Now Where’s Merlin?


Merlin was the Gameboy of its day and Parker Brothers moved 5 million of these in their initial run. It was a pretty simple gaming device. A simple field of dots on which you could play one of six games:

1. Tic Tac Toe
2. Music Machine
3. Echo, a game similar to Simon
4. Blackjack 13
5. Magic Square, a pattern game
6. Mindbender, a game similar to Mastermind

I loved Echo and Music Machine as a kid and would spend hours sitting in my yard pounding glowing red dots. The thing was a power hog and I scavenged all of the AA batteries from our house in a week. By the end of the week my parents had a drawer full of dead batteries and a Merlin-addicted kid begging for money for AA batteries every morning. Eventually they invested in a 9V adapter, but I still liked to play it outside, so it mostly went untouched.

I am sure a huge swath of Northern New Jersey has been rendered infertile because of all the batteries I dumped out of the back of this little red electronic crack pipe. I feel like planting a tree or something. Oh well. Merlin has a very cool “secondary play-mode”.

Once I got tired of playing the 6 games I would carry it around and pretend it was a phone. It was a pretty sweet looking phone and in a pinch made a good pretend walkie talkie.

This awesome commercial is what sold me on this bad boy. To this day I can still sing-a-long.

A little background on Merlin from wikipedia:

“Merlin was created by Bob Doyle, a Harvard PhD. and inventor who had previously worked with NASA. Merlin took the form of a rectangular device about eight inches long and three inches wide. The play area of the game consisted of a matrix of eleven buttons; each button contained a red LED. The array was encased in a red plastic housing, bearing a slight resemblance to an overgrown touch-tone telephone. Four game-selection and control buttons were also placed at the bottom of the unit; a speaker took up the top section. Supporting electronics (including a simple microprocessor) were contained within the shell of the game. Parker Brothers later released Master Merlin with more games, and the rarer Split Second, where all games involve time with a more advanced display, sporting line segments around the dots. Both of these share the same general case shape, and came out a few years after Merlin.”

You can still pick up a Merlin on eBay for under 10 bucks. I lost the instructions for mine many years ago and the battery plate is held on with tape so I might pick one up myself. Of course if you aren’t into the old school version you can pick one of a newer versions from Milton Bradley.


Dig those new buttons they are huge and chunky and look easier to push. New Merlin actually looks MORE like a phone than old Merlin. Plus it only takes three AA batteries instead of 6. Now I can play twice as much!

Pick up a New Merlin on


Garry Vander Voort

Editor/Podcaster at Retroist
The Retroist is like a BBQ on a bun without the bones. You're only human daddy. Chomp!

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3 thoughts on “Now Where’s Merlin?

  1. Drahken says:

    I got a used copy of this back in the 80s & loved it. Some 20yrs later I got the 10th quest version, it’s quite good. A few years after that I got the remake version, it doesn’t hold up well to my memories of the original.
    I never had the merlin 2 or whatever it was called, which was the direct sequel to the original (10th quest is the 3rd installment).

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