Many see board game as road to riches
By Mary Umberger
By Mary Umberger
CHICAGO — The lesson in real-estate investing was about to begin.
"OK, everybody, grab a rat!" announced an organizer who had brought a dozen aspiring property magnates together.
The group, crowded around tables in a Naperville, Ill., sandwich shop on a recent Saturday morning, reached for their game markers — little plastic rats — to play Cashflow 101, a board game some devotees credit with changing their lives. The brainchild of investment guru Robert Kiyosaki, author of the extraordinarily popular "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" books, Cashflow 101 has spawned clubs around the world.
Members play regularly, ostensibly learning the accounting principles Kiyosaki insists are the key to shrewd investing, while honing their get-rich-quick fantasies.
This group had come to a meeting of the Naperville branch of the Windy City Round Table, a networking and education group for investors that organizes Cashflow gatherings throughout Chicago. Kiyosaki's Web site lists 1,400 Cashflow-playing clubs around the world, though many more play the game on their own.
"I thought it was the stupidest thing I had ever heard of until I sat down to play it," said Paul Strauss of Naperville, a full-time real-estate investor and a founder of the Windy City club, which isn't affiliated with Kiyosaki but whose Web site links to Kiyosaki's. "But the game teaches you how to get out of the rat race, and I did."
The prospect of learning the secret to wealth has unlimited appeal in a culture that has embraced real-estate investing as sort of a fiscal sport. Some economists have tied novice speculators to as many as one-fourth of all real-estate transactions in 2004.
This has led to boom times for purveyors of books, videos, seminars, DVDs and trade shows. Among those at the top of that very big heap sits Kiyosaki, who preaches that schools fail to teach financial literacy.
His solution was to create Cashflow 101.
Though it has the usual dice, markers and colorful board, it's not a typical game — it's more of a Monopoly on steroids. For one thing, it costs $195, as opposed to the industry average of $15 to $39. Kiyosaki said that when he was developing the game, a consultant told him it was too complex for the general public.
"He said, 'Raise your price. Make it ridiculous,' " Kiyosaki recalled. " 'That would make people perceive it as a value.' "
Cashflow also departs from routine games through the detailed accounting each player must keep. The object of the game, like Monopoly, is to make money through investments. But Cashflow 101 players must keep meticulous financial statements, updating them constantly as they flip apartment buildings, negotiate complicated partnerships and juggle debt.
Players move the "rat" around the "rat race" track, a seemingly endless circle of earning a paycheck to cover day-to-day expenses. When investment cash flow exceeds expenses, players can move to another track, where the winner is the first to land on his or her predetermined "dream" — a cabin in Montana, owning a chain of beauty salons, funding AIDS research, etc.
Or, they could be wiped out by a tax audit or divorce.
"The game teaches you how to control your finances," said Carlos Gutierrez of Aurora, Ill., who was playing it for the fifth time at the Naperville meeting.
Gutierrez, echoing the words of every other player at the Naperville gathering, said he aims for financial independence. He owns a commercial cleaning franchise, and he has bought a condo as an investment.
But playing Cashflow has convinced him that some of his decisions haven't been good ones. The condo, he said, "was a bad deal. Now I know that."
"(The game) doesn't duplicate a real-life situation, but it comes close enough to give you know-ledge and courage," said investor Steven Greene, of Tenafly, N.J.
Kiyosaki, who lives in Phoenix, said one of the attractions of the game is that it's a safe way to make mistakes. He said he invented it in 1996, after several failed businesses, because he believes financial illiteracy is the downfall of fledgling entrepreneurs.
When the game, at its "ridiculous" price, failed to sell, he sketched out the book, "Rich Dad, Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids about Money that the Poor and Middle Class Do Not," as a supplemental pamphlet. Then he expanded it with collaborator Sharon Lechter and self-published it.
Warner Books eventually picked it up, and it was noticed by Oprah Winfrey, who had Kiyosaki on her show in 2000. Since then, the book has been a fixture on The New York Times best-seller list.
A dozen other books followed, plus infomercials, motivational speaking appearances and public-television programs. Sales of Cashflow 101 skyrocketed, he said. It is now published in six languages.
Kiyosaki's privately held company, Cashflow Technologies, claims to have sold 500,000 copies of the game.