Gaming Timeline: 1970-1973

After an extended hiatus, the Gaming Timeline is back!  In case you don’t know what this is, you can check out the initial article (, which explains things.

With the 1970’s, we start to see more familiar titles on the timeline.  There are wargames, card games, mass market titles, and abstracts; I assume that many of you have played at least some of them.  We even had a gaming event which captured the imagination of the world and that doesn’t happen every day.  So let’s talk about the highlights of this four-year period.

Panzerblitz (1970)

PanzerBlitz (Avalon Hill - 1970) - Front Box Cover

Panzerblitz, which was set in the Eastern front of WWII, was the first tactical level wargame, with the counters representing individual tanks and infantry platoons, as opposed to earlier wargames, where the counters represented much larger units, like divisions.  It was also one of the first wargames to feature the extensive usage of ranged combat.  It included other innovations as well, such as isomorphic mapboards.  The game was an enormous success and wound up selling over 300,000 units.  It was Avalon Hill’s top rated game for many years following its release.

Panzerblitz was designed by Jim Dunnigan, who was something of a wargaming wunderkind.  He created his first game for Avalon Hill, Jutland, when he was just 23 and Panzerblitz came three years later.  At about the same time, he founded Simulations Publications, Inc. (SPI), which became Avalon Hill’s main competitor for most of the next ten years.  Dunnigan is one of the most significant figures in wargame history.

I owned and played Panzerblitz during the brief period in my life when I dabbled in wargames.  I thought it was one of the better titles that I played, since the tactical level operations felt much more wide open than the usual massing of division-sized units (and the very high counter density that inevitably resulted).  I definitely appreciated its innovations and felt it was worthy of its celebrated status.

Panzerblitz came from Avalon Hill and it piqued my imagination. Avalon Hill had a mesmerising hold over me. Where was this friend who I had to do a favor?

I first saw their games at Hamleys, which is a famous toy store in London, so when I visited the shop I made for the Avalon Hill section. They were beyond my age 13 price range, but a few years later I managed to get a copy. The sleeved edition was special and all those tables, square counters and the wonderful maps – I was in gaming heaven. I played the game a lot with friends and of course it will never be sold.
   Alan How

I played both this and Panzer Leader (the Western front sister game released some years later) back in the late 70s, from recollection they were both good.  Other people’s copies as the vast majority of my war game collection was SPI.

Masterpiece (1970)
Masterpiece was a roll ‘n’ move auction game themed around great works of art.  The players acquired art and then sold them to their opponents.  Since the value of each piece was determined randomly, this was almost entirely a bluffing game.  Yet another product of the Marvin Glass game studio, this was extremely popular when it first appeared.  It wasn’t one of my favorites; someone on the Geek mentioned that they liked a similar game, Dealer’s Choice, (based on buying and selling used cars) much more, and that matched my experience as well.

Uno (1971)
I am from the school that it is pronounced “You Know”, there are other schools however.  Played this a bit over the years, and quite a bit when Daughter the Elder was younger.  From my recollection and brief study of rules from different years, the base game rules as published have gotten more friendly over the years, i.e. not so much chaining of the draw 2 or draw 4 cards in more modern rules than the older versions!

Sorry, Fraser, but it’s got to be pronounced “Ooh-no”, right?  I mean it was named after the Spanish and Italian word for “one” and that’s how it’s pronounced in those languages.

Schools of pronunciation aside, Uno is one of the most popular proprietary card games ever created and has sold over 150 million copies.  It’s essentially a souped-up version of Crazy Eights.  It was designed by a barber named Merle Robbins, who sold handmade versions from his barbershop.  Response was so positive that he and his wife went into debt to produce more copies and traveled the country selling them.  Eventually, Robbins sold the rights to a funeral parlor owner named Bob Tezak who took over the production and promotion of the game.  Tezak was wildly successful and the company he formed to produce the game, International Games, was sold to Mattel in 1992.

I got to see first hand how much people enjoyed Uno during the early 80’s.  At my first job, lunch time games were common and for a while, Uno was unquestionably the game of choice.  My co-workers squealed with delight or moaned in frustration, depending on how well they were doing.  To me, it was Crazy Eights with a somewhat higher luck factor, and therefore of hardly any interest at all, but I couldn’t deny the hold it had on my friends.  Despite its humble beginnings, this has obviously been a winning formula for 50 years and as far as I know, it’s still going strong.

Mastermind (1971)

Mastermind 1976 Edition

Mastermind is an abstract deduction game that was the best selling game of the decade (over 50 million copies have been sold).  It was designed by an Israeli gentleman named Mordecai Meirowitz, who is invariably described as a “postmaster and telecommunications expert”, which always struck me as a very unusual combination.  It bears a strong resemblance to a pencil and paper game called Bulls and Cows that may well be at least 100 years old.  The success of the published version was probably due to shrewd marketing, not the least of which was the striking cover of the game, which showed a refined older gentleman sitting next to a standing, and younger, beautiful Asian woman.  It was one of the iconic images of the 70’s and probably was responsible for at least half of the game’s sales.

