The sixties were a turbulent decade. Bob Dylan wrote, “The times, they are a-changin’”, and that they were. Music, clothing, politics, forms of protest, technology…all of them different, some with changes that stuck, some that didn’t, and some with battles that we continue to fight to this day. Games were starting to change as well. In fact, the seeds of modern gaming were sowed during this period and those are changes that most of us are very happy about. But it took those seeds quite a while to bear fruit…
The Game of Life (1960)
The Game of Life came about from Milton Bradley’s desire to celebrate the 100th anniversary of their first published game, The Checkered Game of Life. (The older game, designed by the individual named Milton Bradley, was a spinoff of the Royal Game of Goose and was the first popular published game in the U.S.) MB asked an independent toy and game designer named Reuben Klamer to come up with something and he and his assistant Bill Markham delivered big time. The gloriously 3D and plastic-filled design was an immediate hit and represented yet another successful and well scrubbed attempt to portray the American dream in a board game. It was also an early example of celebrity endorsement for a game (with every box cover famously proclaiming Art Linkletter’s “I heartily endorse this game”). Klamer would later go on to design other games, including 1962’s Square Mile, a city-building game which was well ahead of its time, but Life remains his best known effort.
My fond memories of this game focus around a few things when playing as a youngling: filling up my “car” with way, way too many little kid pegs; the enjoyment of discovery to find out one’s career, the gravitas of the spinner on the board (the numbers go to TEN!) and the spin-it-to-win-it Hail Mary at the end of the game if you’re behind in the running. I wouldn’t rank it as the best game ever but it did provide a lot of entertainment value back in the day. My parents have a more modern “upgrade” of the game that I respect. While it has a sort of “credit card” feature that tracks player scores, the score is now very wide ranging and players can gain significant points through a career/money as well as areas such as family and experiences. The board is laid out in four looping “sections” with each section dedicated to a particular theme. One loop, for example, is education-themed and where one goes if you want to pick up a college degree.
Oh, how I enjoyed Life as a child (both the boardgame and reality!). That spinner with the clicking noise was just so cool, and I was absolutely gaga over the three dimensional mountains over which you moved your car. I also found it fun to stuff the children into the car until they were literally spilling out onto the roadside. And the ending! I mean, you actually sold your children for cash. Oh, if this were only true in real-life! :o)
I always found the game to be fun, even though there were very few real decisions to be made. I played it again when my daughter was small, but haven’t played in over 20 years. While I have fond memories, I am fairly certain I would not find it anywhere near as much fun today.
I also enjoyed this game. When it first came out it had a magnificent wow factor. Ultimately I lost interest because, well, just because.
Strat-O-Matic Baseball (1962)
Strat-O-Matic was not the first sophisticated baseball simulation (as we mentioned in the previous article, APBA Baseball appeared a decade earlier), but it’s the most popular, influential, and probably the most statistically accurate of the early sims (it uses three normal dice and a D20, as opposed to 2D6 or percentile dice). S-O-M may have been the first sim to really reflect the value of pitching, as you had to consult both the hitter’s and the pitcher’s cards to determine the result of each at bat (defense was emphasized as well, although, particularly in the early days, it was somewhat crudely applied). It was the brainchild of an accountant named Hal Richman, who took a loan from his father to allow him to promote his game, promising to go work for him if he couldn’t pay him back. Thankfully for both Richman and baseball fans, his company flourished and both tabletop and computer versions of Strat-O in several sports continue to be produced to this day.
I loved Strat-O-Matic. I played it for years, mostly solitaire as a way to unwind and escape.
Mouse Trap (1963)
I never got to play this as a child, I did see a lot of ads on TV for it. When Daughter the Elder was young, I bought a copy. The mouse trap itself is good fun to build and play with, the game however is terrible. After “playing” the game once, we would occasionally play with the Mouse Trap. It went on the trade pile.
The “fun” part of the game is the slow buildup of the mousetrap itself. That was enough to entertain me as a youngling, but as Fraser mentioned, not much game there. However, building the trap is sometimes a fun enough activity to do with my younger kids.
Mouse Trap was as much a toy as a game, but that didn’t stop it from becoming an iconic piece of Americana. It was a product of the legendary Marvin Glass studio, which was responsible for some of the most famous toys and games of the 60’s and 70’s, including Operation, Rock’em Sock’em Robots, and Simon. It came from the company’s attempt to make a literal Rube Goldberg machine (Goldberg was a very popular cartoonist who in the 1920’s drew cartoons which humorously depicted exceedingly complicated devices that performed rudimentary tasks). That, together with the proverb “build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door”, was all the inspiration that was needed. Even though the gameplay was mediocre, the device was so bizarre and so much fun to see in operation that the game was a big hit and continues to be available to this day. In 1975, legendary designer Sid Sackson was hired to modify the official rules and add at least a few decisions to the gameplay.
