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Have Fun with Funds for the Holidays

While double digit returns are at the top of every fund executive's Christmas wish list, a more realistic gift option might be found at the local toy store. The real estate industry may have Monopoly, but the fund industry has Mutual Mania and Mutual Fundz, board games that offer executives and investors a sorely needed escape from the harsh realities of the bear market.

Any game that brings the office into fund executives' living rooms might not seem like the best gift this year, but at a time when single-digit returns are something to cheer about, a game that offers a shot at redemption may be just the thing. And for investors who suffered steep losses, the games offer an opportunity to play armchair fund manager.

Mutual Mania, pits between two to six players or teams against one another in a competition to create the highest net worth by buying and selling mutual funds. Players move game pieces around a board which represents one calendar year. Players start with an equal amount of cash and then purchase funds that range from low-risk government bond funds to high risk emerging market funds.

The value of each fund fluctuates with market conditions and world events that are determined by the roll of a die and a deck of playing cards. As in the real fund industry, the player who holds the most assets by the end of the game is the winner.

Fun of Funds

Thomas Hopkins CEO of Competitive Edge Enterprises, Inc., the game's distributor, and his father Chuck, developed the game in 1997. Upon graduating from college, the younger Hopkins was "disturbed" that he knew so little about mutual funds and investing in general. Taking a page from Monopoly, Hopkin's idea was to come up with a board game that allowed people to learn about investing in a risk-free, fun manner.

While sales have been somewhat slow, several grade schools have purchased the game as a way to teach students about investing with mutual funds, Chuck Hopkins said. The firm has approached several fund companies about private labeling the game as sales and marketing tool. But perhaps sensing the game is a bit of a busman's holiday, no company has really embraced the idea, the elder Hopkins said. But he is quick to point out that Trivial Pursuit didn't caught on with game-playing enthusiasts until 10 years after it was introduced.

And the game has its fans. Stephanie Brown, the head of marketing for Raymond James subsidiary Heritage Family of Funds has taken a shine to Mutual Mania, incorporating it into the firm's marketing with investment advisers. Brown hands out the games as a reward to the firm's top producers at annual meetings.

The games have been warmly received, she said and some advisers have even used it as a teaching tool with clients who are new to investing, she said. "For a financial adviser that is dealing with a new client, the challenge is to teach them a new concept without them being threatened or going over their head," she said.

The game is available through the company's website, and through several large retail department stores as well as Barnes and Noble.

Want to Play Again?

The other game, Mutual Fundz, is another take on the world of fund investing. The game was created by Norman Kay, a point-of-sale packaging executive who wanted to create a fun spoof on fund investing.

Players in Mutual Mania begin with a bankroll of cash and a portfolio of between four to six funds. There are six categories of funds ranging from high risk to conservative. For instance, in the high risk sector "investors" can take a chance on the Groundhog Emerging Markets fund or the Discovery Extraterrestrial fund.

As in Mutual Mania, players advance game pieces around a board that features squares that offer pitfalls and windfalls. If you land on the Hostile Takeover square, you can pick up an opponent's best fund for a song. If you land on Black Monday, break out the Rolaids and kiss your kids' college fund goodbye.

Kay says he developed the game as a fun novelty item that gives a "poke in the ribs" to the investment industry. Mutual Fundz has been popular with schools that want to use it as a teaching device, he said. More information about the game can be found at