The success of Mastermind means that there have been at least two best-selling games to come out of Israel, with the other one being Rummikub (created by a fellow named Ephraim Hertzano).

Despite being a big fan of deduction games, I was never really taken with Mastermind.  The different colored marbles are totally independent of each other, so it’s pretty much a straightforward deduction puzzle in which one of the two players doesn’t really play at all.  I was much more enthusiastic about a related game called Jotto, which uses words, rather than unrelated colors.  Because both the objective and the guessed combinations of letters must actually be words, Jotto has an extra element that makes it far more interesting to me than Mastermind.  In addition, it’s a race in which both players serve as guessers and responders at the same time.  I’ve played hundreds of games of it with my mom and for years, it was our favorite game to play together.  So not only is it a great game, but one with considerable meaning to me.

I remember playing countless games of this over one Christmas period. Everyone in our family wanted to play it and we got really competitive. When guests came round they were introduced to it and we should have been on commission! The introductory game gradually lead to more challenging versions, which were acquired of course, but the thrill of the deduction of those colours were just brilliant when it first arrived.
   Alan How

We have had a couple of different versions of this in the family over the years and generations and it has always been enjoyed and one that could be easily played with parents and children together.

There’s a comparison of that iconic cover image with a reshoot 30 years later – Cecilia Fung and Bill Woodward.

Sleuth (1971)

Final Cover Art

Part of Sid Sackson’s genius was his ability to create many different kinds of games.  Sleuth, one of the last of the 3M titles, is a pure deduction game and for many years was considered the most skillful and best designed example of that genre by deduction fans.  Even 50 years after its release, and with an explosion of other deduction titles in recent years, I daresay quite a few gamers still feel that way.

Mechanically, it’s in the Clue family:  there are 36 gem cards (each one a unique combination of three characteristics), one is removed prior to the game, and the rest distributed to the players.  The goal is to be the first to identify the missing gem.  There’s a deck of Search cards which allow different kinds of questions to be asked of opponents.  Each turn, a card is played to ask one opponent its question and the responses allow the players to identify the missing card through process of elimination.

Despite being a big fan of deduction games, I’ve only had the chance to play this once.  It was fun, but I didn’t feel it quite lived up to its exalted reputation.  I don’t really remember why it didn’t grab me more; maybe I felt too limited by the way the Search cards came out.  But I really need to play it some more, to give it a chance to show its greatness.

Othello (1971)
Othello is an abstract game that was patented in Japan in 1971 by a Japanese salesman named Goro Hasegawa.  With the exception of a couple of minor rules, it is identical to an earlier British game called Reversi, which dates back to the 1880’s.  The game’s name is a reference to the Shakespeare play, with the conflict between the black and white pieces paralleling the interactions in the play between Othello (who is black) and Desdemona (who is white).  (This inspiration may seem unfortunate by today’s standards, but it was considered innocent, and probably quite clever, in the seventies.)

Reversi/Othello uses pieces that are white on one side and black on the other.  When a player places pieces of their color on either side of a row or column of their opponent’s pieces, the opponent’s pieces are flipped to their color.  The object is to have the most pieces of your color when the game ends.

Othello was published commercially in Japan in 1973 and in the U.S. (by Gabriel Industries) in 1975.  It was an immediate success throughout the world and more than 40 million copies have been sold.  A world championship has been held since 1977.

I played my first game of Othello in the late 70’s.  It was interesting and I liked the fact that it had different objectives than Chess, but that its strategy wasn’t nearly as inscrutable as Go.  Still, I was never particularly good at it and it’s been many years since I played it.

I played this a lot in the 70s at school and with friends.  Played it a little with the kids as they grew up and also vs computer on iPad etc.  A good abstract.

Boggle (1972)
Boggle is one of the classic word games.  It uses 16 special letter cubes, which are shaken so that they are arranged in a 4×4 array, with a single letter showing on each.  The players have 3 minutes to find as many words in the arrangement as they can, by moving from one letter to another.  At the end of the time limit, the words are revealed and any words found on more than one players’ list are eliminated.  Everyone then scores for their unique words.  Longer words score more, of course.

The game was distributed by Parker Brothers, from a design by Allan Turoff.  It was a big hit and is still available in stores.  Soon after the original game’s debut, an expanded game called Big Boggle was released, with 25 letter cubes in a 5×5 array (and words had to be at least 4 letters long).  This was the preferred version for many of the game’s fans, but I don’t think it’s currently available.

Boggle (and Big Boggle) is one of my favorite word games.  I much prefer it to Scrabble.  The time limit means that the game races along, but there’s still plenty of scope for word knowledge and creativity.  There’s even some room for strategy:  do you try to jot down as many words as possible, including lots of shorter ones, or seek out the longer, higher scoring words, in the hopes that other players won’t find them?  Different strategies work better at different player counts.  This is still a great word game, 50 years after its release.

