Operation is a battery-operated game of physical skill that tests players' hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills. The game's prototype was invented in 1964 by John Spinello, a University of Illinois industrial design student at the time, who sold his rights to the game to Milton Bradley for a sum of USD $500 and the promise of a job upon graduation. Initially produced by Milton Bradley in 1965, Operation is currently made by Hasbro, with an estimated franchise worth of USD $40 million.

The game is a variant on the old-fashioned electrified wire loop game popular at fun fairs around the United States. It consists of an "operating table", lithographed with a comic likeness of a patient (nicknamed "Cavity Sam") with a large red lightbulb for his nose. In the surface are a number of openings, which reveal cavities filled with fictional and humorously named ailments made of plastic. The general gameplay requires players to remove these plastic ailments with a pair of tweezers without touching the edge of the cavity opening.

How to Play

Operation includes two sets of cards: The Specialist cards are dealt out evenly amongst the players at the beginning of the game.

In the U.S. version, players take turns picking Doctor cards, which offer a cash payment for removing each particular ailment, using a pair of tweezers connected with wire to the board. Successfully removing the ailment is rewarded according to the dollar amount shown on the card. However, if the tweezers touch the metal edge of the opening during the attempt (thereby closing a circuit), a buzzer sounds, Sam's nose lights up red, and the player loses the turn. The player holding the Specialist card for that piece then has a try, getting double the fee if he or she succeeds.


Since there will be times when the player drawing a certain Doctor card also holds the matching Specialist card, that player can purposely botch the first attempt in order to attempt a second try for double value.

The game can be difficult, due to the shapes of the plastic ailments and the fact the openings are barely larger than the pieces themselves.

  • Adam's Apple: an apple in the throat ($100). "Adam's apple" is a colloquial term referring to the thyroid cartilage surrounding the larynx that becomes more visually prominent during puberty.
  • Broken Heart: a heart shape with a crack through it on the right side of the chest ($100). The phrase "broken heart" refers to an emotional feeling in which someone is very sad for a reason such as a breakup with a romantic partner.
  • Wrenched Ankle: a wrench in the right ankle ($100). "Wrenched ankle" is an alternative term for a sprained ankle.
  • Butterflies in Stomach: a large butterfly in the middle of the torso
    ($100). The name comes from the feeling in the stomach when nervous, excited or afraid.
  • Spare Ribs: two ribs fused together as one piece ($150). "Spare Ribs" are a cut of meat or a dish prepared from that cut.
  • Water on the Knee: a pail of water in the knee ($150). Colloquialism for fluid accumulation around the knee joint.
  • Funny Bone: a cartoon-style bone ($200). A reference to the colloquial name of the ulnar nerve which is itself thought to be a play on the anatomical name for the upper arm bone (thehumerus).
  • Charley Horse: a small horse resting near the hip joint ($200). A "charley horse" is a sudden spasm in the leg or foot that can be cured by massage or stretching.
  • Writer's Cramp: a pencil in the forearm ($200). A "writer's cramp", which is a soreness in the wrist that can be cured by resting it.
  • The Ankle Bone Connected to the Knee Bone: A rubber band that must be stretched between two pegs at the left ankle and knee. This is the only non-plastic piece in the game and the only card that requires the player to insert rather than remove something ($200). The name is taken from the African American spiritual "Dem Bones".
  • Wish Bone: a wishbone similar to that of a chicken located on the left side of the chest ($300). A "wish bone" is a colloquial name for the Furcula which is a bone found in birds and some other animals. Traditionally, the Furcula of a chicken may be used by two people for making competing wishes.
  • Bread Basket: a slice of bread, with a small notch taken out of the top for grip ($1,000). The word "breadbasket" is slang for the stomach.
  • Brain Freeze: an ice-cream cone located in the brain ($600). Refers to the experience of "brain freeze", a headache felt after eating frozen desserts and iced drinks too quickly.

"Brain Freeze" was added in 2004, when Milton Bradley allowed fans a chance to vote on a new piece to be added to the original game during the previous year. Voters were given three choices and could make their selection via the company's official website[ or by phone for a chance to win a $5,000 shopping spree.[5] The winning piece beat out tennis elbow and growling stomach.

How to Play Operation - Doctor & Specialist Cards in the Game Operation

How to Play Operation - Doctor & Specialist Cards in the Game Operation

Revisions and Expansions

The 1964-1965 Saturday morning children's game show Shenanigans had a life sized, three-dimensional Operation game as one of its challenges.

Aside from the traditional board game version, Milton Bradley also produced a hand-held version which had a screen in Sam's tummy.

This also had a PC game produced in 1998.

In 2002, a brain surgery version was released, requiring the player to pull pieces out of a wisecracking Cavity Sam's head, within 15 seconds. Sam's nose lights up after time runs out.

In May 2004, a Shrek version of the game was released.

Shrek oper cover

2005 saw the release of a Simpsons version of the game, featuring a talking Homer Simpson being operated on by doctors Julius Hibbert and Nick Riviera. Items in the game include Bowler's ThumbFoot in Mouth, and Rubber Neck. When a player misses, Homer screams or says one of his trademark lines such as "D'oh! or "This is not good!".

In December 2006, a Spider-Man version was released in which the player operates on the Marvel superhero Spider-Man. In early 2008, Hasbro featured another Marvel superhero when it released an Incredible Hulk edition of the game to promote The Incredible Hulk feature film. In 2010, Hasbro also released an Iron Man version of the game to promote Iron Man 2.

In early 2007, a SpongeBob SquarePants version was introduced, featuring game pieces such as a "shoehorn" and a "Krabby Patty pleasure center".

Later in 2007, Hasbro released a different version of the original game called OPERATION Rescue Kit in which the participant plays four different timed games with three skill levels. Each skill level reduces the starting amount of time. Cavity Sam has a heart monitor in this version, and the player can pump oxygen into him to gain more time.

In August 2008, Hasbro released a "Silly Skill Game" version which features 13 different sound effects for each of the different parts. Here the winner of the game is the player who removes most parts successfully.

Doctor Who version of the game was released in Great Britain, where players get to "operate" on a Dalek.

In 2010, Hasbro released a Toy Story 3 version featuring Buzz Lightyear as the patient. This followed the release of the Toy Story 3 feature film into theaters. Another Pixar film was promoted in 2011, when Hasbro made a Cars 2 edition including Mater the tow truck.

USAopoly released a Family Guy version of the game featuring Peter Griffin as the patient. USAopoly also released a The Nightmare Before Christmas version of the game (featuring Oogie Boogie as the patient) and a Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer version of the game (featuring the Abominable Snow Monster as the patient, with Rudolph's nose lighting up when the player hits the sides).

On The Hub's television game show Family Game Night hosted by Todd Newton, a segment called Operation Relay is played, where two families compete one after the other. Family members take turns pulling pieces out of an oversized Operation gameboard, and then running through an obstacle course to eventually place them in a container at the end of the course. If a player fails to pull a piece without touching the side, or drops it while going through the obstacle course, they must move to the back of the line, and it's the next person's turn. Each piece is worth a specific amount of points, and whichever team has earned the highest score when time expires wins. Also on the show is Operation Sam Dunk, in which families play skee ball to collect the most points possible. Each family gets two turns and the team with the highest score wins the game. For the show's third season, Operation is introduced, in which one family can win money for a shopping spree by removing pieces to earn up to four rolls and then play skee ball in a same manner as in Operation Sam Dunk.

In 2013 Hasbro introduced Doc McStuffins and Despicable Me 2 versions of the game.

Links and References

How to Play - wikiHow

BoardGameGeek Review