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Let It Go (The Trouble With the Pop-o-Matic Bubble)

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One of the hobby’s more perplexing elements is a seemingly widespread fascination with the Pop-o-Matic bubble.  This unadorned device entombs a standard six-sided die within a shoddy, clear, plastic hemisphere.  The die rests upon a dais of two, small, extremely thin, bent pieces of sheet metal.  When a player pushes down quickly upon the plastic dome, the resulting exertion depresses the thin sheets of metal which instantly rebound to toss the die violently about its transparent container.  Indeed, it is a cheaply produced apparatus designed for simpletons, it would appear.

Milton Bradley (now Hasbro) unleashed the Pop-o-Matic upon an unsuspecting world with their 1965 game, Trouble, no doubt borrowing advanced technologies made available by the U.S. Space program to produce it.  It is by far still the most prevalent and famous implementation of the device.  The Parcheesi-style, roll-and-move game employs the Pop-o-Matic to resolve movement about the board.  The title often elicits a good deal of nostalgia for many gamers who recall fondly their youthful days of family gaming.  But is it the game they adore?  Is it the exciting play?  Is it the strategy and interaction and bonding?  No, it’s just that Pop-o-Matic bubble.

And so those warm memories, as nostalgia so often misguides us, lead to illogical desires: many gamers want to see the Pop-o-Matic implemented in their Big Kids’ GamesTM.  Some argue it’s an ingenious method of keeping dice on the table; a clever way to collect them quickly, prevent them from upsetting game pieces, and avert cheating.  Here’s a tip: why don’t you just be careful and watchful when rolling them bones!  Some hail the novelty as amazing and brilliant.  Really?  A 5th grader could make one in art class!  Speaking of the home-made, a couple enterprising – and ostensibly very bored – inventors have provided instructions to craft your own (with Settlers of Catan for inspiration, bizarrely enough) or buy into a Kickstarter project for custom “PopAbles.”  Want some more helpful advice: just buy the game Trouble at Wal-Mart and use it – it’s cheaper!  With incomprehensible babbling about the Pop-o-Matic’s “zen-like” everything, to needlessly in-depth analysis of its randomizing properties, to the proclamation that it’s as addicting as popping bubble wrap (I can’t make this stuff up, people); the attention drawn to the little bursting enclosure baffles me!  Even the Lord of Gaming, Tom Vasel himself, has very recently waxed poetically of its virtuous qualities through his mouthpiece, the Dice Tower Podcast – which is infinitely ironic given that his empire’s namesake is so much more efficient an appliance to resolve dice rolls.

Despite these concerted praises regaling the mechanism’s merit and effectiveness, it never caught on.  As you can research via one of the links above, several games have implemented the little curiosity.  Aside from Trouble, however, none experienced any success.  In fact, quite the contrary, they are every one an obscure mass-market design – and as a collection wholly forgettable.  Many conspiracy theorists attribute this lack of proliferation to the domineering Hasbro’s iron grip on the tool’s patent.  But let’s be honest.  There are always ways around those sorts of things.  Instead, I believe an explanation as to the dearth in our hobby of these devices is entirely less sinister in nature.  Simply put, the Pop-o-Matic is a uselessly contrived gimmick completely devoid of value.  And here are 10 reasons why:

#10It only accommodates 1 die.  How useless and impractical!  Can you imagine trying to cram 2 or more into that enclosure?  One would have to use mini dice, which would then be too difficult to see.  Unless you made an oversized – nay, a massive – Pop-o-Matic bubble.  Now perhaps a device that requires a running start and leaping, body slam would be worth its salt?!

#9They only use the standard six-sided die.  Oh, sure, one could replace that with a d8, d10, or even a d20.  But, honestly, when searching your heart, do you really trust it to randomize truly?

#8Speaking of which, true randomization is questionable.  Don’t tell me you’ve not noticed that a ‘5’ turns up more often after a ‘1.’  And so on…

#7You lose the sense of touch.  The best thing about dice is their tactile nature.  The feeling of holding them in your hands, fumbling and fondling them, rolling them between your fingers and palms, the weight and heft and rounded edges (if they have them), and then releasing those beauties into your current little game’s world.  Ah, Ecstasy!  And not possible to experience while that tiny globe holds them hostage.

#6It’s just not as musical.  The next best thing about dice is the sound of them rolling about the table – a clinking, clanking, careening cacophony across and around your choice of gaming surface.  Indeed, a melody to a gamer’s ears.  The hollow, stifling echoes and metallic acoustics of the Pop-o-Matic is just so much noise.

#5You can’t use a dice tower.  Because your cubes are trapped in a bubble.  And a dice tower is imminently more fun and random.  As an added bonus, if you’re really concerned with dice flying off the table or scattering game pieces, just corral them with a tower!

#4You can’t build dice sculptures.  And how else are you to pass the downtime during another player’s analysis paralysis?

#3You can’t place dice with the bubble.  Sorry, worker placement games.

#2It makes you look stupid.  Admit it, there’s no graceful way to pop the dice!  I mean come on – it was literally designed for children.

#1It immediately reminds people of the game Trouble.  That is reason enough to discontinue the contraption and prohibit its spread!  And if Trouble isn’t bad enough, now they’ve gone and themed the same “design” to the movie Frozen!  Seriously!!  Just let it go, Hasbro…

I have lots of kids. Board games help me connect with them, while still retaining my sanity...relatively speaking.

Discussion6 Comments

    • Jason Meyers

      Interesting, just looked it up. Reminds me of the Pop the Pig pump or the Don’t Wake Up Daddy plunger…

  1. Could you actually be more pretentious? Is is actually possible?

    Feel, sound, “tactile response” of the dice – why is YOUR nostalgia better and more important that another’s?

    I think YOU should just let it go, the pop-o-matic is great, your irrational hatred won’t change that.
    Dr. Troublelove, or how I learned to stop worrying and love the popper.

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