Trouble (known as Frustration in the UK
and Kimble in Finland) is a board game in which players compete to be
the first to send four pieces all the way around a board. Pieces are
moved according to the roll of a die. Trouble was developed by the
Kohner Brothers and initially manufactured by the Canadian Irwin Toy
company, later by Milton Bradley (now part of Hasbro). The game was
launched in America in 1965. The classic version is now marketed by
Its design is a variation of the British
game Ludo (below left), which is itself, derived from the Indian game
Pachisi. Pachisi dates back to the 13 Century, Late Indian Medieval
period, and shares many similarities with Frustration/Trouble.
A similar game called Headache was also
produced by the Milton Bradley Company; besides a different track
layout, its pawns are conical, compared to the cylindrical pieces
used in Trouble.
Players can send opponents' pieces back to
the start by landing on them. Players may not touch the other
player's piece, otherwise the piece's owner must redo the pop/roll.
Teaming is not allowed in the game. Pieces are protected from capture
after arriving in the final four slots. Unlike more complex race
games, however, counters cannot be maneuvered to block opponents' moves.
The most notable feature of Trouble is the
"Pop-O-Matic" die container. This device is a clear plastic
hemisphere containing the die, placed over a flexible sheet. Players
roll the die by pressing down quickly on the bubble, which flexes the
sheet and causes the die to tumble upon its rebound. The Pop-O-Matic
container produces a popping sound when it is used, and prevents the
die from being lost (and players from cheating by improper rolling).
It allows for quick die rolls, and players' turns can be performed in
rapid succession. The die is imprinted with Arabic numerals rather
than the traditional circular pips (though the circular pips are used
in the Travel version, which contains a cover to keep the pegs from
Players may move pieces out of their start
only when the die lands on 6. Getting a 6 at any point in the game
also allows the player to take another turn, even if the player
cannot move any of their pieces (as they cannot land on any of their
own pieces). They can also move a new piece out even if they have
another piece currently in play, and can also do the same if another
player's piece is occupying their "start" space, but cannot
do so when one of their own pieces is occupying their
Trouble is derived from the
game Pachisi that dates back to the 13th Century.
The Kohner family has a long heritage in
woodworking, dating back to the middle 1800s. Paul Kohner (below
left) fled his hometown of Tachau, Czechoslovakia in 1940 to escape
the Nazis and came to the United States. Two years later, he would
get his younger brother, Frank (below center), out of europe as well
and the brothers started Kohner Bros., in New York City. Before
expanding into toys, they manufactured wooden beads and beaded
purses, a wartime fashion rage during World War II.
The first Kohner toys took the form of
beads and craft sets. These items evolved into wooden pull toys such
as Tricycle Tom and Ice Cream Mike. For the next 35 years, would make
millions of the Baby Boomer classic Push Button Puppets, Tricky
Trapeze and other toys and games. They would also revolutionize an
entire segment of the industry with an infant activity toy called the
The brothers worked very closely together
on all aspects of the company. Paul directed the manufacturing,
operations and production for the company. Frank steered the business
administration and product selection process.
The Kohner Brothers business was booming
and they had a new state-of-the-art 150,000 square foot factory under
construction in New Jersey when Paul died suddenly in 1965.
Pauls son, Michael (seen above right in 2019), then just 22
years old, joined the company to help fill the void, taking over
international licensing for the company, expanding those activities
around the world.
Kohner Brothers continued to grow and by
1070 was sold to General Foods. Frank retired from the toy business
but Michael stayed on until 1974 when General Foods sold the business
to Gabriel Industries. Michael Kohner decided to continue in the toy
business and founded the Michael Kohner Corporation. His uncle Frank
would go on to launch a successful housewares business and published
a collection of anecdotes and memories of the people in the old
country, "Tachau Tales" in 1995. He lived to be 100 years
old and died in 2011.
Michael was growing up during World War II, and shortly thereafter,
his father and uncle carefully and systematically worked and saved
money to bring his entire family, and many others, out of Nazi
controlled Eastern Europe and concentration camps and got them to
America all at their own expense. A married couple who arrived in New
York from the old country, thanks to the Kohner Brothers. The wife
was afraid to meet Paul when she got off the boat because she had
brought her small Scottie dog, "Happy," under her coat and
was afraid he would be angry. Instead, he laughed and welcomed them.
He would go on to create a dog Push Button Puppet and called it
"Happy the Wonder Dog". These people and many others became
dedicated Kohner Bros employees for many years, so grateful for the
new life they were given in America.
The Kohner Brothers had an open door
policy when it came to outside inventors. They would listen to
anyones idea, and if they thought it had potential, they would
do whatever they could to help turn it into a real product, all while
ensuring that the inventor was given fair royalties in the process.
