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 University of Illinois industrial-design student John Spinello, who sold his rights to renowned toy designer Marvin Glass for $500 and the promise of a job upon graduation, which was not fulfilled.[1] Initially produced by Milton Bradley in 1965, Operation is currently produced by Hasbro, with an estimated franchise worth $40 million.[2][3]

1965 edition of Operation, with the tweezers originally referred to as "Electro Probe"
DesignersJohn Spinello
PublicationMarch 27, 1965; 59 years ago (1965-03-27)
Players1–4 players
Setup time2 minutes
Playing time10–20 minutes
Age range6+

The game is a variant of the old-fashioned electrified wire loop game popular at fairs. 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. On the surface are several openings, labeled with the names of fictional and humorous ailments, that contain plastic pieces. The general gameplay requires players to remove these plastic objects with a pair of tweezers without touching the edge of the cavity opening.



Operation includes two sets of cards, "Doctor" and "Specialist." The Specialist cards are dealt evenly to the players at the start of the game, and any extra cards are removed from play. The Doctor cards are shuffled to form a deck and are placed face-down.

In the American and Australian versions, players take turns drawing the top Doctor card from the deck, offering a cash payment for removing a particular object. The player in control uses a pair of tweezers (dubbed "Electro Probe" in earlier versions), connected to the board by a wire, to remove the piece without touching the metal edges of the cavity in which it rests. Successful removal of the piece awards the value shown on the card, while a failure allows the player holding the Specialist card for that ailment (if any) a chance to remove it for double value. If the Specialist card holder also fails, or if no player is holding it, the Doctor card is returned to the bottom of the deck. Cards of both types are removed from play as the pieces corresponding to their listed ailments are removed.

A player drawing a particular Doctor card while holding the corresponding Specialist card may deliberately fail the first attempt in order to have a second chance for double value.

The winner is the player with the most money after all plastic pieces have been extracted.

The game is challenging because of the shapes of the plastic pieces and the narrow openings are barely larger than the pieces that they contain.

Play pieces

  • Adam's Apple: An apple in the throat ($100).
  • Broken Heart: A heart shape with a crack on the right side of the chest ($100).
  • Wrenched Ankle: A wrench in the right ankle ($100).
  • Butterflies in Stomach: A large butterfly in the middle of the torso ($500). **2015 Edition
  • Spare Ribs: Two ribs fused together as one piece ($150).
  • Water on the Knee: A pail of water in the knee ($150).
  • Funny Bone: A cartoon-styled bone ($200).
  • Charlie Horse: A small horse that rests near the hip joint ($200).
  • Writer's Cramp: A pencil in the forearm ($200).
  • 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 challenge in which the player must insert rather than remove something ($200). Its name derives from the spiritual song "Dem Bones".
  • Wish Bone: A wishbone similar to that of a chicken located on the left side of the chest ($300).
  • Brain Freeze: An ice-cream cone located in the brain ($600). This was added in 2004 when Milton Bradley allowed fans to vote on a new piece during a promotion titled "What's Ailing Sam?" that included a top prize of a $5,000 shopping spree.[4] The other contenders were Tennis Elbow and Growling Stomach.
  • Bread Basket: A slice of bread and one of the most difficult pieces to remove, with a small notch removed from the top for easier grip ($1,000).

Other variations


In 2002, Hasbro released a feel-and-find version of the game called Operation Brain Surgery. In this game, players must reach inside Sam's head and feel around for one of eight different pieces that match their game tiles within 15 seconds; spending too much time feeling around or running out of time causes the buzzer to sound and their turn ends. Sam will also say phrases and laugh during the player's turn.

In 2009, Hasbro released the first major update to Operation called Operation Sound FX. This is the first version of Operation to remove the buzzer and cards in place of a speaker. This meant that the game could announce the piece to be removed by the player by using an audio cue such as a "twang" sound for the rubber band and a busy tone for the cell phone. Players must press Sam's nose after successfully removing a piece; when all pieces have been removed and Sam's nose is pressed, the game plays a victory song. It also includes a standard game of Operation available by sliding the power button to the "lightning bolt" setting.

Licensed variations of Operation based on popular intellectual properties also exist, such as multiple versions of a Spider-Man-themed Operation with Spider-Man as the patient and a Fallout version in which the player must treat Vault-Tec's mascot Vault Boy and a "rads" alarm replaces Sam's nose buzzer.

In 2013, an easy-grab version of the game was released; this version features different ailments for Sam that are easier to pick up, and increased the size of the cavities, to make for a better game experience for younger inexperienced players.

In 2020, Hasbro introduced a new variation of the game called Operation Pet Scan in which players must remove objects from Sam's dog Rex Ray's digestive tract.[5]

The Dutch version of the game is called Dokter Bibber, which translates as "Doctor Shaky."[6]


  • Games and Puzzles[7]


  1. ^ Moye, David (27 Oct 2014). "John Spinello, Inventor Of 'Operation' Game, Can't Afford Real-Life Operation". Huffington Post. Retrieved 29 Oct 2014.
  2. ^ "OPERATION Game History". Hasbro.com. Archived from the original on 2011-01-02. Retrieved 2010-10-13.
  3. ^ "'Operation' Inventor, 77, Can't Afford Real Life Operation". TIME. 28 Oct 2014. Retrieved 29 Oct 2014.
  4. ^ "Brain Freeze, Tennis Elbow or Growling Stomach?". Boardgames.about.com. Retrieved 2010-10-13.
  5. ^ Swartvagher, Jennifer (2020-07-02). "Hasbro Gaming Introduces Operation Pet Scan". Red Tricycle. Retrieved 2020-09-06.
  6. ^ "Dokter Bibber spelregels - TheGameRoom".
  7. ^ "Games and Puzzles 1976-08: Iss 51". A H C Publications. August 1976.