© 2013 Bruce Whitehill. All Rights Reserved.
Bruce Whitehill founded the AGPC in 1985 when it was called the American Game Collectors Association.
Bruce’s website, thebiggamehunter.com, is a treasure trove of information about games.
Links to select games websites appears at the end of this article.
View posts on AGPC.org in the Games category.
WHAT IS A GAME?
How is a game different from a toy? A toy is a plaything that usually can be used in different ways, that can be played with alone or in a non-competitive way, and that has no specific time period associated with play.
A game, on the other hand, normally has a set of rules governing play, including a fixed beginning and end, and a competitive element in which a player tries either to beat an opponent or to get a higher score than in the previous game. Naturally, there are many games which use toy-like devices, and many toys that include the description of a game that can be played with them.
TYPES OF GAMES
Games can be classified into five basic groups according to the style of construction: card games, board games, skill and action games, computer and video games, and activity or “parlor” games. Naturally, some games use elements of more than one group.
Card Games. A card game is a game which uses a deck of playing cards, such as RUMMY, or one which uses special cards, such as OLD MAID. Games such as AUTHORS (invented in 1861) and OLD MAID were made by many different companies, whereas other popular card games were owned by one company. PIT and ROOK, for example, have been made since 1904 and 1906 respectively by Parker Brothers.
Board Games. A board game is a game which uses a carved or illustrated surface, called a gameboard, on which the game is played; for most commercially produced board games, a printed sheet is pasted onto a piece of cardboard. The board may be three-dimensional (made out of a plastic mold or with wood or die-cut cardboard) or flat, the latter being either a one-piece board or folded (usually one fold, but sometimes as many as three); the board is usually removed from the box and placed on a table, but some games are played in the box or even on the box cover. Because of the standardization of paper sizes and printing processes, some of the folded gameboards of the 1870s were exactly the same size as the standard 18 1/2″ x 18 1/2″ gameboards of today. Earlier American boards were made of wood, paper, and linen (cloth).
Most board games are designed to be played with two to six players. In terms of method of play, there are two main styles of board games: race games and positioning games. Race games can be divided into three primary types: path, track, and circuit. In a path game, players start at one point and race along one or more circuitous paths to a finishing point (as in CHUTES AND LADDERS or UNCLE WIGGILY); similarly, in a track game, players, with one or more playing pieces, race to be the first one to get all the pieces around the board once (as in BACKGAMMON and PARCHEESI or any horse race game). A circuit game allows players to continue circling the board until one player amasses whatever is required to win (as in MONOPOLY).
Positioning games are usually played on some sort of grid, where playing pieces may be placed either on the intersections of the lines (as in GO) or in the spaces between them (as in CHECKERS and OTHELLO). Games of this type usually require a player to block, capture, or eliminate an opponents pieces, but some games, such as CHINESE CHECKERS, are a mixture of blocking and racing.
Skill and Action Games. A skill and action, or dexterity game is one which requires the players to perform a physical activity. TIDDLY WINKS, target games, and many marble games and games with tops fall into this category. Some “skill and action” games are almost all action and very little skill–for example, a game which uses a spinning top but where the player has no control over the top’s direction; other games, such as JACKS and PICK UP STICKS, require good in hand-eye coordination.
Computer or Video Games. Computer or video games are electronic games–games that use “chips” or images on a screen. Usually, no tangible playing pieces are required, and often the player can play alone, trying to better a previous score or competing against the machine rather than another player.
Activity Games or Parlor Games. Activity games or parlor games are those games which may not require any special materials and may be played by almost any number of people. The term “parlor game” comes from the social party games that were played in the parlor (forerunner of the “den”) in the last century. A common parlor game of the period, FORFEITS, required players to answer questions or perform a stunt; if a player was unsuccessful (as most players were) that individual had to pay a penalty–usually reciting prose or poetry, imitating someone, or acting out something.
Popular parlor pastimes over the past century have included CHARADES, TWENTY QUESTIONS, and CATEGORIES, various trivia and question and answer games, and the more recent DICTIONARY GAME (see box on how to play). During the 1980s many of these games were made into commercial ventures, with major companies adapting an old idea, then packaging and selling the parlor game in a box. The game play for such successes as PICTIONARY, TRIVIAL PURSUIT, and SCATEGORIES could all be traced to early parlor games.
Games have been used for education and recreation by children and adults for thousands of years. A gameboard from the game of SENAT was discovered in 1922 in the tomb of King Tut where it had been buried for over 5000 years. The earliest games, known as MANCALA or WARI, are thought to be even older, dating as far back as 5000 B.C.; variations of some of these MANCALA games are still played in many places, especially in Africa.
Identifying the earliest dates and countries of origin for ancient games is difficult because these games have evolved over the centuries; sometimes the modern successor bears little resemblance to its early ancestor. In looking for origins, historians examine implements and play patterns in an attempt to determine if the movement of playing pieces in a particular early game suggests that the game is the antecedent of a more modern one.
