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Pass 'go,' collect stuff, and get back truckin' on

In the '60s, they dropped out. In the '80s, they sold out. And as the new millennium wears on, they are opting out - with their (rapidly shrinking) corporate pensions and 401(k)s.

Grateful Dead-Opoly, styles after the Monopoly board game, is replete with references to the band's heyday.
Grateful Dead-Opoly, styles after the Monopoly board game, is replete with references to the band's heyday.Read more

In the '60s, they dropped out.

In the '80s, they sold out.

And as the new millennium wears on, they are opting out - with their (rapidly shrinking) corporate pensions and 401(k)s.

The baby boomers, those of that sometimes insufferable and self-obsessed generation (at least to this poor Gen-Xer), are entering their golden years (at last!).

Pack 'em off to Florida - with their dog-eared copies of Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, their bong-converted flower vases, their decaying Grateful Dead bootleg cassettes - and a terrific new flashback-inducing toy they're bound to love.

That would be Grateful Dead-Opoly, a wonderfully designed Monopoly-style board game filled with references to the band's history and music. Manufactured by Seattle-based Discovery Bay Games, it is the brainchild of Philadelphia native Debbie Gold, a music industry veteran who was part of the Dead's management team in the mid-'70s.

Although it's not officially a Monopoly game, Dead-Opoly pretty much plays like the Parker Brothers classic created by Germantown salesman Charles Darrow.

It has a simple conceit: Players are on the road with the Dead. (And since it's a game, the Dead's best-known member, Jerry Garcia, who died in 1995, is very much alive and part of the fun.)

Using a game token - a guitar, an amp, a drum, a tour bus, a cowboy boot, or singer Bob Weir's dog, Otis - players go around the board, buying up properties named after Dead albums - Terrapin Station, Aoxomoxoa, Anthem of the Sun, American Beauty, and so on. Instead of utilities, there are concert venues, including Winterland, Soldier Field, and Red Rocks.

A player's fate is decided by game cards, called Karma cards, witty pieces that include trivia about the band.

"Good Karma! Find $20 at the corner of Haight & Ashbury," reads a card adorned with a yin-yang.

"Roadies trash hotel room. Pay $50," says another, which shows guitars sticking out of a broken TV screen. "Lose It! Go back 3 spaces," says a third, which shows a fan who literally has lost his head. (Told you not to eat the brown acid, dude.)

It is, in other words, quite a trip - albeit a gentle one.

"It's crazy, isn't it?" Gold says about the concept. "It happened about 21/2 years ago. . . . It was like the idea fell into my head."

Gold, a 1972 Cheltenham High graduate, said she was simply amusing herself with oddball ideas.

"I said to myself, 'A Grateful Dead Monopoly game?' and I just laughed. . . . I couldn't believe that I should take it seriously."

That is, until she had had a "reality check" with Dead founding member, singer-guitarist Weir.

"I thought [he] would laugh at me," said Gold. "He immediately said, 'I love it'! He totally got it."

Gold, who divides her time between Cheltenham and New York, said Weir hosted brainstorming sessions at his pad in California, where they were joined by longtime Dead associate Steve Parish.

"We'd all sit at Weir's house and . . . tell days and days' [worth] of stories, 30 years of stories," Gold said. The discussions had a tendency to descend into chaos. "I would have to be the disciplinarian," said Gold, who had to chide her friends whenever their reminiscences veered into R-rated material.

"We're making a family game," she would remind them. (Gold is at work on an adult version.)

In an e-mail statement, Weir said he enjoyed the bull sessions. "We had a lot of fun putting this together, reliving the highlights and lowlights," he wrote.

Gold said everything came together once comic-book artist Tim Truman joined the project.

Truman, who had impressed Garcia with his work on comic books Grimjack and Scout, created a handful of Dead album covers in the early '90s.

Gold said Truman infused the game with a welcome irreverence.

"The game is like Mad magazine meets R. Crumb meets a board game," Gold said. "A lot of its general feel I owe to him."

Truman, 53, said he tried to bring the Dead sensibility to every aspect of the game.

"One of the things I was interested in early on was that this couldn't come across as some kind of hokey merchandise," he said on the phone from his home in Lancaster, Pa. "Debbie was exactly on the same wavelength."

Truman said the most challenging aspect of his assignment was to create a "game that would be really accessible to people who had never listened to the Dead, but would also appeal to hardcore Deadheads."

He said he knew he got it right when his 23-year-old daughter and her friends, who weren't big Dead fans, loved playing the game.

Despite her long association with the Dead, and her friendship with Garcia, Gold admits she never was a big Deadhead. ("Don't print that!")

She was, however, obsessed with the rock-and-roll industry.

By age 14, she was working part-time at Jerry's Records in Center City. ("I lied, telling them I was 16.")

Her big DeadBreak came in 1974, when she impressed Garcia while working at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby.

"I was 19, and I was into it," she said. "I guess I did a killer job promoting the Dead show, and their manager . . . asked that I look them up if I was ever in California."

Within days, she received a plane ticket and a job offer.

"I remember thinking 'Oh my God, I have to tell my parents,' " said Gold, who later worked for Bob Dylan.

Fans have given her creation a warm reception.

"In a nutshell, it's just really cool," said WMMR-FM (93.3) DJ Pierre Robert, who went to his first Dead show in 1974.

"[There's] this immense amount of creativity that goes along with the Dead scene and that has really been shown in the game as well," he said.

"Its intelligence, its artwork . . . have really captured the aura and the vibe of the Dead."