For decades, people visiting Niles for the first time have gaped at its half-size replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa on Touhy Avenue.
Now they’ll be able to buy it for a zillion dollars—at least in a board game that highlights quirky roadside tourist attractions all over the United States.
Big Potato Games has introduced Zillionaires: Road Trip USA, a board game in which two to five players compete and bid the fictional “zillions” of dollars to buy up a collection of the game’s 49 properties in a row to win.
Among the 49 real tourist attractions selected for the game was the Leaning Tower of Niles.
The 94-foot tower was constructed in 1934 by local businessman Robert Ilg, who had built a swimming pool for employees of his electric company and wanted to beautify the water tower, according to previous reporting. He hit on the idea of creating a replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
The Leaning Tower of Niles was later turned over to the Niles YMCA, but the village of Niles purchased it in 2015, according to previous reporting. During the 1990s, a renovation of the tower started and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2019.
Big Potato Games Head of U.S. Marketing Massimo Zeppetelli explained in an e-mail he was attracted to the tower’s history.
“As an Italian, I was drawn to this wonderful pastiche of the Leaning Tower of Pisa! Fun fact is that the (village) of Niles became a sister city to Pisa,” Zeppetelli wrote. “I also found it interesting that it was originally used to store water for public swimming pools.”
Besides the Leaning Tower, the other Illinois entries include The World’s Largest Catsup Bottle in Collinsville, which also disguises a water tower, and Big Things, Small Town in Casey, a collection of gigantic sculptures of items such as a rocking chair, mouse trap, barbershop pole, knitting needles and a mailbox that rises 60 feet high.
“We used various websites that list interesting landmarks around the country and made a huge list of hundreds of places, and narrowed them down to the most interesting ones (and ones which picked up the phone!),” Zeppetelli said.
The 49 stops are not ones generally associated with the nation’s iconic destinations such as the Grand Canyon or the Statue of Liberty. Instead, they are ones off the beaten path such as The World’s Largest Toilet in Columbus, Indiana or the International Banana Museum in Mecca, California.
“It’s a bit tongue in cheek, but these attractions are uniquely American and we wanted to champion them and the people that run them,” noted Big Potato Games Managing Director Adam Wright. “We had a long list of initial attractions and whittled it down to the 49 that made their way into the game. It was a labor of love so we were really pleased that people from the attractions were excited to be featured in the game and also wanted to get involved. Imagine if someone did bid $10 zillion for one of the attractions for real!”
In this age of streaming and constant use of phones, playing a board game might seem antiquated for Gen-Z and Millennials. Not so, according to Zeppetelli.
“We do consumer insight testing and figured out that we have multiple core demographics that are interested in board games,” he said. “Millennials are certainly one of them!”