Classic games are ones that have been played around the world for generations, in one form or other: CHECKERS, called DRAUGHTS in England, dates back to the 12th century; CHESS was said to have originated either in India in 600 A.D. or China before 200 A.D.; and backgammon, a variation of a game called TABULA (known as CHASING THE GIRLS in Iceland), goes back to the 1st century. DOMINOES, another world favorite, has a more clouded beginning: it is probably Chinese, its origin being between the 1st and 12th centuries; DOMINOES are actually “flattened dice,” the early sets and most Oriental versions having one to six “pips” per half block and not having any blank halves.
European favorites that at various times had a following in the United States include FOX AND GEESE, which had its origin around the year 1300, possibly in Iceland, and the GAME OF GOOSE which originated in Europe around 1500. By way of contrast, the earliest known American GAME OF GOOSE was printed in 1851.
CLASSIC GAMES, THEN AND NOW
The origin of many ancient games can be traced to Africa and to the Orient. The oldest board found showing the game of NINE MEN’S MORRIS, also known as MILL or MORELLES, was found in Egypt; the game has been popular throughout the world for centuries. GO, an ancient game from Japan, is still a favorite there and has earned a great following in the United States. MAH JONGG, the game that became a craze in the U.S. in the early 1920s, had been the game of China for hundreds of years.
Modern Classics. Many other games played in the United States today were popular a long time ago, though sometimes under a different name. OTHELLO, which won an award for the “best new game” of 1976 was played throughout the country in the 1950s! But then it was called “Reversi”–a title it was given when it first came to the U.S. from England in the 1880s.
PICK UP STICKS were played by European and American children in the 1880s, though then they were known as JACK STRAWS; they were often shaped like farmer’s tools, and some sets were made of bone or ivory rather than the usual wood.
CHUTES AND LADDERS, a Milton Bradley game first brought out in the United States in 1943, was, according to the Bradley catalog of that year, taken from SNAKES AND LADDERS, “England’s most famous indoor sport.” SNAKES AND LADDERS was an early Indian morality game, similar to many righteous games of the period in which virtue was rewarded and vice punished–the young player landing on special spaces on the board was either able to climb forward or forced to slide backward. CHUTES AND LADDERS is also akin to Bradley’s first game, THE CHECKERED GAME OF LIFE, in which the movement of players’ pieces was effected by the “good” or “evil” traits written in the spaces on which the players landed.
Another Indian game, the GAME OF INDIA, one of the most widely-played games in the world, can be traced to the Korean game of NYOUT from the third century. Milton Bradley and a company called McLoughlin Brothers produced the game in the United States around the turn-of-the-century, while in 1896 a similar version was being played in England under the name LUDO. The most famous GAME OF INDIA, however, was produced in this country around 1870 as PARCHEESI, still one of the most popular games today.
Centuries ago games were carved in wood, painted on wood, or etched or drawn on stone and slate. Early settlers in the United States certainly played games, but most of the games were copied from or brought from other countries. Card games were not commercially manufactured in the United States until probably the late 1700s. The first American-manufactured board game on record is TRAVELLER’S TOUR THROUGH THE UNITED STATES, made in 1822 by F. & R. Lockwood, a family of New York booksellers. TRAVELLER’S TOUR THROUGH EUROPE is another Lockwood game sold later the same year. The lack of English imports after trade restrictions with Great Britain were imposed in 1809 may have paved the way for companies such as Lockwood to attempt the manufacture of their own games.
No record has surfaced showing any American company manufacturing board games for twenty years after 1822, though very little research has been done and one would expect to find other games made in the U.S. during this period. The manufacture of games in the United States began again in 1843 with the games of W. & S.B. Ives.
No Dice. The mid 1800s were a period of religious and moral fervor. Gambling was frowned upon and the dice so often associated with gambling games were considered “tools of the devil.” Soldiers during the Civil War sometimes carried dice to gamble with, but they would leave them behind when going into battle, so that in case they were killed in combat, the dice would not be sent back to the family as part of the soldier’s personal effects; Civil War battlefields are an excellent place to unearth early bone dice.
To avoid the stigma attached to dice, many early game makers used “teetotums”–devices like spinning tops; the numbers 1-6 (or 1-8) were printed on a hexagonal (or octagonal) piece of cardboard, then a small, wooden shaft with a pointed tip was pushed through the middle of the card. When the teetotum stopped spinning, the uppermost number dictated the number of spaces or the direction a player was allowed to move.
Games of Morality. Ives’ MANSION OF HAPPINESS (1843) was a copy of an English game from around 1800 and is a prime example of the sensibilities of the period. On the gameboard, printed under the title was, “an instructive moral and entertaining amusement.” This was followed by a poem:
At this amusement each will find
A moral fit t’ improve the mind;
It gives to those their proper due,
Who various paths of vice pursue,
And shows (while vice destruction brings)
That good from every virtue springs.
Be virtuous then and forward press,
To gain the seat of happiness.
Movement along the inwardly spiraling path toward the Mansion of Happiness was governed by a teetotum; when a player landed on a space denoting a virtue, the player was directed to move ahead toward the Mansion of Happiness; when landing on a space illustrating one of the vices, the player was instructed to move back toward start. For example, a player who landed on space number fourteen, marked “Passion,” had to return to space number six, “The Water”; the rule read: “Whoever gets in a Passion must be taken to the Water and have a ducking [sic] to cool him.” Landing on Idleness sent the player to Poverty; players on the Road to Folly had to return to Prudence; the Perjurer was put in Pillory (a wooden framework with holes for the head and hands); the Sabbath Breaker was “taken to the Whipping Post and whipt”; any player who reached the Summit of Dissipation (a state of wastefulness) went to Ruin.
