Fri. Apr 19th, 2024

Top 10 Mysteries Around the Origins of Well-Known Board Games

By LuNa Huynh Apr 1, 2024

10. Risk

Albert Lamorisse, a French film director who won an Oscar, created Risk, which was originally called “La Conquête du Monde” (The Conquest of the World). While on vacation with his family in Holland, Lamorisse—best known for his 1956 short film “The Red Balloon”—invented the game. The game borrows certain chess-like strategic aspects, but with a substantially larger playing field and the ability for up to six players, the game becomes more complex. Additionally, the dice introduce an extra degree of unpredictability. The original 90-minute time estimate was based on Lamorisse’s calculations, but everyone who has played Risk knows that the first 90 minutes are essentially setup and the first few turns.

Miro, a French board game manufacturer, received Lamorisse’s design and began producing the game in 1957. Parker Brothers bought the rights to the game in 1959, rebranded it as Risk, and made a few small changes.

Even after coming up with the game, Lamorisse kept making films. However, he met a horrible end in June 1970 while filming in Iran in a helicopter crash.

9. The Catan Colonists

Klaus Teuber was generally unhappy with his job life in the 1980s while he was operating a dental lab outside of Darmstadt, Germany. A form of self-indulgence, he began to develop board games. His 1988 debut game, Barbarossa, a guessing game where players shape clay, became a smashing success after he won the Spiel des Jahres, Germany’s highest honour for board games.

Teuber continued to work at the dentistry lab after his first accomplishment, but he also made a few additional games and won two more Spiel des Jahres honours.

The idea for Settlers of Catan came from a 1991 book that Teuber was reading on the Age of Discovery and the Vikings. He claimed he made a huge improvement to the game after realising he could fit more play areas into the same amount of space by switching to hexagonal board pieces from square ones.

Upon its 1995 debut, the game became an immediate hit in Germany, and Teuber won his fourth Spiel des Jahres trophy. The 1996 release of Catan to hobby shops in the United States led to the game’s gradual but steady growth in popularity. When Teuber realised he could make a life from his games, he ultimately left the dentistry lab in 1998.

At the end of 2015, Catan had generated spinoffs, sold over 22 million copies, been translated into 30 languages, and had the rights to a movie and TV show acquired. Sales of the book continue to rise annually.

8. Cranium

Two Microsoft employees, Richard Tait and Whit Alexander, were attempting to come up with a company idea in the 1990s while living in Seattle. Their initial thought was to launch a dot-com, but they quickly realised that the market was saturated. After a weekend of intense board games with his wife and another spouse in 1997, Tait had the concept that would become Cranium. Over the course of that weekend, Tait became aware of a hole in the board game market: many games relied on a specific set of abilities. Pattern identification, planning, bluffing, strategy, and a large vocabulary are the main requirements for playing Scrabble, whereas very few other skills are required. In addition, a game like Pictionary isn’t a good fit for those abilities. The thing that was lacking was a game that made use of different kinds of skills. If there was just one game that tested multiple abilities, it’s likely that some players would excel in one area while stinking at others. Because of this, the game would become highly inclusive.

While having breakfast, Tait persuaded Alexander to quit their well-paying positions at Microsoft and start making a board game, despite the fact that no such game had been a smash hit since 1984’s Pictionary. Despite the overwhelming odds, they invested $100,000 on a prototype in early 1998. The company then adopted an unconventional sales strategy, rather than attempting to get it carried by retailers. The creators of Cranium were able to meet with Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, because Tait had recently climbed Kilimanjaro with a friend of Schultz’s. After a few rounds of Cranium, Schultz expressed his enjoyment of the game. His search for a comparable product at Starbucks led him to agree to install games in 1,500 locations so that customers could have fun. A lot of people would say the game is great, Tait and Alexander found out at Starbucks. They sent games to both Starbucks staff and customers in an effort to increase word-of-mouth recommendations; but, by the time the holiday season arrived, Tait and Alexander were overwhelmed with orders. As word got out, the game became an instant sensation, and retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble began stocking it.

