The Board Games Everyone Loved in the 20th Century

Lots of rule books and a plethora of vintage packaging

By Google Arts & Culture

Words by Rebecca Fulleylove

Candy Land (1949) by Milton Bradley CompanyThe Strong National Museum of Play

Board games have been a part of society for years, with the oldest game known to have existed, Senet, discovered in Ancient Egypt burials in 3500 BCE. Nowadays, there are so many board games to choose from. Here we take a look at some of the most popular games from the 20th century, with many still loved today.

Monopoly (Darrow Edition) (1933) by Charles DarrowThe Strong National Museum of Play

1. Monopoly

'Monopoly' began its life as 'The Landlord’s Game' in 1904. Elizabeth Magie devised the game to point out the social pitfalls of unequal wealth among people. But instead, players loved greedily collecting huge piles of money and property.

Monopoly Game Board (1935) by Parker BrothersThe Strong National Museum of Play

The game gained popularity when games designer Charles Darrow produced the first commercial version in 1933 (seen here). Several changes had been made to the original version, including players being able to raise rents by building houses and hotels, creating a “monopoly” of properties. Since then, many versions have now ditched paper money in favor of an electronic banking system.

Board game:La Conquete Du Monde (The Conquest of the World) also: Risk (1957) by Miro CompanyThe Strong National Museum of Play

2. Risk

In 1957, French filmmaker Albert Lamorisse, designed a game called 'La Conquete Du Monde' (The Conquest of the World). Two years later, American game makers Parker Brothers brought out a version in English called 'Risk'. In both games, players compete to gain control of more territories by various means. The game resonated with players because it came out during the time of the Cold War and went on to influence game manufacturers to produce more strategy games.

Board game:Scrabble (1949) by Selchow & Righter Co.The Strong National Museum of Play

3. Scrabble

During the Great Depression, architect Alfred Mosher Butts wanted to create a game combining skill, strategy, chance, and luck. The game failed to gain traction until he teamed up with entrepreneur James Brunot who suggested the name 'Scrabble'. The pair saw huge success after a Macy Department Store executive played the game on vacation and ordered copies for the store. Now more than 100 million sets have been sold worldwide.

Trivial Pursuit (1985) by Horn Abbot, Ltd.The Strong National Museum of Play

4. Trivial Pursuit

Trivial Pursuit was co-invented in 1979 by Scott Abbott and Chris Hanley in Canada. The main object of the game is to answer the most trivia questions correctly and get to the end of the board.

Card game:A Game of the World (1909) by O.F. & F.G. DeckerThe Strong National Museum of Play

This game might have gained inspiration from 'Game of the World', developed by the Decker Brothers of Buffalo, New York in 1899. The pair devised their own version of a question-and-answer game that was sold as an educational tool for parents to buy their children.

Board game:Anti-Monopoly: The "Bust-the-Trust!" Game (1973)The Strong National Museum of Play

5. Anti-Monopoly

In 1974, Professor Ralph Anspach invented 'Anti-Monopoly', which was intended to refute the economic ideals promoted in the original 'Monopoly'. The game involves “trust busting” and the winner is the player who busts the most trusts and has the highest score, which is earned via “social credit points” at the end of the game.

Board game:Anti-monopoly Board game:Anti-monopoly (1974) by Anti-Monopoly, Inc.The Strong National Museum of Play

Anspach was sued by General Mills, the then owner of the 'Monopoly' copyrights. A ten-year legal battle began, with Anspach basing his defense on the grounds that the game itself existed in the public domain before Parker Brothers purchased it, and therefore the trademark on the name should be nullified. These origins of the game had previously been kept a secret for many years by the games company. Finally a settlement was reached and Anspach was vindicated allowing him to publish his game.

The Game of Life (1960) by Milton Bradley CompanyThe Strong National Museum of Play

6. The Game of Life

'The Game of Life' was originally produced by inventor Milton Bradley in 1860 as 'The Checkered Game of Life'. In celebration of the Milton Bradley Company’s 100th anniversary, they hired designer Reuben Klamer to create a more modern version.

The Checkered Game of Life The Checkered Game of Life (1866) by Milton Bradley CompanyThe Strong National Museum of Play

Klamer’s game picks up on the societal norms of the time and mimics the baby boom – players chances of winning improve as they marry and have children, and postwar prosperity – holding a good job helps the wealthiest player win.