The tone of the game can be summed up best by two of the rules:
“Whoever possesses Piety, Honesty, Temperance, Gratitude, Prudence, Truth, Chastity, Sincerity, Humility, Industry, Charity, Humanity, or Generosity is entitled to advance…toward the Mansion of Happiness.
“Whoever possesses Audacity, Cruelty, Immodesty, or Ingratitude, must return to his former situation…and not even think of Happiness, much less partake of it.”
Milton Bradley’s first game, the CHECKERED GAME OF LIFE, made in 1860, was similar: movement was on a checkerboard, with a teetotum used to determine if the player could move one or two spaces left, right, or diagonally. The path took the player from Infancy to Happy Old Age. Landing on Bravery sent the player to Honor, Perseverance to Success, and Ambition to Fame. Gambling led to Ruin, and Idleness to Disgrace.
All Work and No Play. From Ives’ MANSION OF HAPPINESS and Bradley’s CHECKERED GAME OF LIFE alone one can gain some understanding about the concept of leisure time in that period. In the Ives’ game Dissipation led to Ruin, and in the Bradley game, Idleness to Disgrace. Amusements were allowed, of course, but even the youngest children had much more responsibility than today’s children in the home and in the workplace, be it on a farm, in a shop, or in a factory. Games were expected to be instructive and educational; a large proportion of the nineteenth century games were about history, geography, and authors. Many board games used maps, and card games often contained questions and facts.
The family unit was strong, and most games were made to be played by parents and children both; a high percentage of the early game box covers showed three generations and both sexes playing the game.
THE EARLY GAME MAKERS
The game industry in the U.S. grew up in the Northeast. Most of the major manufacturers were in Massachusetts or in the New York metropolitan area. One noteworthy company, R. Bliss, was in Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania had its share of game companies, as did, to some extent, Ohio and Illinois.
W. & S.B. Ives of Salem, Massachusetts, is credited with being the first major manufacturer of games in this country. The firm published at least two dozen games in the mid 1800s, including DR. BUSBY, a card game, and the MANSION OF HAPPINESS, once thought to be the first American board game; Parker Brothers, the company that bought out Ives in 1887, reissued the MANSION OF HAPPINESS in 1894 and included on the gameboard the line “The first board game ever published in America.”
John McLoughlin produced card games in New York as early as 1850. His first card games were attractively hand-painted, in what was an early form of an assembly line–the line drawings were passed from artist to artist with each one responsible for coloring in one of the colors. In 1858 McLoughlin formed McLoughlin Brothers, a company that was to manufacture what are considered today some of the most beautiful games ever published in the United States. McLoughlin Bros. reached its heyday in the 1880s and was a prolific manufacturer of games until the company was bought out by Milton Bradley in 1920.
Many other companies produced games in the United States during the mid and late 1800s (See “Companies” under “Collectible Games”), but none had the impact of Ives, McLoughlin, and America’s three giants in the game industry, Milton Bradley, E.G. Selchow, and George S. Parker.
THREE LONG-LIVED GIANTS
McLoughlin had been selling games in New York for ten years when Milton Bradley started his company in Massachusetts; independently, the two companies, along with Selchow & Righter the following decade and Parker Brothers the next, began what was to become the game industry as it is known today. The three giants, Bradley, Selchow, and Parker, remained independent, family-owned companies until the latter half of the twentieth century.
Milton Bradley Company. Milton Bradley, a lithographer, started business in 1860 in Springfield, MA. He enjoyed early success when he packaged a series of games, including THE CHECKERED GAME OF LIFE, in a pocket-sized game pack (the country’s first “travel” game) designed for soldiers during the Civil War.
Following the end of the depression in 1879, Milton Bradley kept pace with the rapid changes in theories of education, and his company produced school supplies and optical toys in addition to educational games for youngsters and their families. His was the most prolific company of the period, and by 1900 he had incorporated, with offices in New York, Kansas, Atlanta, San Francisco, and Philadelphia.
Selchow & Righter. In 1867, when Elisha Selchow founded E.G. Selchow & Co. in New York, he also obtained the rights to PARCHEESI, THE GAME OF INDIA. PARCHEESI was trademarked in 1874–one of the oldest trademarks for an American game. In 1880 he changed the name of the company to reflect his new partnership with John Righter. Until 1927 Selchow & Righter were “jobbers”–they sold other company’s games.
The smallest company of the “big three,” Selchow and Righter was a steady producer but didn’t develop another game classic after PARCHEESI until it started making SCRABBLE in the 1950s.
Parker Brothers. With a passion for inventing games, George S. Parker started a company in his own name in 1883. Five years later one of his brothers joined the firm and Parker Brothers was created. The company’s 1894 catalog stated, “Our new factory (in Salem, Mass.) is the only large building in America devoted exclusively to parlor games.” Whereas Milton Bradley’s games seemed to be aimed predominantly at children and the family, Parker geared a number of products to the family/adult market.