Hasbro paid $77 million to acquire Cranium in 2008. Tait, who was Grand Poo Bah, and Alexander, who was Chief Noodler, both departed from the firm following the acquisition.

7. Guess Who?

In 1981, when party activities had cooled down, Rob Angel—the game’s creator—would pull out the rules of Pictionary. To see if anyone could guess what he was sketching, he would pull a word from the dictionary. He hadn’t given selling the game much of a thought until the 1984 Trivial Pursuit boom, in which the developers sold 20 million copies in little over a year. When Angel saw the potential in his game in 1985, he began developing it.

It dawned on Angel that finding the correct words was the game-changer. The average person’s active vocabulary is around 20,000 words, yet the English language contains 171,476 active words (and that number is growing). Also, not everything lends itself to drawing. Angel, who was working as a waiter at the time, took up the dictionary and began reading it because that meant randomly selecting words from it wouldn’t work. A buddy of his also created the playing cards and the board. They travelled around to other establishments selling copies using a loan of $35,000. After that, Nordstrom, a store in Seattle, Washington, bought 167 replicas. Thomas McGuire, a salesman for the board game manufacturer Selchow & Righter, was 58 years old when this happened. The game was released by Western Publishing Group Inc., and after McGuire played it with his family, he left his job to sell it through his own marketing company. At three million copies sold, Pictionary had already become the year’s best-selling game by the time Christmas 1987 rolled around. For $105 million, Western sold its gaming division to Hasbro in 1994, which included the popular game Pictionary.

6. Sweet Dreams

Despite its cheerful aesthetic and focus on children’s play, the classic children’s game Candy Land has somewhat gloomy roots. Eleanor Abbott, a retired educator, created the game in 1948. Abbott and the other youngsters in the ward of the San Diego hospital where she was being treated for polio were somewhat bored. As a result, Abbott laid down Candy Land’s blueprints on some butcher paper. The kids in the ward loved the game, so they pushed her to send it to Milton Bradley, who eventually decided to make it.

To the company’s amazement, the game became a bestseller. Looking back, we may identify a few elements that had a role in its triumph. It was simple enough that most kids could play; the only actual talent required was the ability to distinguish colours; there was no reading, no counting, and no real challenge. Secondly, after WWII, Americans had more money to spend and the Baby Boom was in full swing, so toys and games, particularly those aimed at younger children, were huge hits. Last but not least, the polio epidemic of the 1950s caused individuals to stay indoors and away from other people because it was discouraged to go out in public. As a result, there was a flurry of activity for home-based gaming.

After being acquired by Hasbro in 1984, Milton Bradley chose to keep the Candy Land genesis story under wraps for many years. This was due to their desire to ensure that the vibrant, energetic game for children was not associated with a terrifying and fatal sickness. In 1998, a special edition game celebrating the game’s 50th anniversary finally let the world in on the plot.

5. Passive Activity

There is an air of mystique surrounding the mythological beginnings of Trivial Pursuit. There are several competing accounts, but this is the one that has been confirmed. That night in Montreal, Canada, on December 15, 1979, it occurred. Two journalists, Scott Abbott of The Canadian Press and Chris Haney of the Montreal Gazette, who had dropped out of high school but now worked as an image editor, were engaged in a game of Scrabble.Some say they drank all night like Wade Boggs. Haney claimed afterwards that they had only had one beer, but given that it was Saturday night and that they were Montreal newspapermen in the late 1970s, we’re assuming that the real amount of beers was far higher. In any case, a concept for a new game emerged at some point throughout that.

A little bit of hustle and conniving went into how Haney and Scott turned their inebriated concept into a cultural phenomenon. They started by attending a toy makers conference while pretending to be a journalist and a photographer covering the launch of a board game. They obtained valuable insider information at no cost by using this tactic. After that, they penned ten thousand questions over the course of two years, eventually narrowing it down to six thousand.

