Board Game Companies We Have Known – Waddingtons House of Games

The rise and fall of Waddingtons House of Games is an interesting story within the board games industry.  It all began in 1893, when John Waddington and Wilson Barratt founded Waddingtons Limited, a small publishing company.  The company originally focused on publications for the theater, however, over the years they expanded into many other avenues, and grew as a result.  The company name was changed to John Waddington Ltd in 1905, and its founder and namesake resigned his position in 1913.  (The company was then headed by Victor Hugo Watson, and the Watson family helmed it for the remainder of its existence.)  For years the Waddingtons chugged along with moderate success, but its fortunes changed in the aftermath of World War I, when it capitalized on the subsequent demand for playing cards.

Wills Capstan and Waddington Ltd Promo cards

Playing cards were quite the rage in Britain, and John Waddington Ltd. was a major player.  They entered into distribution agreements with other firms to cross-merchandise their product, including the Great Western Railway company, which they tapped to subsidize their scenic vistas of Britain card series dubbed, “Beautiful Britain” (which debuted in 1924). Even more successful was their agreement with W.D. & H.O. Wills, the British cigarette manufacturer (and one of the companies which founded Imperial Tobacco, but I digress…).  Waddington provided small playing cards which were inserted into 1/10 of Wills Gold Flake and Wills Capstan cigarette packages.  These cards enabled the bearer to receive another pack.  The scheme was very successful, and a huge profit center for Waddington Ltd.  So successful, in fact, that the company had to enlist the aid of their competitor, De La Rue, for additional inventory.

The first Waddington Ltd. U.K. Monopoly

The real moneymaker came in 1935, when Parker Brothers sent over a copy of Monopoly and asked if Waddington Ltd was interested in distributing the game in the U.K.   After a very brief playtest, representatives of Waddington Ltd. contacted those of Parker Brothers and quickly hammered out a licensing agreement which was extremely lucrative for the company’s coffers.  Recognizing a good thing when they saw it, the company purchased the rights to the game, Cluedo in 1947 from its inventor, Anthony E. Pratt.  They sold the American publication rights to Parker Brothers in 1949, again lining the corporate coffers.

Cluedo? by Waddington Ltd

It was clear to the company that board games made money, and they eventually changed the company’s name to Waddingtons House of Games.  Some of the games they published were Ratrace, 4000 A.D., Diplomacy, Game of Nations, Escape From Atlantis, Land Grab, and Lexicon, to name just a few.  But the House of Games didn’t just publish games – Waddingtons manufactured puzzles, stationary – even postage stamps.  Clearly business was booming.

Most Secret letter to Waddington Ltd from MI-9

An interesting anecdote that involves Nazis, Waddingtons, and prisoners of war (POW): in 1941, MI-9, the division of the British Secret Service responsible for POW-related intelligence, enlisted the aid of Waddington Ltd and its advanced manufacturing facilities.  MI-9 needed to send aid to British citizens in Nazi POW camps, and Waddington Ltd possessed the ability to print on silk, which enabled a plan to send escape maps hidden inside Monopoly games.  The company went even further than what MI-9 expected, managing to include a small compass hidden either inside the game board or within a game piece, and actual currency hidden within the stacks of play money.  It is not known how many POWs managed to escape the Nazis because of Waddington Ltd, but surely there must have been a few.

A Waddington Ltd. silk map sent to POWs

So what happened to this patriotic, well-respected game company?  The grandson of Victor Hugo Watson, and namesake, Victor Watson, retired in 1993.  The Watsons had saved the company in times of crisis, from general strikes to hostile takeovers, but it was the end of an age.  In 1994, Hasbro pulled out their giant corporate wallet and purchased the games division of Waddingtons for $78 million, as they had done to Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers before them, and the House of Games was no more.

Waddingtons commercial for Key to the Kingdom (Cheese Alert!)


May Free Board Game Rules Database Update

The free download board games rules database at has grown again.  That’s right, there’s no charge for downloading these game instructions, which now includes hard to find rules for The Game of Life (1977), Key to the KingdomThe Bigfoot Game, Clue Master Detective, and Road Hog (1975).

Just click on the image below to browse the selection available!

FREE Board Game Rules

Catalog Cavalcade: Tandy 1982 TRS-80 Program Catalog

Have you ever found an old sales catalog from a year long since departed that filled you with nostalgia for the way things used to be?  Me, too!  This week’s Catalog Cavalcade features a Tandy (Radio Shack) TRS-80 software catalog from 1982.  Marvel at the artwork and the breadth of the the software lineup that Tandy offered for their signature computer system!

Click on the Image to View the Catalog

Catalog Cavalcade: C64/C128 Products from 1986-87

Have you ever found an old sales catalog from a year long since departed that filled you with nostalgia for the way things used to be?  Me, too!  And in that vein, a new series debuts here at Recycled Thoughts: Catalog Cavalcade, with .pdf versions of product catalogs for retrogaming goodies that have long since receded into the dim mists of yesterday.  Up first, a Triton Products Company catalog filled with games and gear for the Commodore 64.  Revel in the memories of classic C64 games with this 1986-87 offering!