A CHANGING SOCIETY
Innovations in printing allowed for the mass production of games by 1860, and the work of the hand-coloring artist all but disappeared. During the 1880s and 1890s, rebounding from the depression of the ’70s, companies such as McLoughlin Brothers, Parker Brothers, Milton Bradley, R. Bliss, E. I. Horsman, and J.H. Singer produced well-made games with exceptional lithography; some of the games were quite large, using wood for the box frame and incorporating bone dice, metal tokens and figural wooden playing pieces turned on a lathe. Though many games were still educational, fewer involved moral teachings, and games became accepted as a form of leisure recreation for the family.
American society was changing rapidly. Industrialization led to a migration from the farms into the cities. Immigration rose significantly, causing an infusion of different cultures into the U.S. mainstream. There were major advances in transportation and communication. Companies expanded their regional sales areas and competed for the same dollars.
The early 1900s. Companies turned to cutting costs to increase profits. After 1900, there were fewer large games produced, and wood boxes were used less frequently. Less attention was paid to the ornamentation of the lithographic design. J.H. Singer went out of business. Game production slowed because of the financial panic in 1907, followed by the first World War. By 1915, John McLoughlin, Milton Bradley, E.G. Selchow and John Righter had died, and Bliss was no longer making games; E.I. Horsman turned from games to dolls. In 1920, one of the McLoughlin brothers died and McLoughlin went out of business (bought by Bradley); other, smaller companies had folded as well. The game industry was being run by–and catering to–a new generation.
Parker Brothers cut back on the development of new board games and began to focus more on card games. In 1902 Parker introduced PING-PONG to the United States, followed by two classic card games in 1904 and 1906: PIT and ROOK; ROOK, invented by Geo. Parker, became the largest selling card game in the world. The company also began manufacturing a line of wood jig-saw puzzles which were of superb quality and became quite a fad in the teens and ’20s.
The 1920s. The “Roaring Twenties,” a time of gayety (and gangsterism), was a boon to the game industry. The end of war meant industry could turn from the war effort to the home front. Americans had earned the right to enjoy their leisure. The UNCLE WIGGILY game, born in 1916, soon proved as popular as the books on which it was based. MAH JONGG became a craze, and Parker Bros. and Milton Bradley, as well as a host of smaller companies, cashed in. CHINESE CHECKERS, introduced by a new company, J. Pressman Co., also became a fad. Alderman-Fairchild (All-Fair) of upstate New York began producing beautiful board and target games, while another new company, Wilder, of St. Louis, MO, started manufacturing boxed board games with wonderful lithography. Wolverine Supply & Mfg. began manufacturing games on lithographed metal boards. Selchow & Righter Co. stopped jobbing other companies’ games and started making their own. The Toy Manufacturers of America, headquartered in New York, became a strong, cohesive force for the industry. Many events–the discovery of Tut’s tomb, the first continental airmail route, Lindberg’s flight, Byrd’s development of a “Little America” base in Antarctica, and America’s fixation with the automobile–all became the subject of games, as games continued to reflect what was happening in society. And then came the Great Depression of 1929.
Depression and growth. The Depression wasn’t felt by the game industry until around 1932; like movies, games provided inexpensive entertainment during troubled times. BACKGAMMON was revived and jig-saw puzzles became quite popular. Most firms weathered the difficult period, and 1936 and ’37 began another boom, with companies filling sturdier game boxes with more parts and pieces than ever before. Milton Bradley, noted for putting games into classrooms, made a classroom into a game and issued GO TO THE HEAD OF THE CLASS.
New companies emerged, among them Cadaco-Ellis, Gabriel, National, Rosebud, Russell, and Whitman. Transogram managed a transition from playsets to games.
Parker Brothers’ big break came when the company bought MONOPOLY in 1935. No proprietary game (one owned by a particular company) ever gained such popularity around the world (see “The Big Business of MONOPOLY”). The story is that the Depression paved the way for a game that allowed people to buy property and make millions, but one wonders why a similar game from a few years earlier, Milton Bradley’s EASY MONEY, didn’t meet with equal success.
Another war. Once again, the country had to turn it’s manufacturing efforts toward defense. Companies such as Wolverine could not use metal for their gameboards, and the metal tokens in other companies’ games were changed to composition pieces. War games and games promoting patriotism and the U.S. naturally became popular, and Milton Bradley introduced the GAME OF STATES. Then in 1941, the company cut its game line from 410 to 150. CHUTES & LADDERS came out before the war’s end, and during the slow recovery after the war, Bradley introduced CANDYLAND, and Parker Bros. bought the rights to the English CLUEDO and brought out CLUE. A small company called the Production & Marketing Co. began manufacturing a cross-word game called SCRABBLE, which was soon to become the most popular word game in history and eventually change the course of the Selchow & Righter Co. (See “The Story of SCRABBLE”.)
The box that changed the industry. It wasn’t a game box that changed the course of the American game industry, it was “the box” called television. Television had two direct effects: it offered a form of leisure activity that took time away from other pastimes, such as playing games, and it allowed advertisers to reach a mass market. But perhaps more importantly, television affected the family, hastened our loss of innocence, and changed the way we lived.
Only the larger companies could afford to advertise on television, which widened the gap between the giants in the industry and the small manufacturers. Also, the advertisers could pander to children; a lack of regulations initially meant there were no restrictions on the methods used to sell to children, and youngsters were urging parents to buy games the parents knew nothing about. The “bandwagon” approach (“all kids have one, so should you”) was prevalent.
