• 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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What’s In That Game Box? – Stratego (1972)

Ever scoured the Internet looking for what exactly you were missing from the old board game you pulled from your closet, only to find no one who could give you the answer?  Well, stop that fruitless searching through endless google results, as this week we look at the still-popular Milton Bradley classic, Stratego, the 1972 “fascinating two-handed strategy game.”

Box art for the 1972 Stratego game.

The contents of Stratego are as follows:

The game box (with a large picture of a uniformed older gentleman, perhaps a Field Marshall, about to make a move on the Stratego game board).

The game board (featuring a map of the geography in which the battle will take place in the center, bordered on either side with 12 squares showing the piece values.)

Two plastic trays to fit the game pieces in

Two sets of 40 army pieces, one in blue and one in red, consisting of:

Bomb [x6]
Captain (Labeled: 5) [x4]
Colonel (Labeled: 3) [x2]
Flag [x1]
General (Labeled: 2) [x1]
Lieutenant (Labeled: 6) [x4]
Major (Labeled: 4) [x3]
Marshall (Labeled: 1) [x1]
Miner (Labeled: 8 ) [x5]
Scout (Labeled: 9) [x8]
Sergeant (Labeled: 7) [x4]
Spy (Labeled: S) [x1]

The Rules sheet.

Aside from the inner cardboard filler to help hold all the pieces in an orderly fashion, that’s it.  Stratego remains a popular game, and this version brings back many memories for those who played it.  For those who haven’t played the game against a friend, what are you waiting for?

Box contents of the 1972 Stratego game.

Red and Blue armies for the 1972 Stratego game.

What’s In That Game Box? – Globetrotters (Irwin Toy, 1984)

Ever scoured the Internet looking for what exactly you were missing from the old board game you pulled from your closet, only to find no one who could give you the answer?  Well, stop that fruitless searching through endless google results, as this week we look at a forgotten 1984 Irwin Toy classic, Globetrotters: The Game of Travel and Adventure.

Box art for Globetrotters: The Game of Travel and Adventure

The contents of Globetrotters are as follows:

The game box (with the Globetrotters logo superimposed on an image of a blue “satellite-style” world map, all on a black background).

The a large fold-out game board (94cm x 56cm) showing a map of the world.

Six plastic player tokens (black, blue, green, red, white, and yellow).

A set of 90 Memory Markers (15 each of black, blue, green, red, white, and yellow small round plastic tokens).

A set of Traveler’s Cheques (play money) in a classic MasterCard design, which features an image of Thomas Cook.  Each is in a $100 denomination, and appear very realistic, albeit tiny (approx. 10.5cm x 5cm).

Two six-sided dice.

A special black-colored 12-sided die.  The die shows numbers from 1 to 10, plus an X enclosed in circle, and an image of an airplane.

A set of 16 Keys, in two colors (purple and red).  The keys are labeled with the following destinations:

AFRICA (Red)
ASIA (Red)
CAIRO (Purple)
EUROPE (Red)
HONG KONG (Purple)
LONDON (Purple)
LOS ANGELES (Purple)
N. AMERICA (Red)
NEW YORK (Purple)
OCEANIA (Red)
PARIS (Purple)
RIO (Purple)
S. AMERICA (Red)
SYDNEY (Purple)
TOKYO (Purple)
TORONTO (Purple)

A set of 70 Airline Tickets, each with two destinations, and consisting of:

