Savvy entrepreneur David Rakower has revived a nostalgia-evoking cannabis game played by thousands
People looking to make their mark in the cannabis industry of tomorrow aspire to combine modern social engagement with consumption. For David Rakower, president of Tampa, Florida-based Sibannac Marketing, however, the cannabis consumer of yesterday provided the inspiration for a phenomenon that combines past with present. Zonk—a cannabis-centered dice game Rakower said has been played by untold thousands of people around the world—is attracting fans in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington State.
“To our knowledge, Zonk has never been sold in commerce, but various websites and blogs have discussed people’s experiences with the game, along with different versions of the rules,” said Rakower. “It has had an underground culture following it for approximately thirty-eight years. It was extremely popular in a pocket of colleges in the Northeast and maintained such an underground culture that people still use a common phrase, ‘to play it is to love it.’ We always use the same words when we’re teaching the game: ‘Everyone wins at Zonk.’”
Zonk does seem to have a following, even if the fan club consists of people who barely remember playing the game years earlier. But like a sweet, forgotten memory, the game springs to life at the mere mention of its name. “The inspiration for creating the game was the game itself,” said Rakower, not a month after officially launching Zonk at an industry event. “With cannabis becoming legitimized and the market having space for the emergence of new products, there appeared to be a void for products of social engagement. While everyone was running to create the best oil, the newest vape, or the most creative rig—all awesome products—the knowledge that Zonk is currently unknown to the masses haunted me. To be able to bring back a culturally engaging product with rules, terms, personalized artwork, chosen names, competition, and the ability to bring everyone together proved to be an opportunity like no other.”
Other potential also beckoned. “The legs on this product for dispensaries and smoke shops is endless,” he explained. “The product allows what no other product in the industry does: To be able to pivot and run specials on other products while playing the game itself accelerates people back into the stores. It’s a weed-eater that allows for endless specials and opportunities to align products throughout a store’s inventory.”
Playing the game
“In addition to being a catalyst for smoking cannabis,” said Rakower, “Zonk is a super-competitive social activity that allows everyone playing to be involved and battle for both ‘hits’ and points, which work proportionally with each other.
“Each player races to 10,000 points, with each turn giving them the opportunity to accumulate more points toward a win,” he added. “During their turn, each player rolls the dice and makes the decision to continue rolling at the risk of obtaining zero points during a roll and losing all points for that turn (just like gambling). At any point during a turn, a player may decide to ‘stay’ with the points on the board, which are added to their current running total. Every time a player crosses over a 1,000-points threshold, they get a ‘hit,’ which also can be received as bonuses along the way if a player lands directly on ‘hit’ mark. As one can imagine, the game becomes increasingly more difficult as time and ‘hits’ go by.”
“It’s a weed-eater that allows for endless specials and opportunities to align products throughout a store’s inventory.” -David Rakower
There are other rules to playing, of course, and different versions of the game, all respected by Rakower. “Because various versions exist, we encourage everyone to feel free to adjust the rules to their comfort level,” he said. “House rules have always been a traditional component in Zonk, and we look forward to seeing further evolutions of the game as time persists.”
But no matter what version is played, a definable culture has built up around the game and Rakower wants to maintain that. “To further support the culture,” he said, “all players are required to choose their own ‘Zonk names,’ and after each game the winner receives the scoresheet as their symbol of victory. What winds up happening is that people start to collect their scoresheets and compare their victories against each other.”
Rakower employs a three-tier marketing structure for Zonk. In the first tier, he explained, “We hire sales reps within the recreational states and have them go door to door pitching and selling the games. Our focus is on dispensaries and smoke shops, but we are also willing to sell to any legal shop within a recreational market.”
The second tier comprises tournaments and event hosting. “Throughout the country, we host events and run Zonk tournaments to spread the culture and keep people learning the game. One of our most popular strategies is to host a game for a dispensary that has purchased it.” Thus far, Rakower’s company has hosted or taught the game at about a half dozen events throughout the U.S.
The third marketing tier employs celebrity handouts. “Throughout our travels,” explained Rakower, “we schedule ourselves around specific artists and celebrities we know will be in the area. Coming from a music scene background, we’ve learned it makes sense to give artists a new form of entertainment, especially on their tours.” Artists and celebrities who currently own Sibannac Marketing’s version of the game include Grammy-nominated SOJA, actor Adrian Grenier, and comedians Doug Benson and Noah Gradenswartz, Rakower revealed.
He takes pride in the way his revival of the game includes proper branding and careful attention to detail designed to “maintain the classic form and respect the game deserves, while continuing to earn the appreciation and acceptance of all the past players. As well, each game comes with free, locally-blown pipe. If you purchase a game in Oregon, it includes a glass pipe blown in Oregon, and the same with the Washington game and the Colorado game.”
With his marketing plan in place and an army of unwitting fans just waiting to be revived, Rakower feels confident about Zonk’s. “We have verbal commitments from twenty-one stores,” he said. “With the events, press, and celebrity engagement over the past month, along with the launch of our distribution channels, we foresee a large surge of sales over the next two to three months—an estimated 2,500 units.”
Zonk’s wholesale cost is $280 for a ten-pack. Retail price is $45.
For more information, visit GameOfZonk.com.