Television gave new meaning also to the concept of licensing. During the ’50s, many game companies, especially Milton Bradley, Lowell, and Transogram, began to acquire more and more licenses to television shows. Businesses that once hoped to sell a game that would be a staple in the line for decades were now making products that would be obsolete as soon as the program on which they were based was no longer on the air. More attention was given to the name and character on the box than to the product inside.
The chain store. The distribution of games changed as well, as a result of the growth in affluence during the 1950s. Shopping malls provided convenient one-stop shopping, and toy chains offered discounted products. The small game store owner found it more difficult to compete, and by the 1990s many had gone out of business. Independent inventors and small manufacturers couldn’t get their games into the large chains unless they backed the product with TV advertising.
The end of an era. Parker Bros. remained a giant in the industry throughout the beginning of the television era. In 1968, Parker Brothers was bought by General Mills. The company changed hands a couple of times until it was purchased by Hasbro in 1991. Hasbro, having ownership of the two largest game companies in the U. S., Parker and Milton Bradley, decided to consolidate and closed the Parker Brothers factory in Salem in 1991, ending a Parker legacy that had begun in that area 108 years before.
Classic Parker Brothers games include BOGGLE, CHIVALRY, FLINCH, THE MAD MAGAZINE GAME, MASTERPIECE, MILLE BOURNE (based on the game of TOURING acquired by Parker), OUIJA (an 1890s fortune-telling device acquired in 1966), PAYDAY, PENTE (an ancient game revived in 1977 and purchased by Parker in 1984), RISK, and SORRY, a PARCHEESI-variant acquired from England.
The Milton Bradley story is a great American success story. In addition to its early successes and its television games, Milton Bradley introduced many other games which have become classics, including: BATTLESHIP, CONCENTRATION, CONNECT FOUR, HANGMAN, THE GAME OF INDIA, THE GAME OF LIFE, MOUSETRAP, OPERATION, PASSWORD, RACKO, SIMON, STRATEGO, TWISTER, and YAHTZEE (which it acquired when it bought the E.S. Lowe Company).
In 1984, the Milton Bradley Company was bought by Hasbro, ending 124 years of family ownership; the company continues to manufacture games at its Springfield plant.
For Selchow & Righter, the rush to meet the increasing demand for SCRABBLE forced the company to cut back on the development of other products; later, the company focused its attention on SCRABBLE variants and other word games. In the early 1980s, S&R acquired TRIVIAL PURSUIT–a game that became one of the best sellers of the century.
After being in business 119 years, (making it the oldest family-owned game company in the United States after Hasbro’s takeover of Bradley), Selchow & Righter was sold to Coleco in 1986. A short time later, Coleco went bankrupt and was bought by Hasbro; and the Selchow & Righter name came to an end.
THE FUTURE OF AMERICAN GAMES
Ours is a new society. We have more leisure time, but increasingly more things to fill that time with. Family life is very different now compared with family life during the beginning of the American game industry: more children grow up with less siblings and only one parent, children leave home earlier, and grandparents less often live in the same household with their grandchildren; more time is spent with television and video games and less time with books and family activity. In an era of knowledge, wealth, and sophistication, table games are seen more as playthings for children than as leisure activity for families and adults (though the spate of parlor games beginning with TRIVIAL PURSUIT may have changed this, if only temporarily).
The companies that made games have changed too. Selchow & Righter, Coleco, Ideal, Lowell, Transogram, and other game companies are gone. Mattel, though very active in the toy industry, closed its game division in the late 1980s. Hasbro owns Milton Bradley, Parker, and Selchow & Righter, among other companies, which means it also owns PARCHEESI, MONOPOLY, SCRABBLE and a number of other famous titles. Though Hasbro now controls the bulk of non-electronic game manufacturing in the United States, many other companies still play a vital role in the industry. Pressman Toy Company, in business since 1921, is now the oldest family-owned game company in the U.S. Cadaco, Cardinal, Gabriel and Western Publishing are still active after many years in business. Newer companies such as International Games and Talicor have been making increasing contributions to the market.
As computer and video games take over a larger share of the game market, companies are having a more difficult time placing board and card games. Major companies are looking for “gimmicks,” and are moving toward producing more three-dimensional games, such as in the Skill & Action category. New, small companies, including inventors working independently out of their homes, seem to be taking over the marketing of traditional board and card games. The success rate for these independents is not high, however.
With so much change in the game industry since 1980, and with a recession having effected all industry in the late ’80s and early ’90s, it is difficult to predict what will happen by the turn-of-the-century. It can be expected that board games and card games will always be around, but more of them will probably come from the smaller companies and independent inventors. Rather than spend time and money trying to succeed with a traditional game product, the larger companies will wait until an independent’s product has proven itself on the market, and then purchase it. Because the small company devotes more time to one product and needs a higher quality product to compete, the end result may be a higher caliber of American board games and card games on the market.
TEN ATTRIBUTES OF A GOOD GAME
- Good packaging: attractive illustrations on the box cover; good colors and design.
- Interesting components: nicely designed gameboard, cards, and playing pieces.
