Every now and then, stories can be found of rare video games cartridges — usually from now defunct companies, or parts of a tiny production line — appear from the blue on auction lines, garage sales, on eBay or in any number of improbable locations, from where they are snapped up by gaming fans for prodigious sums.
Some of these games have earned themselves an almost mythical status over the years, fetching prices of up to $40,000 a piece when they appear on the market even if their quality falls far short of modern-day video game design. For many gaming fans, the simple prestige attached to owning one of these immensely valuable cartridges is so great that reselling them – or sometimes even using them – is simply out of the question.
The publicity attached recently to some of these stories of rare games finally being tracked down and bought for these staggering sums has begun increasingly to shed light on some of the more intriguing stories of missing or exceedingly rare games cartridges. The 2010 sale of a rare game known as Stadium Events, produced by Bandai, for an astonishing $43,300 prompted widespread coverage of other exceptionally rare and valuable games.
It was around this time that increased attention was paid to an obscure cartridge called Air Raid.
The Air Raid game isn’t necessarily the most expensive rare game out there, but it’s arguably the most mysterious. An ancient Atari title, precious little is known about its origins. For instance, the name of the company is thought to be Men-A-vision, but there are those who distinctly remember it being known as Men-O-Vision… and so on. Even the name Air Raid is disputed, since the name only appears on a couple of boxes but not the cartridge itself.
The game seems to have first appeared around the year 1982, in a clear, bright blue cartridge of an unusual ‘T – Handle’ shape. This is more akin to cartridges sold in Brazil than America, its supposed country of origin (where cartridges were the traditional square shape at the time). Stranger still is that while only a handful of copies remain, we can’t find any record of more than 13 copies having ever existed. In addition, only three have been found with an original box, and only one is known to exist with the original instruction manual.
In fact, it is one of the boxed sets that is the star of this whole Holy Grail story, since its existence ended up making the man who owned it a rather sizeable sum of money.
The Big Sell
The name of that man is Tanner Sandlin. A resident of Austin, Texas, what sets Tanner apart from most collectors and owners of rare and valuable cartridges is the fact that he doesn’t actually consider himself a professional collector, or even a collector at all, of Atari 2600 games.
It was only from the press surrounding the Stadium Events sale mentioned earlier that Sandlin realized he had in his basement one of the rarest video games cartridges in history. After listing the Air Raid game cartridge on eBay and mentioning his possession of it on a popular Atari 2600 forum (AtariAge.com), the mysterious blue cartridge began to get a lot of attention.
However, on the eve of selling the cartridge for a good price, Sandlin pulled the game from the auction just before moving to complete a final balance transfer, realizing that he had the one thing that could propel his game into a whole new realm of fame – the original box. As is commonplace in the world of rare games selling, games with their original boxes sell for substantially more than the actual games themselves (and in some cases the box alone is worth more than the cartridge).
“Once I found the box, I knew that I was playing in a whole different league.” Sandlin said in an interview with Betanews. “But I knew I was going to need an expert to verify that the box was genuine.”
For this he recruited rare games specialist and AtariAge administrator Albert Yarusso, also based in Austin. After examining the cartridge, Yarusso declared to the forums and now intrigued media that the Air Raid game box and cartridge either the real thing – in which case it was undoubtably worth 5 figures – or an incredibly well produced hoax. The package was subsequently re-listed on eBay as a truly one of kind ‘Holy Grail’ cartridge…
…then promptly laden with derision as the listing was put up, unfortunately, on April Fools day.
Yarusso’s involvement then became a hindrance, since the enthusiast was known to play frequent pranks on the antique video game collecting world, and many were suspicious of this latest event. However, against all the odds the auction ended and the winner is confirmed to have paid $31,600. At the time it was the highest sale in cartridge history – technically the aforementioned Stadium Events topped it at $41,300, but the sale fell through after auction.
Some video games have fetched higher amounts since then, but the mysterious story and microscopic availability of the cartridge makes Air Raid the most alluring Holy Grail cartridges in antique games hunting…
… Not bad considering he only paid $5 for Air Raid back in the early eighties, and he used to laugh with his friends at how bad the actual gameplay was.