The first 1,000 copies of the game were significantly more expensive to produce because their debut coincided with the US recession of 1981. The production cost of the game was $75, but they were charging only $15 for it. They ran into major issues when trying to order additional games due to a lack of cash. Additionally, Haney and Scott were unable to secure a conventional loan due to their association with a pyramid scam. Rather, they accepted 32 investors, each of whom contributed $1,000.

Fortunately for the backers, the game’s popularity skyrocketed not long after they parted with their cash. In order to purchase the game, fans would wait in queue for hours or even travel great distances. In North America, Trivial Pursuit had sold over 20 million copies by 1984, totaling nearly half a billion dollars in sales. For $80 million, Hasbro bought Trivial Pursuit in 1988.

Haney had a wild time partying with his newfound wealth, which led to health issues in the road. At the age of 59, he died on May 31, 2010.

4. Word games

Alfred Mosher Butts was a star student from the time of his 1899 birth in Poughkeepsie, New York. He earned a degree in architecture and was a member of the Penn chess team during his time there. He worked as a draughtsman for a suburban house design firm after finishing high school.

Butts saw a 20% pay drop in 1930 and a complete dismissal in 1931 as a result of the Great Depression. He, like many others of his generation, struggled to maintain consistent employment for a long period. Throughout that period, he dabbled in writing, drawing, and statistics. In each of them, he achieved some measure of success, but he was never able to establish a stable profession for himself.

Butts also began developing a board game combining elements of chess, crossword puzzles, and anagrams when his income was reduced. Butts originally planned to create a game where players would use tiles to form sentences. His next step was to create a point system based on the most prevalent English letters, which he gathered from newspaper scans. Additionally, he reasoned that a degree of randomness would be added by drawing letters from a pool, so levelling the playing field in terms of talent.

The original version of the game, which Butts dubbed “Criss Cross Words,” was sold by him out of his New York City flat in October 1933. There was a time when the game’s only components were the tile holders, some plywood with numbers and letters tacked to it, and no board at all. After ten months of rule tweaking and board addition, Butts sold eighty-four copies of the game for $1.50 in August 1934, leaving him with a total loss of $20.43. He was unsuccessful in his two attempts to secure a patent for the game and locate manufacturers. With an uptick in work for his architectural firm in 1935, Butts returned to residential building design.

James Brunot, director of the President’s War Relief Control Board during World War II, contacted Butts twelve years after Butts ceased distributing Cross Words. Brunot wished he could own the rights to Criss Cross Words since he loved the show. Under the name Scrabble, he planned to produce and sell the game. It was decided that Butts would receive 2.5 cents for every copy sold.

However, it wasn’t until 1952 that sales of Butts’ slightly altered game really took off. While on vacation in Long Island that summer, the president of Macy’s spotted people playing the game and decided to stock it. Including 100,000 translations into other languages and a Braille version, the game sold 3,798,555 copies by 1954.

It was Selchow & Righter, one of the firms that had rejected Butts in 1934, that bought the rights to Scrabble from him in 1971 for $265,000. In the end, Butts’ life was unaffected by the $1 million he thought he won on Scrabble. Up until 1978, he kept practicing architecture. Alfred went on to create Alfred’s Other Game, another board game, but it was a commercial failure. Although he made a full recovery after being in a car accident in the autumn of 1987, Butts passed away in April 1993.

3. Clue

The English people had good reason to remain indoors during World War II, what with the Nazi bombings and blackouts, and board games are the perfect pastime for those confined to one’s home. The bombings were destroying the social lives of the British, according to Birmingham manufacturing worker Anthony Pratt, who created Murder!, the predecessor to Clue.The game was patented by him in 1944.