- Good balance: the opening, the mid game, and the end game contribute equally to the game’s outcome.
- Good blend of skill vs. luck: the outcome of the game depends mostly on skill, partially on luck (said to mirror real life).
- Simplicity of play: the strategies are easy to understand, though challenging or even difficult to master.
- Repeat play value: the game is different and interesting each time you play.
- Clear instructions: the rules are easy to understand, and are comprehensive enough to cover all situations that may occur.
- Options during play: the game continually gives you choices and requires decisions.
- Interesting theme: the theme (unless an abstract game) is of interest or has some social significance.
- Purposeful: playing the game provides mental stimulation, provokes laughter, or enhances social interaction.
TEN THINGS THAT LARGE GAME COMPANIES LOOK FOR IN A GAME
- A license: game play that can lend itself to a popular character, theme, or event.
- A gimmick: something unusual; a doo-dad that moves or does something.
- Dimension: three dimensions, suitable for a plastic mold.
- Simple rules: very simple, very brief.
- Short playing time: the game should end in about twenty minutes.
- Advertisability: you should be able to explain and sell the game in a fifteen-second television commercial.
- Good visual theme: a concept that lends itself to good illustrations for the cover.
- Minimal development costs: a game that’s inexpensive to make.
- A proven track record: knowledge that the basic concept of the game has worked before.
- Wide acceptance range: a game that will appeal to the most people.
PENCIL AND PAPER GAMES
Many games requiring only a pencil and paper are now “manufactured” and some are even available in electronic versions. (Originally called “slate games,” they were once played using chalk on a piece of slate.)
BATTLESHIP. BATTLESHIP, a boxed game sold by Milton Bradley since 1967, appeared as a pencil and paper game in booklet form as early as 1931, when it was called SALVO; the game has been published under many titles since then, including WARFARE NAVAL COMBAT; COMBAT, THE BATTLESHIP GAME; and BROADSIDE, THE GAME OF NAVAL STRATEGY. (See box on how to play SALVO).
TIC-TAC-TOE. TIC-TAC-TOE, once called TIT-TAT-TOE (and known as NOUGHTS AND CROSSES in England), was found carved into stone on the Temple of Kurna in Egypt and is said to be from around 1350 B.C. The name “Tic Tac Toe” has been found in literature at least back to 1820 and seems to be linked to nursery rhymes referring to “three in a row,” such as “tic tac toe, three butcher boys in a row.”
JOTTO. One of the best pencil and paper games is a word game that was published by Selchow & Righter in 1956 called JOTTO (which actually was brought out a year earlier by another company under the name PARRY). The two-player game, which was won by the player who could guess the opponent’s secret word first, has an origin that may be similar to that of MASTERMIND, a game that evolved from employees in the scientific community making up games based on codes and letter/number substitution.
Games are art, culture, and history. People collect games for many different reasons. Some, quite obviously, want a game because it plays well. Others are interested in the investment potential. Many collectors of early games are awed by the exceptional illustrations on the box covers, gameboards, and cards; some are intrigued by the game pieces–intricate metal tokens, bone dice, carved wooden pawns, ivory markers, intricate teetotums and spinners, and other unusual paraphernalia; and others revel in the way the game records and reflects culture and history. Collectors of newer games, such as character collectible or TV related games, are caught up in the nostalgic or sentimental appeal of the game.
The Companies. Collectors of nineteenth century games can find extraordinary games from a number of companies: R. Bliss, Milton Bradley, E.O. Clark and Clark & Sowdon, H.B. Chaffee and Chaffee & Selchow, Hamilton-Meyers, E.I. Horsman, W & S.B. Ives, McLoughlin Brothers, Noyes and Noyes & Snow, J. Ottmann, Geo. S. Parker and Parker Brothers, W.S. Reed, E.G. Selchow and Selchow & Righter, J.H. Singer, and many others.
Collectors of games from the early twentieth century can look toward many of these companies as well, along with companies such as: Alderman Fairchild, Cadaco and Cadaco-Ellis, Einson-Freeman, Embossing Co., Saml. Gabriel Sons, Theodore Presser, J. Pressman and Pressman Toy, Rosebud, Russell, Saalfield, Stoll & Edwards and Stoll & Einson, Peter Thompson, Toy Creations, Transogram, Whitman, Wilder, Wolverine, and others.
Those who collect the more modern games are usually more interested in the game’s character, title or theme than in the company that made the game. Ideal and Lowell, along with Milton Bradley, Parker Brothers, Pressman, Selchow & Righter and Transogram, are the key companies from the 1950s on. Games based on television characters and programs, cartoon character games, and games based on personalities from rock stars to presidents are all highly collectible.
Game-players look for games by Avalon Hill, SPI, 3 M, TSR, and a host of smaller companies. Many military simulation games now out of print command a high price.
Themes. Games with certain themes are often sought after not only by game collectors but by those who collect artifacts of that subject. “Hot” themes are: aviation (especially air ships and rockets), bears, bicycles, black characters, comic and cartoon characters, cowboys and western, military and war, monsters, movies and movie stars, mystery, political, radio sets and radio personalities, sports (especially baseball), television characters, transportation, and Worlds Fair.
