LOSE IT ALL AND STILL BE A WINNER IN THIS GAME

LOSE IT ALL AND STILL BE A WINNER IN THIS GAME

* You were passed over for a promotion in favor of a much younger man. It dawns on you that you're no longer one of the up-and-coming young executives.

* You tell your boss you'd like some time off to find yourself. He understands perfectly and gives you the next 10 years off.* Your boss has joined a religious cult and is insisting that you also join as a condition of continued employment. It wouldn't bother you so much except that they're all vegetarian devil worshipers.

* * * * *

These are the types of situations you face in a board game called Mid-Life Crisis. As any barroom psychologist will tell you, job-related problems are far from being the only events that can throw your life into turmoil.

If you play Mid-Life Crisis, you may also find that your new neighbor was in your high school, knows the truth about the prom and is waiting for the chance to tell your spouse.

You may also suffer a mid-life crisis after you discover what a proctologist does for a living. Or after you go to your high school class reunion and find you're the only one who can't remember the school song - and you're the one who wrote it.

What else are you going to give somebody turning 40? says Mike Stern, the game's inventor. A face-lift? This is a lot less expensive, and it provides humor therapy in a box.

Mr. Stern, who's staring 45 in the face, says he got the idea for the game - where else? - on a Los Angeles freeway.

The game's features include stress points, divorce tokens, crisis cards and zap cards. And should you find yourself in Bankrupt City, Crack Up Ranch or Divorce Gulch, you can declare a mid-life crisis in which your object then becomes to crack up, break up and go broke, Mr. Stern said in a telephone interview. If you accomplish all three of these goals before any of the other players cross the finish line, you win.

Another way to win is by having the most money when the first player crosses the finish line. Divorce tokens and stress points are converted into

dollars and subtracted from your monetary wealth.

When the inspiration for the game struck him, Mr. Stern was working as the administrator of a community health clinic in California, while his friend David Heidelberger was designing and manufacturing architectural accessories.

Neither was particularly happy with their jobs, so they decided to pool their resources and form their own company, called Game Works Inc., based in Goleta, Calif. Mr. Stern credits Mr. Heidelberger's age - he's six months older than Mr. Stern - for many of the insights that have gone into their work.

Other games they have produced include Middle Age Crazy, described by Mr. Stern as a game of moral dilemmas, for what few you have left, and Over the Hill, which catches folks past middle age. The two have also produced one called Romantic Journey, and they have a game of tongue twisters called Spit It Out coming out in April.

But Mid-Life Crisis, for two to six players in their prime, has clearly been the big winner for the pair. Mr. Stern estimates it has already sold over 500,000 units, but he says it hasn't made him rich. It pays the rent. We're having fun. We play all day, he says.

Game Works has signed licensing agreements with companies in the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada to produce it there. Some of the jokes have been changed to reflect cultural differences, and dollars have been converted to pounds in the British version.

Mr. Heidelberger says between 15,000 and 25,000 games are being produced annually in the United Kingdom and Australia - I'm not too good with numbers now that I'm over 45 - and that the licensees in those countries are also interested in some of the other games he and Mr. Stern have developed.

The licensing agreement in Canada is too new to evaluate, he says. The company had done some exporting there, but decided licensing was the better way to go.

The game, which carries a suggested retail price of $15 to $20, is distributed in the United States by John N. Hansen Co., Millbrae, Calif.

It appeals to the over-40 crowd, which is a lot of people, says Bob

Zimmerli, national sales manager for Hansen, which also manufactures the game at a plant in Anaheim, Calif. Sales people in gift stores that carry the game show it to middle-aged people who are looking to buy a present for a friend or spouse, he says.

Mr. Zimmerli describes it as the second fastest selling game Hansen has sold in its 40 years in the game business. Its all-time winner is 221 Baker Street, based on the adventures of Sherlock Holmes. It's a perfect gift item, he says.

Ironically, though, Mr. Zimmerli says it's the type of game that many people put on their shelves and may never play.

Hansen does some local advertising for Mid-Life Crisis, but it has never run any national television commercials. For the most part, Mr. Zimmerli says, the game sells itself, largely through word-of-mouth. It was also featured on the ABC television program Good Morning America.

One retailer that's pleased with the game is Waldenbooks Inc., Stamford, Conn. It's done pretty well for us, says Bruce Dasse, category manager for the company, which has some 1,100 outlets nationwide.

Mr. Dasse says the game's success stems from its strong appeal to the middle-aged. You'd be amazed at the way some items appeal to certain age groups, he says.

Despite its success thus far, the game is not yet available at large toy outlets such as Rochelle Park, N.J.-based Toys R Us. If Mr. Zimmerli has his way, it will stay out of the toy field.

They take items and kill them through discounting, he says. You can see what happened to Trivial Pursuit. You can't give a Trivial Pursuit game away.

If you want to buy Mid-Life Crisis for a friend's 40th birthday and can't find it anywhere, don't be too upset. As the game says: What's one more crisis in the cosmic scheme of things?

Reporter William Armbruster says that playing Mid-Life Crisis can be a lot of fun even if you haven't reached 40.