Abbott’s New Card Games Published (1963)
I’m hoping there are folks more familiar with Abbott’s New Card Games that can speak to it more thoroughly or place it in some context, but a special shout-out to one of the games in there for me, “Switch”. I gave an overview of it in a review of Habitats a few years back, as I felt they shared an interesting path-finding quality to them.
This is a terrific book. I picked it up when I first got really serious about the world of games (late 1970’s), although the book was first published in 1963. Along with Gamut of Games, I spent hours trying out the various possibilities. I thought it was amazing that Sackson and Abbott were so creative and unlocked new ways of using a deck of cards especially. I played most every game in the Abbott book. For years I used Babel in a course I taught (Political Economy of Environmental Issues) to discuss market dynamics and negotiation. My favorite game in the book was Metamorphosis, a reasonably good 2 player trick-taking game, that probably inspired David Parlett’s Galapagos. Eleusis was the inspiration for Zendo. Leopard is also a good two player card game. And Construction inspired the possibility of using cards as the template for board games. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Knizia knew about this book and learned from it as you can see Abbott’s originality adapted in Knizia card games. If he didn’t know about it, some type of convergent evolution took place. The book is well worth tracking down.
Abbott also wrote several insanely difficult and highly original books of mazes, Mad Mazes (1990), in a large hardcover edition and Supermazes (1997) a larger-sized paperback.These are also worth checking out just to see how he used his creative imagination to extend the concept of a labyrinth as well as to read his charming text that describes the various mazes. Although Robert Abbott passed away in 2018, his mazes website is still active. (http://logicmazes.com/).
You can read about his life here: https://www.gathering4gardner.org/remembering-robert-abbott/.
Certainly more famous and widely owned in Italy than its older brother Scrabble, Scarabeo in the 70s had a great impact in Italy, thanks to its Italian publisher, Editrice Giochi. The impact was comparable to that of Monopoly and it’s still the reference title for us as far as word games are concerned. Scrabble and Scarabeo are not the same game, starting from the difference in the map (15×15 for Scrabble and 17×17 in Scarabeo). Here is a summary of the differences:
In Scrabble the special boxes give the appropriate bonus only the first time the box is used, while in Scarebeo, they apply every time that box is used. Scrabble jokers do not score points, while Scarabeo jokers score as many points as the letter they replace. 7 tiles are used in Scrabble, 8 in Scarabeo. There are different bonuses between the two games where, for example, there is the introduction of a super bonus for the word SCARABEO (which means Beetle) which really gives a lot of points, giving an extra chance to those who have fallen behind. In Scrabble it is possible to “crawl” or juxtapose words in sequence one after the other, while in the Scarabeo it is only possible to cross them.
Andrea “Liga” Ligabue
Liga does a good job listing the differences between the two word games. Nevertheless, I feel I should mention that in the late fifties, after Scarabeo had been self-published, Selchow & Righter sued, claiming breach of Scrabble’s copyright. The final verdict was handed down by Milan’s Court of Appeal and it stated, in part, that game mechanics are not relevant and that no confusion could be made between a long name like “Scarabeo” and a short one like “Scrabble”, so that there was no unfair competition. Not exactly a ringing endorsement and, perhaps, something of a home town decision, but I’m sure that legally, it was legitimate. Editrice Giochi waited until there was a definitive acquittal; only then, in 1963, did they publish Scarabeo. Judging from Liga’s account, it was a great success.
Acquire; Introduction of 3M Bookshelf Games (1964)
When Acquire was first introduced to me, I was told that this was one of those gems that you could easily find in the back of your grandparent’s closets, or in thrift stores. Sadly, I have not found that to be true. And my grandmother keeps yelling at me to get out of her closet.
Luckily I can acquire the game Acquire as it has had a number of reprints without too much change in the actual game play since the 1960’s. The last reprint was the 2016 edition. Be wary of which you purchase, however. The 2008 edition has cardboard instead of plastic pieces and people will look down at you if you attempt to bring that edition to the table.
Acquire is to me, the epitome of an economics game. The gameplay itself is fairly straightforward. Place a tile on the board. If tiles are connected to other tiles, they become a hotel chain (or corporation, depending on the edition you purchase). Then purchase some stock from any of the available hotel chains on the board. When two smaller chains connect on the board, they merge, and become the larger of the two chains, giving players with stock in the smaller chain a chance to:
- Sell their stock;
- Trade their stock at 2:1 for the stock of the larger hotel chain; or
- Hold onto the smaller chain stock for when that chain starts another hotel elsewhere on the board.
I know…doesn’t sound that exciting. Buy low, sell high. But the game gives a nice amount of tension and really is an exciting game, without so much math that it’ll put you to sleep.
This was Sid Sackson’s early masterpiece and there’s a reason it’s been around so long. That reason is not due to my description of the game play. It’s because it has strategic decision making, enough variability, and just enough randomness to keep it exciting.