Values. The value of a collectible game depends on a mix of different factors: age, graphics (illustrations), condition, theme, manufacturing company, components, scarcity, size, box or board construction (wood, metal, paper), method of play, and type of game (board game, card game, etc.). Values can range from $5 for a 1904 PIT, to $400 for McLoughlin’s game of DEPARTMENT STORE, to $3000 for a 1934 Darrow MONOPOLY.
THE BIG BUSINESS OF MONOPOLY
The game which was said to have risen from the Great Depression of the 1930s actually began as THE LANDLORD’S GAME, patented by Elizabeth Magie in 1904. Ms. Magie, who ascribed to the principles of economist Henry George, was interested in instilling the advantages of a Single Tax concept; she devised a game in which she hoped to point out the folly of a property ownership system where all players attempted to become “monarch of the world.” The game was even adapted for teaching economics at various schools, including Columbia University where the board took on New York City street names.
THE LANDLORD’S GAME, which earned the popular title MONOPOLY sometime after 1910, became fashionable, especially on college campuses, but in its thirty years of evolution, the game lost its original intent–the second half of the game (that part teaching the Single Tax system) was discarded, leaving the game the race for financial dominance we know it as today.
The game was played in many areas of the country, with properties on the board being assigned regional street names. It was brought to Atlantic City where a group of Quakers and their friends made gameboards using names of local streets. Charles Darrow, thought by many to be the inventor of MONOPOLY, actually learned about the game from a friend. That friend, or possibly Darrow himself, misspelled the street name “Marven Gardens” when copying the board from the Atlantic City version; the error, “Marvin Gardens,” remained on the board that Darrow later revised, copyrighted in 1933, and offered to Parker Brothers a year later. Parker rejected the game, so Darrow printed up and sold MONOPOLY on his own; his version did not come with any playing pieces but instructed the players to use common household objects such as buttons or keys. Eventually, either after learning about Darrow’s success in selling his game or because a friend of the Parker family strongly recommended it, the head of Parker Brothers bought the rights and began manufacturing it in 1935. Rich Uncle Pennybags, the mustached character who adorned the Parker Brothers’ MONOPOLY board, box, and cards, was born a year later.
A number of other well known games owe their origin also to Elizabeth Magie Phillips (her married name by the time these games were produced). FINANCE, FINANCE AND FORTUNE, EASY MONEY, and possibly BIG BUSINESS all derived from THE LANDLORD’S GAME. In fact, some shared the same patent number–a second patent number given to Ms. Phillips for the revised 1924 version of her game put out by Parker Brothers in 1939. Ms. Phillips was touted as “the famous inventor” of a number of games sold by Parker Brothers; Parker credited Ms. Phillips as inventor of MONOPOLY too, but only up until the expiration of her patent.
Facts and Figures. According to Rich Uncle Pennybags (as told to Philip Orbanes in his book, The Monopoly Companion), here are some of the ways MONOPOLY has become big business: the game is marketed in at least 15 languages in 33 countries, and over 100 million sets have been sold world-wide; Parker Brothers manufactures 100 million houses and prints $50 billion worth of MONOPOLY money each year; Dunhill produced a MONOPOLY game with solid gold playing pieces valued at $25,000; Neiman-Marcus made a set with solid chocolate pieces–and chocolate board–which could be bought for a mere $600.
In 1991 the Franklin Mint offered a collectors’ edition of MONOPOLY in a hardwood box with drawers for the money and tokens; the tokens were crafted in solid pewter and embellished with 24 karat gold. The houses and hotels were die-cast metal. The price was cheaper than chocolate: only $500.
Anti-Monopoly. In 1974, a game called ANTI-MONOPOLY was the subject of a trademark infringement suit regarding, primarily, the use of the word “Monopoly” in the name. In the decision handed down in 1977, Parker Brothers prevailed, and thousands of ANTI-MONOPOLY games, by court order, were buried in a land fill. The inventor then sold the game as “The Trust Busters Game” under the title ANTI _____* (*a figure was depicted whispering “Shhhh.”) As a result of an appeal heard in 1982, the earlier decision was overturned, and ANTI-MONOPOLY got its name back.
Monopoly for Collectors. MONOPOLY proved so popular that most sets are too common to be worth very much as collectors items. The first “#9 white box” Parker Brothers edition has some value, as do the 1935 and 1936 deluxe editions. Naturally, the 500 or more games printed and sold by Darrow are also of value. In their 1989 Christmas catalog, a respected New York gallery offered what it said was one of the original six to twelve oilcloth MONOPOLYs made by Darrow in his own home. Their asking price: $50,000.
FROM CONCEPT TO COMMERCIALIZATION: THE STORY OF “SCRABBLE”
The Inventor of SCRABBLE. In 1931, as a result of the Depression, Alfred Butts, born in 1899 in Poughkeepsie, New York, was laid off from his position as an architect. With no work, lots of time, and a family background where games were a major form of amusement, he decided to try inventing a new game which he felt would fill a gap in the marketplace–a game that would, according to his own notes, “combine elements of luck and skill in the formation of words.” Though crossword puzzles had become a major pastime in the United States, there was no word game on the market better than ANAGRAMS.
