Board games have been a part of most cultures and societies throughout history. The oldest board game known to have existed is Senet, which was discovered in Ancient Egypt burials from 3500 BC and involves players moving across a small gridded board with counters.
Nowadays, the choice of board games is vast and every year it seems like a new variation of a classic is introduced. Here we take a look at some of the most popular board games from the 20th century, a golden age in the games industry with many family favorites produced for the first time during this period. So come with us as we fawn over the vintage packaging and discover the stories that led to the creation of these popular games.
Candy Land by Milton Bradley CompanyThe Strong National Museum of Play
Monopoly still remains the most popular board game ever and it began 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, and found pure joy in their opponent’s financial troubles.
Monopoly (Darrow Edition) by Charles DarrowThe Strong National Museum of Play
Circulated informally at first, the game only gained popularity when Pennsylvanian games designer Charles Darrow produced the first commercial version in 1933, which you can see in the first image below. By that time, several changes had been made to Magie’s original version including players being able to raise rents by building houses and hotels, creating a “monopoly” of properties. Darrow produced 5,000 copies at his own expense and sold them in a Philadelphia department store. Hearing of the success, Parker Brothers (an American toy and game manufacturer which later became a brand of Hasbro) bought the rights in 1935 and sales soared. Since then, Monopoly has appeared in 40 countries and 25 foreign languages, with many versions now ditching paper money in favor of an electronic banking system.
Monopoly Game Board by Parker BrothersThe Strong National Museum of Play
In 1957, French filmmaker Albert Lamorisse, designed a game called La Conquete Du Monde (The Conquest of the World). The game featured a board printed with a world map divided into specific countries, and wooden playing pieces in different colors.
Two years later in 1959, Lamorisse’s game publisher Miro Company took his game to American Game makers Parker Brothers, who promptly brought out a version in English, called Risk. In both games, players compete to gain control of more territories by various means. Battle victories are determined by rolls of the dice. The game resonated with players because it came out during the time of Cold War hostility between the USA and the Soviet Union. Risk soon went on to influence game manufacturers to produce more strategy games.
Board game:La Conquete Du Monde (The Conquest of the World) also: Risk by Miro CompanyThe Strong National Museum of Play
During the years of the Great Depression, out-of-work architect Alfred Mosher Butts created the board game Scrabble. Based on elements taken from existing word games, Butts wanted Scrabble to combine skill, strategy, chance and luck. The game failed to gain traction until he teamed up with James Brunot, another entrepreneur, who suggested alterations including a name change, leading to it being called Scrabble (meaning to root around frantically).
The name was trademarked in 1948 and the pair saw huge success after a Macy Department Store executive played the game on vacation and ordered copies for the store. Within a year, Scrabble was being bought in numbers Brunot and Butts were unable to meet so they signed a licensing agreement with American game manufacturer Selchow & Righter. Now more than 100 million sets have been sold worldwide.
Board game:Scrabble by Selchow & Righter Co.The Strong National Museum of Play
4. Trivial Pursuit
Trivial Pursuit was co-invented in 1979 by Scott Abbott and Chris Hanley in Canada. It showed up at a US toy fair in 1982 and the game rights were sold to the ever present Parker Brothers in 1984. The main object of the game is to answer the most trivia questions correctly and get to the end of the board.
Trivial Pursuit by Horn Abbot, Ltd.The Strong National Museum of Play
At least 20 million copies of the game have been sold, but Game of the World (as seen below) looks to be a precursor of the widely successful game. Developed by the Decker Brothers of Buffalo, New York in 1899, the pair devised their own version of a question-and-answer game. Game of the World featured questions that were both historical and geographical in nature and it was sold as an educational tool for well-meaning parents to buy their children.
Card game:A Game of the World by O.F. & F.G. DeckerThe Strong National Museum of Play
In 1974, Professor Ralph Anspach invented a game called Anti-Monopoly, which was intended to refute the economic ideals promoted in the original Monopoly game. 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: The "Bust-the-Trust!" GameThe Strong National Museum of Play
Anspach got in trouble immediately with his game and 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.
Board game:Anti-monopoly by Anti-Monopoly, Inc.The Strong National Museum of Play
6. Game of Life
The Game of Life was originally produced by inventor Milton Bradley in 1860 as The Checkered Game of Life, as seen below in the second image. In celebration of the Milton Bradley Company’s 100th anniversary, they hired designer Reuben Klamer to create a more modern version.
The Game of Life 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.
The Checkered Game of Life by Milton Bradley CompanyThe Strong National Museum of Play
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:Cluedo by John Waddington Ltd.The Strong National Museum of Play
Four years later, the game was published in the United Kingdom by the Waddington Company. A short time later, it was marketed as Clue to the North American market. Below you can see the differences in packaging between the UK and US versions.
Board game:Clue: Parker Brothers Detective Game by Parker BrothersThe Strong National Museum of Play
The earliest variation of Sorry! the board game can be traced back to England, with William Henry Storey of Southend-on-Sea having filed for a patent in 1929. It was then 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. The most frustrating rule of the game is that when one player lands on the same space as another, that player is forced to send their game piece back home.
Game board:The Great Game Sorry! by Parker BrothersThe Strong National Museum of Play
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.
Pictionary by Seattle Games, 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.
Board game:Pictionary by Pictionary, Inc.The 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.
Candy Land 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 for you.
Board game:Chutes and Ladders by Milton Bradley CompanyThe Strong National Museum of Play
Battleship’s origins date 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.
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.
Game:Battleship by Milton Bradley CompanyThe Strong National Museum of Play
Yahtzee is a dice game made by Milton Bradley, which was first marketed as Yatzie in the early 1940s. The overall concept of Yahtzee derives from a number of traditional dice games. The most important predecessor of Yahtzee is the game Yacht, an English cousin of a Puerto Rican game called Generala and dates back to 1938.
Yahtzee by E.S. Lowe Company, Inc.The Strong National Museum of Play
Originally it was included in a game set called LUCK - 15 Dice Games. The present-day commercial Yahtzee began when toy and game entrepreneur Edwin S. Lowe filed Yahtzee as a trademark with the US Patent Office on April 19, 1956. The first commercial usage of the name Yahtzee was a few weeks earlier on April 3. Lowe classified his product as a "Poker Dice Game" and the objective of the game remains the same, which is to score points by rolling five dice to make certain combinations.
Game:Yahtzee E950 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 two-player game was first sold under the Connect Four trademark by Milton Bradley in 1974.
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. Connect Four was first solved by James Dow Allen in 1988 – a solved game is one whose outcome (win, lose or draw) can be correctly predicted from any position, assuming that both players play perfectly.
Game:Connect Four by Milton Bradley CompanyThe Strong National Museum of Play