• magisterrex Retro Games

    I've been gaming since the days of Pong and still own a working Atari 2600. I tend to ramble on about retro games, whether they be board games, video games or PC games. Sometimes I digress. Decades after earning it, I'm finally putting the skills I learned while completing my history degree from the University of Victoria to good use. Or so I think. If you're into classic old school gaming, this blog is for you!

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The Best Classic Board Games: The Game of Life

Spin the wheel of fate and see where you’ll land on the great track of life.  Sound advice or how you play Milton Bradley’s classic, The Game of Life?  How about both!

The Game of Life presented players with an opportunity to simulate their lives from high school graduation to retirement, including higher education, careers, getting married, having children, and all the rewards and challenges along the way.  Players choose a little convertible token, and a little peg (blue for boys, pink for girls), and spin the Wheel of Fate to determine how many spaces to move on the game board.  Although their progress is linear, opportunities exist for players to take offshoot tracks on the game board, which sometimes pay off with larger rewards, such as a higher annual salary or offer a larger risk/reward ratio.

The Checkered Game of Life, circa 1860.

There have been several versions of The Game of Life published over the years, but they all have their origins in The Checkered Game of Life, which was created by Milton Bradley himself, and put to market way back in 1860.  Mr. Bradley wasn’t a game seller; he sold lithographs of Abraham Lincoln for a living.  But catastrophe struck when Honest Abe shaved his then-famous beard, making Mr. Bradley’s lithographs obsolete.  Suddenly his steady flow of income was gone.  Casting about for something to sell, Milton Bradley took a gamble and made a few copies of a game he designed – The Checkered Game of Life.  His gamble paid off as those copies sold, and so did the next run, and the run after that.  In fact, Mr. Bradley moved 45,000 units of the game that year, which was the genesis of the Milton Bradley Game Company.

Art Linkletter (left) and Reuben Klamer (2nd from right)

One hundred years later, the company that The Checkered Game of Life built was searching for a way to celebrate its centennial anniversary.  Enter Reubae Klamer, a toy inventor who had some success working with Art Linkletter (a popular television personality of the day) inventing and selling toys such as the “Spin-a-Hoop,” a competitor for the Hula-Hoop.  (Mr Klamer was an amazing toy maker, responsible for an incredible array of toys, such as Moon Rocks, erector construction sets, and snap-together hobby kits, among many others.  But I digress.)  Mr. Klamer seized the opportunity presented to him by Milton Bradley’s board of directors, reached back in time to Milton Bradley’s first game, and developed a game using its concepts.  Art Linkletter was convinced to provide a celebrity endorsement, and his smiling face adorned the corner of the 1960 version of The Game of Life.  The game featured high quality game parts, and had a high replay value as it played differently each time it was played.  The Game of Life was a smash hit, and would go on to sell an amazing 50 million copies since its 1960 release!

The Game of Life 1960 version

There have been a few changes to The Game of Life over the years.  The 1970s version changed the box art, and increased the dollar values of the game board squares to compensate for inflationary pressures since the 1960 version was released.  The Stock, Fire, Auto, and Life insurance certificates were reduced from 4” x 4¾” (approx. 12cm x 10cm) to the same physical size as the play money, and their backgrounds were changed from the almost hypnotic grid pattern to basic brown for the 1970s version.

The Game of Life, 1977 version

The 1980s version changed the certificates once again, adding colors to help distinguish one from the other.  The gas-guzzling convertibles were replaced with minivan tokens, and the game board spaces were recolored from black to orange for standard spaces.  The game mechanic stayed pretty much the same, however.

With the 1990s came more changes to The Game of Life, including a reworking of the game board; the game paths were altered, “penalty” spaces were changed to “reward” spaces (to be more life-affirming and politically correct), and the colors were modified.  The game mechanic was seriously affected by the removal of the Share the Wealth cards and the addition of Life Tiles, which added secret milestones that, if achieved, could be cashed in at the end of the game for big money.  The certificates were trimmed to Automobile and Homeowner’s insurance (Life and Fire insurance were removed), and the money-making power of the Stock certificates was drastically reduced, and were now part of the Life decks of cards, which also included Careers, Salary, and House Deeds.  Reaching one of the red game board spaces accessed these cards: Job Search, Get Married, and Buy a House, while the Stock cards could be purchased at the beginning of the turn.  All in all, it was a serious reworking of the how the game played.