Early attempts at word games. In 1932, Butts devised a game called LEXICO, which, like SCRABBLE, involved the random selection of tiles with letters on them, and gave a score for words formed. The game, which had wood racks made from pieces of molding, used 100 tiles (the same as SCRABBLE), and the letter distribution was based on Butts’ study of cryptography and on a letter frequency count of words appearing on the first page of The New York Times.
There was no playing board. Words were not connected crossword fashion, and letters were not marked with different point values. The score for any word played was based on the length of the word, with bonuses possible, depending on the particular letters used.
The Beginning of SCRABBLE. In 1937 or early 1938, noticing the popularity of crossword puzzles in newspapers, Butts got the idea of adding a playing board to his game of letter tiles, and allowing words to intersect. In trying to devise a better scoring system, he experimented with placing premium values on certain spaces on the board, and to assigning each letter a numerical value. He called his new game CRISS-CROSS and applied for a patent. The application was rejected, presumably, Butts believed, because there was no novelty in giving numerical values to letters.
Butts continued to experiment. He changed the name of his game to CRISS-CROSS WORDS, changed the letter distribution and the values of some letters, and tried using different starting squares and different locations for the premium squares. Between 1938 and 1941 or 1942 he gave away or sold 100 sets of the game to friends and family, and approximately another 25 sets were made and distributed by a Connecticut bookstore owner.
CRISS-CROSS WORDS Becomes SCRABBLE. In 1947, Butts was approached by James Brunot, a man with venture capital who had come across CRISS-CROSS WORDS and was looking for a business to start. During the course of negotiations Brunot received legal advice indicating that CRISS-CROSS WORDS was not patentable and could not be protected by copyright because of the way in which the game had been previously marketed, but that “protection could be secured if substantial changes were made to the design of the game…and if it were renamed.”
Butts, in exchange for royalties, agreed to allow Brunot to manufacture and market CRISS-CROSS WORDS in a suitably amended form. Brunot altered the design of the board, including making the center starting square a double-word premium space. He revised the rules, adding the fifty-point bonus for any word which used all seven of a player’s tiles. And he changed the name to SCRABBLE.
Brunot Builds, then Sells to Selchow. James Brunot started a company called the Production and Marketing Company, obtained a copyright for SCRABBLE, and took over the production of the crossword game from the living room of his home in Newtown, Connecticut. From this point on, Butts no longer had any direct involvement in the game but continued to have a financial interest and was frequently consulted by Brunot. In a 1991 interview at his place of residence in New York State, Alfred Butts mentioned the good friendship and long association that developed out of his business affiliation with Brunot.
According to different reports, Brunot made twelve to sixteen SCRABBLE sets a day; by the time he had completed around 2,400 sets in 1949, he was $450 in the red. But by 1950, word-of-mouth advertising had boosted the popularity of SCRABBLE so tremendously that Brunot’s company could no longer keep up with the demand; by the end of 1952, the company was selling over 400 sets a day. The sudden interest in SCRABBLE was uncanny, and one could only speculate what would make sales take off so unexpectedly. One theory is that the game was played at fashionable resorts around the country, and when vacationers returned home they looked to their local stores to carry the game; another theory attributes some of the game’s success to the owner of Macy’s department store who personally enjoyed the game and made certain that it was well-stocked in his store.
Unable to keep up with the demand, Brunot contracted with the 87-year-old Selchow & Righter Company to have the gameboards manufactured. Then, in 1953, S&R licensed SCRABBLE and took over the manufacturing and marketing of the entire game; the Production and Marketing Co, which had moved to larger quarters, continued to produce sets to supplement those manufactured by S&R. In 1971 S&R bought the rights to SCRABBLE. The SCRABBLE® BRAND CROSSWORD GAME is now owned by Hasbro-Bradley, the company that acquired Coleco after Coleco’s bankruptcy following their purchase of Selchow & Righter.
A Few Words About SCRABBLE. SCRABBLE has become the most popular word game in the United States, and it has been sold around the world in many languages, including Hebrew, Arabic, Japanese, and Russian; there has even been a version in Braille. The government of Thailand promotes SCRABBLE because it encourages the use of English which is important for international business; a SCRABBLE tournament in 1991 drew one of the largest crowds ever–over 900 participants. A call for entrants for a 1985 international tournament held in Boston brought 19,000 responses from around the world; $50,000 in prizes was given away, including a grand prize of $10,000 plus a trip for two to Hawaii. There have been SCRABBLE handbooks and dictionaries, a SCRABBLE newspaper, and numerous packaging styles of SCRABBLE, including deluxe, magnetic, and travels sets, sets with revolving boards, and a seldom-seen soft vinyl and cloth board that covers a bridge table. The game has also led to various spin-offs such as a picture version, SCRABBLE FOR JUNIORS, a 3-D version, RSVP, and a speed game with a rotating platform replacing the board, called RPM; a number of crossword card games and letter-cube games have also been produced by different companies since CRISS-CROSS WORDS first appeared. The sale of SCRABBLE sets has gone well past the 100-million mark.
Bruce Whitehill’s thebiggamehunter.com has a considerable number of articles about games and provides links to many other sites about games and their history.
BoardGameGeek.com maintains an extensive database of games with information and images provided by its members.
GameCatalog.org is the AGPC Archives’ searchable database of information about 18,000 games and provides links to other game databases online.