We continue with our look at gaming in the sixties. Gimmicky and beer-and-pretzel games dominate the half decade, but we also have the birth of a major gaming craze, as well as the publication of perhaps the greatest book of original games ever.
Nuclear War (1965)
I never owned this and only got to play it a few times in college. It’s a great “activity” game, as the interaction with other players is far more fun than the game itself. Props to embracing the whole idea of “I’m taking you down with me” aspect of the final turns of the game. I can’t think of any other game that drills that home so nicely.
A chaotic game for sure. The whole aim is player elimination, if it is a quick game then there may be a winner, if it is a long game which is 15 minutes or more, then it is unlikely anyone will survive the final retaliations as player after player gets eliminated and takes others down with them. We did have games where some people didn’t survive the secrets/propaganda round(s). We used to play it 5+ players a lot. Two favourite catch cries from those games were “I can’t pay!”, or “Have you got change of 25 million?”. It was probably the first game I came across with programmed play, i.e. you are playing cards two moves ahead – and hoping your cards are still valid when they come to be revealed! Narrator: Often they were not.
If playing Nuclear War, Nuclear Escalation and Nuclear Proliferation together, I would recommend culling some of the secret cards, there are just too many with three decks mixed together.
An interesting little bit of information – when Nuclear Escalation was released in 1983 there were calls, in Parliament if I recall correctly, for it to be banned due to its theme. No mention of Nuclear War which had been available for the previous 18 years.
I played this hundreds of times and it was always a good laugh, and quick fun.
Operation was another quirkily successful game to come from the Marvin Glass studio. It’s a dexterity game in which the players use a pair of tweezers to remove certain body parts from an unfortunate patient (nicknamed Cavity Sam). The game board shows Sam and the plastic parts (with punny names, like the horse-shaped Charlie Horse or the apple-shaped Adam’s Apple), which each sat in its own metal-lined compartment. The players needed to take out the parts without touching the sides of the compartment with their tweezers; if they touched a side, an obnoxious buzzer sounded and the red light bulb which was Sam’s nose lit up.
This was one of the iconic games of the sixties and was quite popular. It continues to sell well to this day, thanks to its many themed versions, including those based on Star Wars, Shrek, and even the AFLAC duck!
Pop-O-Matic. That’s pretty much all that I remember and all that needs to be said. Without the Pop-O-Matic bubble in the middle containing the die, it isn’t a memorable game.
No, it isn’t. It’s pretty much just Pachisi. But the Pop-O-Matic system (where the player would push on the plastic bubble to “roll” the enclosed die) kept the die from getting lost and made it fun to play (at least, for 7-year-olds). I remember the game being advertised on TV all the time during the sixties.
aka “Sex in a box”. Twister featured a large plastic mat that was spread on the floor. The mat had circles of different colors. A spinner told the players which colored circle they had to put their hands and feet on. Eventually, of course, the players wound up interlocking limbs, leading to precarious and somewhat suggestive positions. If a player fell, they were eliminated.
Society in the mid-sixties in the U.S. was still a bit repressed, so Twister was considered a daring and (to some) outrageous pastime. Many stores refused to feature it at first, particularly since there was the possibility of teenagers actually having their bodies (gasp!) touch during play. Milton Bradley was seriously considering taking it off the market, but then one of their planned product placements struck gold, when actress Eva Gabor played the game on air with Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show, with the expected hilarious results. Requests for the game started pouring in the very next day and Twister was suddenly a smash hit. It continues to flourish to this day.
Played it as a child, I was young and much more flexible. It was fun then, but I wouldn’t risk the potential injuries now :-)
Skip-Bo is a variant of a traditional card game called Spite and Malice. Spite and Malice is literally multi-player solitaire: there are foundation stacks that are built on with cards in numerical order, to which all the players can play, and the goal is to be the first to empty your stack of cards. An American named Minnie Bowman started hand-producing and selling the variant in 1967; her nickname was “Skip” and presumably that was the source of the game’s name (Skip-Bo[wman]). International Games acquired the rights to the game in 1980 and the title became considerably more widespread following that. It’s still readily available today, including a 50th anniversary edition produced by Mattel a few years ago.
I’ve never played Skip-Bo, but I have played a similar game called Pishe Pasha (pronounced PI-shah, PAY-shah). It’s a game that used to be popular in Jewish communities that my grandmother taught to us. I seem to recall that there weren’t many decisions in it, but I enjoyed it when I was young.