Board game:Cluedo (1949-1960) by John Waddington Ltd.The Strong National Museum of Play

7. Cluedo

'Cluedo' originated from a murder mystery game idea developed by Anthony E Pratt in 1944. He came up with the idea to help pass the time while waiting in bomb shelters during World War II in London.

Board game:Clue: Parker Brothers Detective Game (1956) by Parker BrothersThe Strong National Museum of Play

Four years later, the game was published in the UK by the Waddington Company. A short time later, it was marketed as 'Clue' to the North American market.

Game board:The Great Game Sorry! (1934) by Parker BrothersThe Strong National Museum of Play

8. Sorry!

The earliest variation of 'Sorry!' can be traced back to England, with William Henry Storey having filed for a patent in 1929. It was sold in the UK by Waddingtons and then Parker Brothers in the USA in 1934. The game is based on the ancient cross and circle game 'Pachisi' and sees players try to travel around the board game with their 3 or 4 pieces faster than any other player.

Pictionary (1985) by Seattle Games, Inc.The Strong National Museum of Play

9. Pictionary

'Pictionary' was invented in 1985 and was published by Angel Games Inc. It was designed by Rob Angel with graphic designer Gary Everson and involved teammates trying to guess what image is being drawn by another teammate.

Board game:Pictionary (1992) by Pictionary, Inc.The Strong National Museum of Play

The pair managed to sell 6,000 copies in one year at $35 each. In 2001, 'Pictionary' was sold to Mattel and at the time the game was available in 60 countries and 45 languages, with 11 versions just in the US and a total of 32 million games sold worldwide.

Candy Land (1949) by Milton Bradley CompanyThe Strong National Museum of Play

10. Candy Land

The board game 'Candy Land' was designed in 1948 by Eleanor Abbott while she was recovering from polio in San Diego, California. The game was made for and tested by the children in the same hospital. After taking the game to Milton Bradley Company, the game was bought by them and first published in 1949. 'Candy Land' quickly became the company’s biggest seller. Around one million copies of the game are sold every year.

Board game:Chutes and Ladders Board game:Chutes and Ladders (1957) by Milton Bradley CompanyThe Strong National Museum of Play

11. Chutes and Ladders

'Chute and Ladders', also known as 'Snakes and Ladders' in the UK, originated in India as part of a family of dice board games. In the early Victorian edition from England, the board’s squares reflected the moral doctrines of the time: Fulfillment, Grace, and Success were accessible by ladders of Thrift, Penitence, and Industry. But if you slipped on a snake of Indulgence, Disobedience, or Indolence, it was a long life of Illness, Disgrace, and Poverty.

Board game:Battleship (ca. 1967) by Milton Bradley CompanyThe Strong National Museum of Play

12. Battleship

'Battleship' dates back to World War I, which saw it take life as a pencil-and-paper game between two players. It was published by various companies as a pad-and-pencil game in the 1930s and was released as a board game by Milton Bradley in 1967, which used a plastic board and pegs.

Game:Battleship (1978) by Milton Bradley CompanyThe Strong National Museum of Play

'Battleship' involves players marking fleets of ships on a grid, the locations of which are concealed from the other player. Players alternately take shots at each other’s ships and the objective is to destroy the opposition’s fleet. The game has spawned multiple versions and was one of the first board games to be produced as a video game, with a version being released for the Z80 Compucolor in 1979.

Yahtzee (1961) by E.S. Lowe Company, Inc.The Strong National Museum of Play

13. Yahtzee

'Yahtzee' is a dice game, first marketed as 'Yatzie' in the early 1940s. The overall concept derived from a number of traditional dice games. It was classified as a "Poker Dice Game" and the objective of the game was to score points by rolling five dice to make certain combinations.

Game:Connect Four (1977) by Milton Bradley CompanyThe Strong National Museum of Play

14. Connect Four

'Connect Four' is known by many names including 'Captain’s Mistress', 'Four Up', 'Plot Four', 'Find Four', 'Four in a Row', and 'Gravitrips'. The objective of the game is to be the first to form a horizontal, vertical, or diagonal line of four of one's own discs. The rules are pretty simple and mathematicians have worked out that the number of possible game board positions is a monumental 4,531,985,219,092. 

Board game:Play-a-Puzzle the exciting New Game of Crosswords for Two (1981) by Sunset GamesThe Strong National Museum of Play

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