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.
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.
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!
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 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.
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.
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!