Click on the cover to browse this catalog.

Rare Retrogaming Manuals: Super Expander (VIC 1211)

The older the tech is the less likely the owner’s manual was kept for it, and even less likely that one could be found.  One such piece of retro tech would be the Super Expander for the Commodore VIC-20 computer, a complex little 3K RAM memory expansion cartridge that is often found bereft of instructions for maximizing its potential.  Fear not!  Just click on the image of the cover, and download the manual (in .pdf format) for yourself…free of charge, of course!

Click on this image for the VIC-1211 Super Expander instruction manual.

Game of the Week – Zork: Grand Inquisitor

In 1996, Activision released Zork: Nemesis, a visually-stunning game, but with an overtly dark theme and a serious – even intense – game atmosphere, very unlike any other game in the Zork series.  (So dark, in fact, that the Infocom label was not included on the box!)  Nemesis was a great game, but something had to be done to bring back the humor and irreverence of all things Zork.  And so, a year later, in 1997, Activision released a new game in the Zork / Enchanter series, set 580 years before Return to Zork, and with an eye to bringing the series back to its roots – Zork: Grand Inquisitor.

Box front of Zork: Grand Inquisitor

The story behind Zork: Grand Inquisitor was fairly basic: magic has been banned by the merciless Inquisition, and the Dungeon Master has been trapped within a trusty adventurer’s lantern.  The player is called upon by the Dungeon Master – “I shall call you ageless, faceless, gender-neutral, culturally ambiguous, adventurer person. AFGNCAAP for short. ” – to restore the magic outlawed by the Inquisition in Quendor.  To do so, AFGNCAAP must locate the lost Zorkian magical treasures of the Coconut of Quendor, the Skull of Yoruk, and one of the Cubes of Foundation, with which a torrent of magic will be released, defeating the plans of the Grand Inquisitor and his minions.  Sounds easy, right?

You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door.

The technology used by Zork: Grand Inquisitor was a modified version of the Z-Vision game engine first used in Zork: Nemesis.  A full lateral sweep of 360 degrees was available to the player, but not any vertical movement (with a couple of exceptions based on unique scenes at GUE Tech and at the Flathead Mesa).  Human characters were portrayed by actors in full motion video, while non-human characters, such as Marvin the Goatfish, were clay models which were then digitized and animated.  Zork: Grand Inquisitor used lighting effects to draw the eye of the player to explorable areas, permitting the player to spend more time engrossed in puzzle-solving rather than the standard mouse click-fest and hunt-and-click routines of many adventure games.

The Voice of the Inquisition

The voice acting was superb, with Hollywood-class talent giving life to the various characters, which included Michael McKean (as the lantern-trapped Dungeon Master, Dalboz of Gurth) and David L. Lander (whom many will recall played Squiggy in Laverne & Shirley, as the font of ridiculous proclamations, the Voice of the Inquisition).  Some of the actors involved who had both visual and audio parts included Dirk Benedict as Antharia Jack, Rip Taylor as Chief Undersecretary Wartle, and Erick Avari, as Mir Yannick, the pompous, over-his-head but desperately attempting to fake it, Grand Inquisitor.  The effect was to improve the gameplay, especially during cutscenes, which can be excruciating when players are forced to watch the programmer’s second cousin who once acted in a school play gamely work their way through a script. *shudder*

Mir Yannick in Zork: Grand Inquisitor

Zork: Grand Inquisitor received good reviews (PC Gamer Magazine gave it an Editor’s Choice award and scored it at 88% in its May, 1988 issue, while GameSpot scored it as a 8.0 “Great”).  The biggest fault that reviewers agreed upon was that it seemed too short, and a longer visit in this archetypical gamer universe was wished for.  Now that’s a complaint any developer would like to hear!  It was released for both Windows and Macintosh platforms, and played the same on either one.  Also, a DVD version was released in 1998, which also included the full version of Zork: Nemesis as an added bonus.

"I love it when a plan comes together."

Never forget who is the boss of you. ME!  I am the boss of you!”  Combining the visual appeal of Zork: Nemesis with the humor of the original series, Zork: Grand Inquisitor was a laudable addition to the Zork milieu, and certainly a worthy entry into this Game of the Week series.  Bluntly put, this game is well-worth a playthrough, especially if you are a fan of the Zork series!

Retrogaming Game Maps: Lord of Darkness for SNES

Another fine game from KOEI Corporation set in the civil war of 16th Century Japan was Lord of Darkness for the Super Nintendo, part of the Nobunaga’s Ambition series.  The game map is titled Warring States of Japan (1467-1600) and contains valuable information for the SNES warrior seeking to defeat Lord Nobunaga.  So, without further ado, here is the map!

Game map for Lord of Darkness SNES game.