When the Spiel des Jahres awards came out in 1979, Acquire was nominated for the award, but was beat out by Hare & Tortoise.
I have yet to purchase the game since I have access to it through my local game groups, but I do continually hope to find a nice vintage copy in a thrift shop or the back of my grandmother’s closet.
This was a very early acquisition for me during my formative boardgaming years. I acquired it during my early teens and played it constantly with friends. It played, felt and looked like an “adult” game and helped move me beyond the games of childhood. It still hits the table once or twice a year.
The game can be rich with decisions — which tile to play, which stock to acquire, when to merge chains, keep or sell stock after a merger. While the luck of the tile draw certainly plays a factor — and it is completely possible to get behind the proverbial 8-ball and be shut out of mergers, leaving one cash-strapped — for the most part, one’s fate is determined by one’s decisions. That is what I particularly enjoy about European-style games, and Acquire was an early forerunner in the genre.
On a side note, Acquire is the only game of which I own three versions: the original wooden-tile 3M version, the second 3M edition (which is part of the my complete collection of that series) and the spiffy Hasbro/AH version with the 3-D towers.
Acquire is not only a great game, but a very significant one in the history of the hobby. Its success following its release by 3M showed that more sophisticated games could be popular. This had some ramifications in the U.S., but even more so in Germany. When, during the 70’s, German game publishers decided they wanted to improve their product, one of the models for what they aspired to create were the 3M Bookshelf games and, specifically, Acquire. Many consider the game to be the first “Eurogame”, despite its American origins, and given its gameplay, as well as its history and impact, this makes perfect sense.
Acquire was Sid Sackson’s first significant design and served to launch him on his spectacular career. A gentleman named Bill Caruson, a 3M executive who served as the game’s developer, worked closely with Sackson to modify his original submission to the version that we all know today. The game has been in print continuously for almost 60 years, with numerous editions, and continues to sell well.
My personal opinion of it, however, has never really matched that of the rest of the gaming world. I’ve played it numerous times (including when it first came out), but it never particularly excited me. Just a bit too much luck and not enough control for my tastes. For a while, I thought I was missing something that everyone else saw, but now I realize it just isn’t that well suited to my tastes and am happy to let my fellow gamers enjoy it without me.
By the way, in gaming’s version of the ultimate “boxers vs. briefs” question, I strongly favor open holdings, rather than closed ones.
As far as the 3M Bookshelf line of games is concerned, I’ve always wondered what bizarre series of corporate decisions led the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company to decide to produce a series of board games. I’ve read that one of the company’s divisions was looking for a way to branch out, but it still seems like a peculiar line of business to go into, particularly in the early sixties. I have to assume that there was some market research conducted that led them to believe that a high-end line of adult games could succeed. I’m not sure how it happened, but I’m very glad it did, since these were some of my favorite games to play during my childhood.
This is the first Avalon Hill strategy game I purchased and it became a favorite. I enjoyed the one-on-one matching of wits as you tried to get one step ahead of your opponent and complete the unbroken chain across the board. For some reason, I was pretty proficient at this and won more than my fair share. Most likely this was that since I owned the game, I played it far more often than my opponents.
While the game required planning, adapting and thinking … aka, strategy … in retrospect is pales in comparison to many other 2-player games of its ilk. Even though I haven’t played in probably 20 years, I still have fond memories of those tense matches.
Twixt (invented by Alex Randolph) is considered one of the classic connection games and there were (and probably still are) some very serious players. You can find sophisticated analyses of game play. It’s pure, elegant, and intricate. I played it casually, haven’t looked at it for years, although it remains in the collection. I’m not sure, as Greg suggests, that it’s been surpassed. Abstract gamers view Twixt and Hex as among the best games in the connection genres. However, more dynamic and colorful abstract and semi-abstract connection games may be more accessible. You can read more about its history and play at it’s Wikipedia site. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TwixT
Twixt was Alex Randolph’s first game design. He created it in 1957, as a paper and pencil game, while he was living in Vienna, one of many cities he would call home over his fabulous, globe-trotting life. When he and Sid Sackson were commissioned by 3M to start their game line, both were in their forties, had published almost nothing, and were “amateur” game designers (Sackson was an engineer and Randolph had held a bunch of jobs, including some in military intelligence). And yet their abilities must have been obvious and both contributed five or so games to the company over the next decade. They became lifelong friends and represent the first great modern game designers in history. The 3M games were the first step; great things were in store for both men.
Rudi Hoffman’s First Design (Calcul) (1964)
Rudi Hoffman was basically Germany’s version of Sid Sackson. A contemporary of both Sackson and Randolph, Hoffman was a commercial artist when he designed his first game in 1964. Calcul was a typical Hoffman design, with straightforward rules and somewhat mathematical in nature. It was created as a promotional item. This was the first of numerous game designs for Hoffman, the initial step to him becoming Germany’s first successful game designer, and the start of a long and distinguished career.