Quebec 1759 (1972)

Box Front - improved image

Quebec 1759 was the first block wargame.  Back in the 50’s and 60’s, just about all of the wargames used small cardboard counters to represent the military units.  But in block wargames, the units are depicted by chunky squares of wood, usually balanced on one of their sides.  There are two benefits to this.  Since the blocks usually only have their unit ID on one side, while the side facing the opponent is blank, it very effectively mirrors the fog of war; this is a more realistic simulation of the limited information actual commanders have during a battle than standard counter-and-hex wargames provide.  In addition, the blocks can be rotated to balance on each of their four sides, which provides a simple way of showing partial losses (often via a step-reduction combat system).  These advantages made these wargames quite popular and they continue to be released to this day.

The conflict being simulated was The Battle of Quebec, the pivotal battle during the French and Indian War.  Quebec 1759 was the first game released by Gamma Two Games, which was renamed Columbia Games ten years later, which is its current moniker.  The company’s co-founder (and one of the co-designers of Quebec 1759) is Tom Dalgliesh, who has been one of the most important creative forces in the wargaming hobby over the years.

Bobby Fischer/Boris Spassky Chess Championship Makes Headlines (1972)
If you weren’t alive during the famous Fischer/Spassky world championship chess match of 1972, it’s hard to appreciate the incredible impact of it.  Here was a game, a simple series of games, and it was receiving worldwide attention, international headlines, and extensive television coverage.  Suddenly, everyone was interested in chess and sales of chess sets boomed.  When Fischer emerged victorious over Spassky, he was praised as a conquering hero in the U.S. and was an international celebrity of the highest order.

Of course, much of this was based on circumstances far removed from chess as a game.  The Soviet Union had dominated competitive chess since the end of World War II.  The match between Fischer and Spassky, the reigning world champion, was widely viewed as a microcosm of the Cold War.  Fischer was a maddening, mercurial figure, capable of crass behavior.  He was also an unquestioned chess genius (earlier that year, he won 20 consecutive games against grandmaster opponents, an astonishing achievement considering that the majority of games at that level end in draws) and his battle as a lone figure against the entire Soviet chess machine was the stuff of high drama.  As his sister commented after his victory, “Bobby did all this in a country almost totally without a chess culture.  It was as if an Eskimo had cleared a tennis court in the snow and gone on to win the world championship.”

The championship match was a big part of my life during the summer of ’72.  I was 15 and played a reasonable amount of chess at the time (I was never particularly good at it), but it was the prospect of an American claiming the world championship from the Russians that excited me.  My brother and I were on our summer school break and both of us followed the matches closely on television.  Our local PBS station broadcast a play by play account and as each move was received, the pieces were shifted (by hand, of course) on a large felt board and then analyzed by a group of experts in the studio.  Sexy, it wasn’t, but we found it fascinating.  The match did nothing to improve my chess game, but it was a memorable couple of months during my formative years.

Hare & Tortoise (1973)

Hase und Igel - Front Cover - German SdJ

Hare & Tortoise will forever be remembered as the winner of the first SdJ award (with the game renamed to the German version of the fable, Hase und Igel).  It was created by David Parlett, the prolific games historian and writer, who has also designed his share of excellent games.  The game was first published in Britain, but Ravensburger produced a beautiful version in Germany five years after its initial release, and the rest, as they say, is history.

However, Hare & Tortoise is far from just a stodgy 50 year old title that happened to be in the right place to take the first SdJ.  I find the game just as interesting and refreshing today as when I first played it 20 years ago.  In fact, it’s one of the few race games I enjoy and one of my favorite games to play with 6 players.  The central mechanism is brilliant, both mechanically and thematically—you move along the track not by rolling a die, but by discarding carrot cards.  The more spaces you want to move, the higher the cost is per space.  Thus, slow and steady is the most efficient way to advance, but “big” plays can definitely be rewarded.  This kind of no-luck movement was pretty revolutionary stuff back in the early 70’s.

Carrot cards can be earned in several ways, but the most effective way is by moving backwards, another unique feature in a race game.  There are two other interesting rules that shape your strategy:  in order to finish, you must “eat” the three lettuce cards you begin with (by landing on certain spaces, which, needless to say, are very popular locations) and your final carrot total must be 10 or less.  To accomplish all of this, careful planning and sound tactics are required.

Hare & Tortoise is a game that can be enjoyed by families as well as by more seasoned gamers.  It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if in another 50 years, it still enjoys healthy sales.

I came across the game via the wonderful Games and Puzzles magazine, which gave it a “6” in their review.  (A D6 was used to show the review rating.)  When I visited their shop, Graeme Levin even sold the copy to me.  Which was another special moment.  And the game lived up to the rating.
   Alan How

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