Another of those card games (along with Rook) that are still “OK” to play in certain rather conservative areas of society. Long a staple of our extended family (grandparents on down,) it still lives on when we all get together. The game isn’t particularly engaging or strategic but is a great excuse to sit around the table and chat while taking a break (without guilt) from the ever-present hard work one lives with when living on a farm…
Sid Sackson’s A Gamut of Games Published (1969)
A Gamut of Games, by gaming pioneer Sid Sackson, is quite simply one of the most important books ever written about games. It describes the rules for almost 40 games, most of them presented for the first time and many of them created by Sackson. Interspersed with these are entertaining interludes from Sackson about gaming, game history, his personal experiences, and his friendships with other game designers.
It’s hard for me to explain the incredible effect this book had on me after I purchased it and read (nay, devoured) it as a 13-year-old. Having so many new and interesting games presented was, of course, a huge bonus and I tried out as many of them as I could (most of them were very good). But just as significant to me were Sackson’s tales about the design process, whether by him or by others. For the first time, I realized that games were created by people and not faceless, monolithic publishers like Parker Brothers and Ideal. This may seem obvious, but you have to remember, during the late sixties, there was no such thing as design credits and to a callow youth like myself, it was easy to assume that these store-bought titles I enjoyed so much were the products of some vast corporate process. After reading A Gamut of Games, it occurred to me that I might be able to make a game myself and it might not be crap! It took quite a while from first realization to actual non-crappy games, but the book absolutely changed the way I viewed games and the creative process behind them. So my feelings about AGoG are deeply personal and inspirational, in addition to my admiration for it as a great book. It’s one of many things I’m thankful to Sid Sackson for.
I first discovered this book in the late 1970’s and I was absolutely enamoured both with the incredible compendium of games and then Sacksons brief reviews in the appendix. I tried many of the games and delighted in the variety, cleverness, and balance.
I was a late person to realise this in the 1970’s but it was full of gaming goodness that will always be in my collection.
Backgammon Becomes a Craze (1969)
Backgammon is a very old game, with roots going as far back as 5000 years ago in Mesopotamia. Always exceedingly popular in the Middle East, that popularity hasn’t always been matched in the rest of the world. But two separate twentieth century events revitalized the game. The first was the introduction of the doubling cube sometime during the 1920’s. Suddenly, a somewhat staid dice game was much more interesting when played for stakes. However, by the 1960’s, the game was almost forgotten outside of the Middle East. It’s savior turned out to be a Russian/American playboy named Prince Alexis Obolensky who, despairing that his favorite game got so little love, decided to take action to make it relevant again. First, he organized a series of well publicized backgammon tournaments in which millionaires and socialites from around the world battled it out. Then, in 1969, he co-authored a book called Backgammon: The Action Game which was a best-seller and which not only raised awareness of the game, but made it a chic and fashionable activity.
Consequently, during the 1970’s, anybody who was anybody played Backgammon, including film stars, supermodels, and celebrities from all walks of life. The game was everywhere. I well remember in the late 70’s and early 80’s going into restaurants where there were backgammon boards painted on the tables and customers were provided with dice and checkers to play the game while they waited for their food! During a period where there were many gaming fads, Backgammon might have been the biggest one.
Backgammon’s heyday lasted less than 20 years, but it served to make people from around the world aware of the game once again and that was a very good thing, as it’s a great game. It’s the perfect mix of skill and luck and a terrific game for couples. I’ve played it innumerable times with my wife and we always enjoy it. So here’s a toast to Prince Alexis Obolensky–may all your rolls come up doubles, sir.
Lines of Action (1969)
Lines of Action is a 2-player abstract by Claude Soucie that came from A Gamut of Games. It’s played with ordinary checkers and a chessboard and yet features unusual rules for moving, as well as a unique objective. Pieces move in a straight line equal to the number of friendly and enemy pieces in that line and captures are possible. The object is to have all of your pieces connected, either orthogonally or diagonally.
LoA is one of the more celebrated games to appear in A Gamut of Games. It received immediate attention and has been the subject of considerable analysis. Since 1997, a World Championship tournament has been held at the Mind Sports Olympiad. It’s considered to be one of the most interesting recent abstract game designs and is generally viewed as a modern classic. I’ve played it and enjoy the fact that it doesn’t feel like any other game I’ve experienced.