February 01, 2018

Melinda Contreras

The Evolution of ThinkFun's Rush Hour

Topics: Insider, STEM Education / Play, Learning Through Play, STEM


Rush Hour is ThinkFun’s most successful game to date, delighting families for over 20 years! Adults that grew up with the game proudly gift Rush Hour to their children, nieces, nephews, and grandparents alike.

The concept is simple: Slide the cars back and forth to clear a path for the red car to exit the game grid. Rush Hour is easy to learn, but the increasingly difficult challenges keep families engaged for hours. Millions of copies of the game have been sold worldwide in over three dozen countries and the game set the bar for the multi-level challenge games our customers know and love.

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Rush Hour was originally known as Tokyo Parking and was made of wooden blocks.

Released in 1996, Rush Hour was originally brought to ThinkFun (then Binary Arts) as a wooden sliding block puzzle called Tokyo Parking. Developing a game called Tokyo Parking into Rush Hour might seem like an easy process, but Rush Hour’s journey has included a couple of wrong turns.  Here, we’re taking you back in time so you find out how we turned a wooden sliding block puzzle invented by famed Japanese inventor Nob Yoshigahara into a successful line of logic games for players ages 5 to adult!



Detour Ahead

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An early sketch of a Rush Hour cover that corresponded with titles including “Bad Traffic” and “Move It!”

Sitting in rush hour traffic is something mostly everyone can relate to, but ThinkFun’s Rush Hour is the story of knowing when something is all too relatable. Early designs of the game were modeled after empathizing with the terrible feelings of being caught in a terrible traffic jam. After reviewing initial cover sketches that celebrated frustration, we knew we had to make a U-Turn.

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An early sketch of Rush Hour Joe, who expressed the excitement of clearing traffic, rather than the frustration of being stuck in it.



Lane Change 

We soon turned the focus from celebrating frustration to celebrating feelings of success.

Little known fact: The driver of the red escape car on the original cover of Rush Hour has a name! The driver’s name is Joe. Rush Hour Joe is every person figuring things out on their way to the American Dream. 

Of course we’ll never know how a game called “Bad Traffic” might have preformed, but we do know choosing to celebrate the great feeling you get when you solve a challenge worked out quite well.


The Open Road

The classic edition of Rush Hour includes 40 leveled challenges, from beginner to expert. Since its debut in 1996, we’ve released a handful of special editions of the game, including a Deluxe Edition and Collector’s Edition with new levels, “Genius” and “Grand Master!” We’ve also introduced new game elements throughout the years. See how Rush Hour has evolved since it was first shown to us as Tokyo Parking:


Railroad Rush Hour (1998)

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With five levels of play, from junior to expert, Railroad RushHour offers a challenge for kids and grownups alike. The puzzle consists of a sturdy plastic grid, 40 puzzle cards (with solutions on the back) for ages 8 and older, 10 junior challenge cards for ages 6 to 8, 17 brightly colored blocking trains, two blocking baggage platforms, a blue-and-white striped travel pouch, and "you," the little red escape locomotive. Trains are placed on the grid as indicated on each puzzle card. The object is to steer your escape locomotive through the freight yard and out the exit gate indicated. You can warm up your problem-solving skills by getting the puzzle out of the box. All aboard for fun!


Rush Hour Safari

If you’ve ever played Rush Hour wishing you could just shift a car over to the next row, Rush Hour Safari is for you. For this safari adventure, the red escape car became a green safari rover. Plus, not only did we swap the remaining cars for elephants, rhinos, impalas, lions, and zebras, but we also made the game grid larger and added special square pieces that move in all four directions! Does this make the game easier or harder? Well, you’ll have to give the puzzles a try for yourself!


Rush Hour App (2009)

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A sample player score from the Rush Hour App. Play again to see if you can solve the puzzle by moving through two fewer squares!

At ThinkFun we are huge proponents of unplugged play, but we also understand the benefits of technology and enjoy creating digital games that add unique gameplay elements to our best selling games. 

Do you think you are Rush Hour master? Test your skills on our Rush Hour App. The app tracks the number of squares you moved through to escape the traffic jam, and compares your record against the minimum possible for each challenge. Can you find the most efficient route for all 2,500 challenges?


Rush Hour Shift: The Head-to-Head Race (2015)

Though Rush Hour has always been a great source of collaborative play, almost 20 years after the debut of Rush Hour, we released the 2-player version for our most competitive fans. Players start on opposite ends of the shiftable game grid, and race to reach the other side before their opponent. As you draw cards that determine your possible moves, you’ll rely on a little luck and a clever strategy to win. Should you use your turn to advance your own Hero Car or block your opponent? Your strategy may shift with the grid!


What is your favorite version of Rush Hour? What would you want to see in a future edition of the game? Tell us in the comments!


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