In 1945, Pratt met with Waddington’s Games in Leeds after Pratt’s neighbour had just produced a popular game called Buccaneers with Waddington’s Games. After making some little adjustments, Waddington’s decided to market the game since they loved it. Some characters were changed, for example, Dr. Black would not be present anymore and a syringe and bomb would not be considered weapons anymore. The game was also rebranded as Cluedo.

The game wasn’t released until 1949 because of the difficulties with the manufacturing process. England was still restricting goods, which meant that a lot of materials were needed. When it came out, Milton Bradley also licenced it to sell it internationally under the name Clue.

Failure to materialise in the early years led Pratt to agree in 1953 to sell his royalty on international sales for £5,000—equivalent to approximately £130,000 ($188,000) in today’s dollars. The game became an instant hit, becoming the second best-selling video game of all time; it also inspired a film and TV show, therefore it was a huge error in judgement.Despite creating a legendary board game, Pratt never became wealthy or renowned; he passed away in 1994 at the age of 90.

2. Complete monopoly

Washington, D.C. is where stenographer Elizabeth Magie first conceived of Monopoly, often known as “The Great Destroyer of Friendships,” in 1903. Magie was an independent, progressive lady who, for her day, saved up enough to buy her own home. She spent her nights trying to educate people about the risks of monopolies caused by the massive accumulation of wealth by a few families. This happened during the Gilded Age, when families like the Morgans, Carnegies, Rockefellers, and Vanderbilts controlled many industries and amassed enormous fortunes. But she doubted she was reaching her target audience. Magie created and patented The Landlord’s Game in 1904 to demonstrate the dangers of monopolies and to get the word out. Nonetheless, it evolved into a folk game that was passed down through generations rather than mass-produced. The board and pieces might be easily copied.

The game’s popularity grew in the Northeastern US for a long time. Then, towards the end of 1932, a man named Charles Darrow from Philadelphia who was unemployed played the game with some pals. As he sketched his board on a tablecloth, he found it enjoyable. Parker Brothers agreed to purchase the game from Darrow and pay a royalty once he showed it to them.

Parker Brothers paid $500 to acquire the rights to three of Magie’s games: The Landlord’s Game, Two-Tiered Gambit, and Darrow’s Game, all of which were based on Magie’s unique game. The Parker Brothers then made the inexplicable jerk move of producing Monopoly in 1935 instead of The Landlord’s Game for mass production. The book became a smashing hit right away, but Magie should never have gotten royalties or other forms of compensation for it.

Later in life, Charles Darrow became well-known and wealthy. He claimed it was one of those incredible, random “eureka!” moments when questioned about the source of his inspiration. In 1978, he became the first game “designer” to become a millionaire; in 1948, Magie died without receiving the deserved acknowledgment for her contributions.

1. A Life in the Game

A popular portrait of Abraham Lincoln, who was a presidential candidate in 1860, was sold by Milton Bradley, a 24-year-old proprietor of a lithograph studio in Springfield, Massachusetts. It was at that moment that something out of the ordinary occurred, altering American culture irrevocably. Lincoln, astonishingly, responded to a letter from 11-year-old Westfield, New York, Grace Bedell, urging him to grow a beard, on October 15, 1860, and even agreed to do it! People requested a refund for the lithographs they had already bought from Bradley when Lincoln started growing a beard.

After realising his company was in peril, Bradley, a former draughtsman, began developing a board game that portrayed the extreme highs and lows of life (we’re curious about the source of his idea). A teetotum, a top, served as the dice in his game, which took place on a checkerboard. Scoring 100 points meant getting on the correct squares, which was the goal of the game. Landing on “Disgrace,” “Crime,” or even “Suicide” squares would result in a loss of points. He dubbed it The Checkered Game of Life.

In 1864, he established Milton Bradley and Company, which would go on to become one of the most illustrious board game manufacturers in history, thanks to the game’s instant success. On May 30, 1911, Bradley passed away.After a girl of eleven years old begged Abraham Lincoln to grow a beard, Bradley began selling The Checkered Game of Life a century before the contemporary Game of Life was introduced in 1960.


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