While the brothers generally had a knack for seeing value in an idea,
they did pass on the Hula Hoop. Still there were plenty of other
incredible products that Kohner Bros brought to market such as the
Busy Box. Pitched to the Kohner Brothers by independent inventors Tim
and Tom McHugh, the Busy Box is wooden table filled with tactile,
sensory activities that promoted motor skills in infants and
toddlers. Albert Stubbmann of Kohners R&D department,
converted the original concept into a much smaller, colorful, flat
toy that mounted on crib rails. This product marked a strategic
shift, filling a gap in the industry that no one had addressed
before. Prior to that, the infant toy market was limited mainly to
rattles and teethers. Kohner expanded the Busy Box from a single item
into a full product line that included multiple iterations of the
concept, including bath toys, floor toys and was essentially the
genesis of a whole new category of infant toys that continues to be
one of the largest in the industry today.
The Kohners also introduced Push Button
Puppets to the United States, licensing the idea from a Swiss
inventor named Marty Meinard. Kohner would be one of the mid-century
pioneers of character licensed toys with dozens of puppets in the
line, like Howdy Doody, The Flintstones, Superman, Batman &
Robin, Disney, Hanna Barbera, among many others. They would find
themselves battling many competitor infringements on their
intellectual property for Push Button Puppets and Busy Box items in
the coming years. But they always won.
The brothers also set up a side company
called AMKO that imported small carved wooden game pieces to the U.S.
from Heinz Lorenz, a very high quality German company in the Bavarian
Black Forest. For years, Lorenz supplied the wooden pieces for
Monopoly and the wooden tiles for Scrabble among other games. AMKO
served as the agent for these transactions on Lorenz behalf
with companies like Parker Brothers, Selchow & Righter and Hasbro.
When World War II ended, plastic, that had
been conserved for the war effort, suddenly became readily available
as a raw material for manufacturing and offered creative, colorful,
cost effective product possibilities that couldn't be achieved with wood.
Stubbmann was an engineer hired by Paul to convert the Kohner
factory from wood to plastic production after the war. They procured
an injection molding machine and the conversion took about a year to
complete. He had a hand in 90% of the products that came out of
Kohner Bros. from the 1940s to the 1960s. His name is on
over 20 patents for at least 50 products.
The first plastic product they made was a
popular item called "Looney Links." Kohner had been making
it out of wood. It became a transitional product made with both wood
and plastic components and eventually was all plastic. The Busy Box
was the second plastic toy they ever made. And Stubbmann is credited
with fine-tuning that as well. The company would go on to create a
whole line of Busy Box products and in the late 1960s, would
reach an exclusive licensing agreement with Sears Roebuck to stock
their entire infant department with Winnie The Pooh Busy line
products licensed through Disney.
Kohner entered into an endorsement deal
with renowned psychologist, Dr. Joyce Brothers. They used her
likeness, name and quotes heavily in print and television advertising
to promote the innovative Busy Box line as educational and
developmentally beneficial for young children.
many Kohner products were licensed from outside inventors, the game
"Trouble" was developed internally. The working name during
development was "Frustration" but was changed to
"Trouble" before launch. It has been distributed in some
international markets under the name "Frustration".
Stubbmann was commissioned to come up with a promotional feature for
the game. The Pop-O-Matic (plastic domed dice mechanism) in the
center of the board was conceived by him and took about six months to
develop. The game debuted in 1963, sold over a million copies
annually year after year. It is still part of the HASBRO product line today.
In the early 1970s, Michael Kohner got
some of his greatest personal satisfaction organizing Kohner factory
field trip tours for countless school children. Students would be
escorted through to see how toys and games were made. Every child
would walk out at the end with a smile on their face and a Trouble
game under their arm.
The Pop-O-Matic feature was incorporated
into multiple Kohner games in the next few years including
"Headache", "Side Track", "Bingo with
Pop-O-Matic", "Cross Over The Bridge",
"Pop-Cheks" and others. The Pop-O-Matic blossomed into a
brand unto itself, and in time, the intellectual property would be
licensed to other companies for use in even more games.
When Michael started the Michael Kohner
Corporation, he was immediately contracted by a company called A.R.C.
Toys (which later became Broadway Toys). A.R.C. was manufacturing
children's vanity sets under the Barbie license amongst many other
products. Michael would maintain a desk in their offices at the Toy
Center in Manhattan for many years, but kept his independent status,
working with them as well as building his game licenses business for
games such as "Magic Tooth Fairy", "Dont
Panic" and "Loopin Louie". Michael was honored
at the Toy & Game Innovation Awards in 2014 and accepted the
TAGIEs Lifetime Achievement Award on behalf of his family.