics and the ability to play with up to four players. New trivia cards were made available to businesses who maintained the Trivial Pursuit games, so that new questions could be added and different categories inserted into the same playing cabinet that was already installed. A cool way to update and change the gameplay without investing in an all-new machine. Along those same lines, all five English language Trivial Pursuit titles were available as part of SACMAN, an arcade game upgrade kit that turned old PACMAN games into multi-title cabinets, with everything from Mini-Golf and Hat Trick to Trivial Pursuit playable from one cabinet.

The game itself was very true to the original, except for a few features required by the arcade game format. For instance, rather than pie wedges and tokens, you picked a character (from a lineup of four) to move around the board answering questions for category points. The characters had silly animations and names, like "the Red Baron" (why in the world was The Red Baron such a big hit in the 80s? anyone?) and the game moved along pretty much exactly like the board game version--with a few small differences.

The board in these games was square, not round. Also, instead of six categories, there were just four. Different titles had different categories. Also, rather than coming up with the answer on your own, you were often told to choose between two options, such as the following question from the Genus I edition: "William Shakespeare wrote Romeo & Juliet. Correct or Incorrect?" This took away a lot of the difficulty of the trivia aspect of the game, but made a perfect translation to an arcade game.

One nice feature about the arcade game version: the most questions of any interpretation of Trivial Pursuit in the game's long history. The first couple of Genus editions of Trivial Pursuit had 6,000 questions on 1,000 question and answer cards, but each Trivial Pursuit arcade game was stocked with just over 6,500 questions. Considering how many quarters it would take to go through all possible categories and questions, that's a huge pool of trivia for the game to draw on.

If you can get past the annoying "sound track" music for each character, and if you don't mind a slightly dumbed down version of Trivial Pursuit, this is actually a great translation of the original Trivial Pursuit. The large number of trivia questions available means you can play again and again and always face a new trivia challenge. Unfortunately, it's next to impossible to find a version of this classic Bally Sente game, as there's only two working games in the world as of this writing.