The Observatory game board.
Observatory was a board game created by Ted and Nick Phillips in 1999. As was the trend with many of the games they designed in this time period, Observatory was created with the intention that it be the most difficult board game to win, seemingly to the extent that it was a board game parody.

The premise is that a crew has completed a space mission to the planet Pluto and now must brave the dangers of solar system travel back to Earth, where the "observatory" is located. Relying on rolling a single die and tracking lost turns with a token system, the game is based entirely on luck.

The Parody

Observatory is considered a board game parody because it makes use of space-specific instructions that can result in long chain reactions of movement. Players are frequently sent back to start. At one part, there is even an infinite loop of movement from which there is no escape; the ruling is that a player in this loop is eliminated from the game.

It takes the concept of losing turns to a new level. Some spaces have players losing as many as 19 turns. Some spaces flat out tell players that they have lost the game. It goes one step further, and Observatory pokes fun at itself with the infamous "Solar Blowout" space, which causes every player to lose simultaneously.

Shortly after its creation, it was calculated that the chances of winning are about 1/7143. However, recent assumptions believe that number to be fabricated and postulate that the chances are much closer to 0.

Despite the terrible odds, Danny Hostomsky managed to beat the game soon after it was created. No one else has ever won.


In spring 1999, Nick Phillips read the short story Jumanji for his fourth grade Reading class. An optional homework assignment required him to then make his own board game in a similar vein. On a page in his fourth grade journal, Nick drew the first part of the board, starting from Pluto and ending around Neptune. (This marble notebook journal was no longer extant as of 2003, when the white shelves were removed.)

A few weeks later, Nick showed Ted Phillips this idea, who decided that they should finish making the game. They drew it on their Grandma's computer paper with pen and crayons.

For a few days, they played the game obsessively, trying to beat the impossible odds. They had Danny Hostomsky come over to play it. On the floor of the back room, Danny beat the game, landing on the "Roll Again" space near the end and rolling the six. This occurred by proxy because Danny had to go eat lunch at his house, so he learned of his victory upon his return.

The original game that was created in 1999 was mysteriously lost. Ted Phillips tried to recreate the game in a graphic design program[vague], but could not get the shape correct.

In 2001, preparing for Thanksgiving at Aunt Teddy's house, Ted and Nick sat down and reconstructed the game entirely from memory, using the same types of raw materials, to a 1 or 2 space position margin of error on a small number of the later spaces. At this point it was discussed whether or not to fill in the remaining blank spaces, but they decided to remain true to the original. This copy is the one that has been used since.

There were no written rules, although tradition dictated that players roll one six-sided die and that the turn sequence goes from youngest to oldest. At first, players tried to keep track of lost turns in their heads, but Nick soon came up with a system whereby lost turns would be marked by small flat circular objects called tokens (usually black ones from some other game, pennies, or damage counters).

Movement pieces have never been set in stone; pieces used in the past for this game have included small spaceships from the Ravensburger board game Space Walk, small cardboard squares depicting Yu-Gi-Oh! monsters and supported by plastic stands[vague], Sorry! pieces, Monopoly pieces, and very small Batman figures.

Observatory has been a popular choice among Ted and Nick Phillips for playing at their birthday parties, especially when uninitiated friends are present.[citation needed]

An online time-based version of Observatory has been in the planning stages since August 2008. As of August 2011, active development for web-based and Facebook versions of the game had begun.

Nick's version

In summer 2004, Nick finally wrote the rules on the board, which until that time were transmitted orally. Nick also decided to fill in two of the blank spaces, adding "Rocket Boosters" and "Gravity Shake" to the board. "Rocket Boosters" allowed the player to roll two dice on the next turn (instead of one). Unfortunately, the position of "Rocket Boosters" made it impossible for any player to ever land on it, except possibly by the "Gravity Shake" space. "Gravity Shake" simply ordered the player to "Shake the board", causing all the players to move to new spaces; many players noticed that cheating could become quite rampant with this space; fortunately, the space is late enough in the game that players rarely ever landed on it.

Nick also added several completely new "Draw a card" spaces that acted as a shortcut that allowed one to skip a lot of the game.[vague] The deck of about 10 cards (that was never actually made) included Exodia, Mirror Force, and Rocket Boosters. When a player collected the 5 Exodia cards, one would "obliterate" one's opponents, causing them all to lose the game and causing one to advance ten spaces. Mirror Force was a trap card that a player would activate when an opponent rolled the die. The opponent would then move in the opposite direction instead and lose one turn. The Rocket Boosters card allowed a player to roll two dice (instead of one) on the next turn. However, Nick gave up on this idea of adding cards to the game a few hours later due to inertia, and scribbled out the new card-related spaces. This made it appear to Ted, when he returned from Ithaca College, that Nick had added a wormhole.

Ted quickly had these changes reversed (except the writing of the rules) in the interest of keeping the game authentic with respect to its original form.

Spinoff Games

When Danny came over to 35-D to play the day after he beat Observatory, he brought his own game that he had created (using pencil and printer paper), in which players would play firemen trying to escape from a burning building. They played this game on the floor of the back room.

In spring 2003, Richard Falantano made his own spinoff board game, as an assignment for his seventh grade science class, called Magnetized Mice. He used materials from the board game Mouse Trap, which he modified with looseleaf paper and pen. The game also required players to answer questions about magnetism that were written on index cards. Rich introduced the game to Ted and Nick, and they first played at Rich's house on Chaffee Avenue.


  • The game board suggests that there can only be four players. This is simply a limitation of how many pieces can physically occupy a single space, so with diligent notetaking, the game is often played with more players.
  • Because of the endless nature of the game, players frequently get fed up and leave, so the practice of player proxies is common. In 1999, Danny Hostomsky won using this technique.

This page has been seen 3,791 times.

    • Created by on
      Last updated by on
  • Contributors:



New member
OK I edited this article to make the history more accurate.

However, there are some pieces of information I am uncertain about. For example,
  • What is the correct name for Grandma's computer paper?
  • From what board game did we get the small spaceships that we have used as game pieces? I remember the board game had a circular path with some black holes in it, and your piece would literally fall through a hole in the board.
  • What are those small, shiny, black, circular objects we have used as tokens? I think they are from some other game, but I have much less of an idea.
  • What is a better way to say, "small cardboard squares depicting Yu-Gi-Oh! monsters and supported by plastic stands"?
  • Ted, do you know the name of the graphic design program you used?

That's all for now.


New member
  • Well we called it "computer paper." I don't think it had a real name since that's the kind of paper you need to do EEGs and stuff. It's green-bar computer paper with double sprockets for a continuous printer feed. See this ad: http://phoenix.kijiji.com/c-For-sal...per-continuous-sprocket-fed-W0QQAdIdZ19539042
    Maybe you'll have the energy to look for the original manufacturer and product listing.
  • The small spaceships were from one of your games ... I don't know, but we may still have the box.
  • I believe the black circles are from Rich's Bingo game that he left at our house. Or maybe we had a Bingo game too. Still, it's fun to attribute things to Rich forgetting stuff at our house.
  • As for the Yu-Gi-Oh! pieces, I think they are the monster "slider" cards from the Yu-Gi-Oh! Millennium board game.
  • I'm not sure about the graphic design program. It was on a Mac computer at the rectory, so it's likely it was MacDraw Pro.


New member
Let's not debate this. We have some of the materials at home, so we can figure them out over Thanksgiving.