The 1991 version of The Game of Life

More recent editions have attempted to make The Game of Life a more accurate simulation.  The 2005 edition changed the game path so that players heading down the college path gain a $100,000 debt load, the values of the Life Tiles were reduced to make the game more playable, and a new space permitting players to sell their house was added.  Two years later, a version of released that attempted to bridge the gap between the original 1960 game and the later versions, returning the Share the Wealth cards, the insurance policies, and the Lucky Spin option (removed in the 1990s).  The amount of professions available were increased from 9 to 12, with exactly half requiring a degree to attain and half not.

The Game of Life, 2002 edition

Having played the various versions of The Game of Life, I find the best version is truly the original 1960 Art Linkletter edition, followed closely by the 1970s edition.  There’s something refreshing playing a game that hasn’t been inundated with the level of political correctness and “life-affirming” philosophies that the later versions exhibited.  They all have their value, of course, but when given the choice, Reuban Kramer’s creation is the best!

15 Responses

  1. […] The Game of Life 1960 version, courtesy magisterrex […]

  2. What about the electronic The Game Of Life

  3. […] between the various versions throughout the years can be found in a previous blog entry, titled,  The Best Classic Board Games – The Game of Life. What’s In That Game Box? deals specifically with the game’s contents, which […]

  4. […] between the various versions throughout the years can be found in a previous blog entry, titled,  The Best Classic Board Games – The Game of Life. What’s In That Game Box? deals specifically with the game’s contents, which […]

  5. Cool article. By the way, “Reuben Klamer” is the correct spelling of the Spin-A-Hoop and Game Of Life creator

    • Much obliged for the spelling mistake catch.

      • My pleasure man! Thanks for putting up this great blog! Actually my Dad is Reuben Klamer and I came across your site while doing some work for him. He’s working on a book on his life right now! 🙂

      • I love the Internets! I’d be very interested in reviewing your Dad’s book when he’s done. As you may have surmised from my subject material, I’m keenly interested in the history of gaming.

      • Yes! I will bookmark you site and I’d be happy to let you know as it moves along. My Dad has also done a lot of other games and toys over the years and he’s compiling all that information now! We’ll be in touch!
        If you’d like to remain in touch come join me on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/thebluroom


      • Great post and history is right on. Also, Reuben Klamer is on the far right of the picture, not 2nd to the right.

  6. Got a questinon for you again (I’ve posted on your Payday article). I’m looking to nab an old LIFE as well. I had the ’85 version I think, though it may have been the 77, since the board didn’t change. (I remember the little illustrated married people at the church, and two illustrated horses amongst other random children and images drawn around the board.) I’m trying to deice whether to get the one I remember (1977/1985) or the 1960 Art Linkletter one that you said is the best. Given, you said the 1977 is a close second, but I’m now not sure which one to get. Could you tell me the difference or the why the 1960 is better than the 1977/1985?

    You rock, by the way. I had been searching and searching to get my games questions answered out there to no avail. Seriously, thank goodness for you and this site!

    ps: one other question: Any idea when they started making “international versions” I’m American living in the UK, and I”m not sure what I can buy here on ebay, and what I should buy from the US and have shipped.

    Sorry for all the questions!

    • The 1960 version is not politically correct, and has the best quality game pieces and parts. The 1977 version (with no people on the cover) is similar, but slightly inferior part quality. Any of the later versions that have pictures of a family playing the game on the cover change the rules by adding LIFE tiles.

      magisterrex.com ships board games all over the world, including the UK. The biggest issue is the postage costs; board games can be expensive to ship between countries simply due to their size and weight (The Game of Life 1960 version has a very large box). http://www.magisterrex.com

  7. […] (via uRdead2me) Posted on June 3, 2010 by magisterrex A bit of an update, as it were, to my The Best Classic Board Games – The Game of Life blog post. EXPIRED: 05/26/10 – Art Linkletter, 97, was abandoned as an infant in the small […]

  8. […] (via uRdead2me) Posted on June 3, 2010 by magisterrex A bit of an update, as it were, to my The Best Classic Board Games – The Game of Life blog post. EXPIRED: 05/26/10 – Art Linkletter, 97, was abandoned as an infant in the small […]

  9. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Cliff Aliperti, Social Net Nanny. Social Net Nanny said: RT @magisterrex Recycled Thoughts From a Retro Gamer: Best Classic Board Games – The Game of Life http://bit.ly/dfjPIC http://bit.ly/b9L9mw […]

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