ABIDJAN, IVORY COAST; COLOMBO, SRI LANKA
ACAPULCO, MEXICO; ROME, ITALY
ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA; ATHENS, GREECE
ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA; VANCOUVER, CANADA
ANTANANARIVO, MADAGASCAR; GREENLAND, NORTH ATLANTIC
ANTARCTIC PENINSULA, ANTARCTICA; PORT MORESBY, PAPUA NEW GUINEA
BAGHDAD, IRAQ; HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM
BANKGKOK, THAILAND; NEW ORLEANS, U.S.A.
BELGRADE, YUGOSLAVIA; KALGOORLIE, AUSTRALIA
BERLIN, GERMANY; BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA
BOGOTA, COLUMBIA; MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA
BOSTON, U.S.A.; BARCELONA, SPAIN
BRASILIA, BRAZIL; BUDAPEST, HUNGARY
BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA; BOMBAY, INDIA
CAIRO, EGYPT; TAHITI, SOUTH PACIFIC
CALGARY, CANADA; JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA
CANTON, CHINA; NEW YORK, U.S.A.
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA; SAN FRANCISCO, U.S.A.
CASABLANCA, MOROCCO; KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA
CHICAGO, U.S.A.; ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT
DARWIN, AUSTRALIA; NORTHWEST TERRITORIES, CANADA
DENVER, U.S.A.; BRUSSELS, BELGIUM
FIJI, SOUTH PACIFIC; RIO de JANEIRO, BRAZIL
GLASGOW, U.K.; LENINGRAD, U.S.S.R.
GUADALAJARA, MEXICO; ATLANTA, U.S.A.
HANOI, VIETNAM; JERUSALEM, ISRAEL
HAVANA, CUBA; WARSAW, POLAND
HELSINKI, FINLAND; LISBON, PORTUGUAL
HOBART, AUSTRALIA; HAWAII, NORTH PACIFIC
ISTANBUL, TURKEY; AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND
JAKARTA, INDONESIA; KINSHASA, ZAIRE
KATMANDU, NEPAL; LAGOS, NIGERIA
KIEV, U.S.S.R.; GUATEMALA CITY, GUATEMALA
LA PAZ, BOLIVIA; DALLAS, U.S.A.
LONDON, U.K.; PHILADELPHIA, U.S.A.
LOS ANGELES, U.S.A.; CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA
MADRID, SPAIN; KARACHI, PAKISTAN
MAJORCA, MEDITERRANEAN SEA; TOKYO, JAPAN
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO; ALGIERS, ALGERIA
MIAMI, U.S.A.; MONTEVIDEO, URUGUAY
MONTE CARLO, MEDITERRANEAN SEA; SEYCHELLES, INDIAN OCEAN
MONTREAL, CANADA; COPENHAGEN, DENMARK
MOSCOW, U.S.S.R.; MADRAS, INDIA
MUNICH, W.GERMANY; MANILA, PHILIPPINES
NAIROBI, KENYA; ST.LOUIS, U.S.A.
OSAKA, JAPAN; SAO PAULO, BRAZIL
OSLO, NORWAY; TAIPEI, TAIWAN
PARIS, FRANCE; LAS VEGAS, U.S.A.
PEKING, CHINA; DAR-ES-SALAAM, TANZANIA
PERTH, AUSTRALIA; CALCUTTA, INDIA
PRAGUE, CZECHOSLOVAKIA; QUITO, ECUADOR
RANGOON, BURMA; CARACAS, VENEZUELA
RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA; QUEEN MAUD LAND, ANTARCTICA
SAN DIEGO, U.S.A.; YOKOHAMA, JAPAN
SAN JOSE, COSTA RICA; MINNEAPOLIS, U.S.A.
SEATTLE, U.S.A.; AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS
SEOUL, S.KOREA; DAMASCUS, SYRIA
SIBERIA, U.S.S.R.; SANTIAGO, CHILE
SINGAPORE, OCEANIA; FLORENCE, ITALY
STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN; TUNIS, TUNISIA
SUN CITY, SOUTH AFRICA; SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA
TEHERAN, IRAN; DUBLIN, IRELAND
TORONTO, CANADA; MACAO, SOUTH CHINA SEA
TRIPOLI, LIBYA; LIMA, PERU
VIENNA, AUSTRIA; DELHI, INDIA
WASHINGTON, U.S.A.; SHANGHAI, CHINA
WEST INDIES, CARIBBEAN SEA; MAR del PLATA, ARGENTINA
WILKES LAND, ANTARCTICA; REYKJAVIK, ICELAND
WINNIPEG, CANADA; KHARTOUM, SUDAN
ZURICH, SWITZERLAND; HONG KONG, SOUTH CHINA SEA

A set of 30 ADVENTURE Americas and Africa Cards.

A set of 30 ADVENTURE Eurasia and Oceania Cards.

A DEMONSTRATION GAME pamphlet outlining gameplay of a typical Globetrotters game.

The OFFICIAL RULES pamphlet.

Aside from the inner black plastic tray which holds all the pieces in an orderly fashion, that’s it.  This hard to find game has a lot of charm, even though some of the destinations it features are in countries that no longer exist (such as the U.S.S.R. and Czechoslovakia).  Regardless, it can be a lot of fun to play, with the added advantage of teaching some basic world geography!

Box contents for 1984 Irwin Toy game, Globetrotters

Samples of game cards from the Irwin Toy game, Globetrotters

Tokens, dice, markers, and Keys from the Irwin Toy game, Globetrotters

The Best Classic Board Games: Poleconomy

Some games are enjoyable for their fluffiness, an evening taken up by gaming that requires little more than good luck and a willingness to enjoy some gaming time with family and/or friends around the dinner table.  Other games require deep focus and a commitment to strategy akin to the competitive chess matches.  Still others require losing yourself into a role, from the fantastical to the mundane.  Poleconomy is a game that incorporates elements of all three.

United Kingdom version of Poleconomy

The first Poleconomy was published in Australia in 1980, and was subtitled, “The Game of Australia.”  (Actually, the inventor, Bruce Hatherley, was a New Zealander, but I digress…)  Since then, it has been modified and published in several member states of the Commonwealth, including New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.  Each time the subtitle changes to match its originating country. For example, the Canadian version is titled, “Poleconomy: The Game of Canada“, the U.K. version is titled, “Poleconomy: The Game of the United Kingdom”, and so on.

Poleconomy: The Game of Canada

To understand Poleconomy’s success, some historical background is needed.  The early 1980s was a period in which many countries’ economies were mired in economic stagnation.  The United States saw a massive increase in bank failures: 42 banks failed in 1982, another 49 in 1983, and even the nation’s 7th largest bank, Continental Illinois Bank and Trust Company, had to have Congress rescue it with a $4.5 BILLION bailout package.  Meanwhile, the infamous Savings & Loan Crisis erupted, with 118 S&Qs – together holding $43 billion in assets – closed their doors between 1980 and 1983.  Obviously, times were tough and money was tight.  Yet Poleconomy sold well enough to warrant introducing into multiple countries.  What happened?

Chart of US bank failures 1934-2009

Poleconomy was a capitalist’s dream, with a game board layout comprised of several companies and advertising properties that were not chosen randomly for inclusion; for each nation’s version of Poleconomy, individual squares were sold to interested companies and then their logos were printed upon them.  For instance, the New Zealand version includes New Zealand Forest Products, IBM, Hallmark, and Pizza Hut; the British version includes British Airways, British Steel, and Barclay Card; and the Canadian version includes Kraft Foods, Molson, Bombardier, and the Edmonton Oilers.  Companies saw this as an inexpensive way of advertising, or at the very least, keeping a positive image of their brands in the public eye.

Who won the Stanley Cup in 1984? Oh, that's right...

So if a variety of companies purchased spaces on the game board, who sold them?  Those stockbrokers with time on their hands caused by the banking and S&L crises, of course!  For example, the Fraser Institute, a right-of-center think tank in Canada, employed stockbrokers to sell advertising space on 30 of the 45 squares on the game board of the Canadian version (the other 15 were sold by Michael Walker, its founder).  In fact, the profits from the sales of those game board squares were credited with being sufficient to keep the Fraser Institute operational throughout those dark times (over a million dollars, according to their retrospective pamphlet, covering their existence from 1974-1999).

Poleconomy kept the Fraser Institute afloat with this.

Poleconomy’s game play is much like other property management games, such as Finance or Monopoly, in that players have the option to purchase assets as they travel around the game board.  Property value is determined by the inflation rate, which fluctuates, and the properties themselves can be subject to a hostile takeover.  Players improve their cash flow by taking a salary, income from players landing on property spaces they control, profit from investments in insurance, and revenue generated from being the beneficiaries of advertising (not as a direct income, but, true to real life, as a recipient of channeling other players to their properties using an advertising space.)

Contents of for Poleconomy: The Game of Canada

An interesting twist to the standard property-acquisition-and-exchange model is that players can also become the Prime Minister by winning an election, thereby gaining some control of the inflation rate and taxation levels.  Like the real Prime Minister, they cannot peg the exact inflation level, but can opt the direction the rate will move (up or down).  As for the election, all players take a turn tossing both dice, and the highest roll wins the election.  There have been a few elections recently that seem to have been run the same way, but I digress.  An additional gameplay option is for each player to form a political party, and then seek to form the government, with the goal of becoming Prime Minister.  The Prime Minister has much more power in this option, as they can also dictate taxation policy, appoint Cabinet Ministers and adjust their salaries, and can issue Treasury Bonds at need.  (Should the Treasury itself run out of money, the country is declared “bankrupt” and the game is over – nobody wins!)  In addition to the standard elections caused by landing on the appropriate square on the gameboard, the PM also has to watch out for non-confidence votes, which bring down the government and result in an unexpected and unwanted election.

Box contents for the UK version of Poleconomy

All in all, Poleconomy was and is a great poli-economic simulation board game, and well worth investing some time in learning the rules and playing out a few scenarios.  Warning, it is not a game for those who find depth in the standard TV movie of the week fare, as it requires a bit more intellectual commitment than a regular “let the dice fall where they may” board game.  But given the chance, Poleconomy can impress, and remains as good a political and economic simulation today as it was back in the fret-filled 80s from whence it was born.  Recommended!

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!)

The Best Classic Board Games – Aggravation

Sometimes a game achieves a level of popularity based on its elegantly simplistic design rather than the inclusion of a vast array of game elements and a complicated game mechanic.  There is a potent allure to simplicity and the ability to play a game without devouring a novella-sized rule book prior to sitting the family around the table for some quality family gaming time.  Such a game is the board game which has seen multiple publishers and variants, Aggravation.

Aggravation Deluxe Party Edition by Lakeside

Aggravation is a fairly simple game 2 to 6 players to play. Each player is given four marbles (there are six sets of different colored marbles, each player chooses one set all of the same color), and attempts to bring all their marbles around the game path from their base to the finish.  There are shortcuts on the path which can sometimes improve marble position, and with a lucky roll of the die, players can also “aggravate” each other when one marble lands on another, sending the original back to its home base.   If you think this sounds suspiciously like akin to Sorry!, you’d be right.  However, both games owe their creation to the ancient game of Pachisi, a game from India that can be traced back to as far as 4 A.D.  Fascinating Footnote: Pachisi was possibly developed to entertain the ladies of the harem, in between visits of the King. Or to put it in a less politically correct way:  scantily clad hotties slinging dice awaiting the whims of their husband.  But I digress…

The King's harem playing Pachisi

A number of companies have published Aggravation variants over the years since its original release.  In the 1960s, the CO-5 Company, which not only published the original version, also published the Deluxe Party Edition.  The 1970s saw Aggravation published by Lakeside Industries (a division of Leisure Dynamics), including Deluxe, Original, and Split-Level versions. The 1980s saw three companies publish Aggravation: Lakeside Industries (Travel Aggravation in 1980 and Super Aggravation in 1984), Selchow & Righter (The Original Deluxe Aggravation in 1987, published in Canada by Irwin Toy), and Milton Bradley (Aggravation in 1989).  Milton Bradley was the lone Aggravation publisher in the 1990s, with a release of the game in 1999, and the new century has seen Parker Brothers (now a division of Hasbro, Inc.) release an Aggravation game in 2002.  Clearly there has been a stable market for this family-friendly board game, and no doubt a new release will come this decade to add to the stable of Aggravation games.

The Original Aggravation by Irwin Toy

The game board for Aggravation has changed over the years.  Up to this century, Aggravation used a symmetrical game path for all players, with all players spaces being of equal size and spacing.  Hasbro, however, has recently altered this game board standard.  Recent Aggravation games have used asymmetrical game boards, with equal marble spaces and uneven distances (which do not affect game play).  Perhaps the Hasbro designers reached into the distant past of Central America for a game so akin to Pachisi that it was used as evidence of ancient travel between the continents: Patolli.  Or perhaps not.

Aggravation by Milton Bradley

Will the game remain the same in its next incarnation or will Hasbro (or perhaps yet another game company) find another variation for Aggravation to explore?  The Magic 8-Ball says, “Reply hazy, try again.”  Whatever the future holds for Aggravation, its continuing popularity confirms its place on the Best Classic Board Games list.  If you’re looking for a family-friendly game that is quick to learn and can be played in less than an hour, Aggravation is for you!

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