• 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 – Personal Preference (1987)

There are games that rely on the roll of the dice and the luck of the draw as they are about strategy, moving tokens around a game board, drawing cards, paying money, and trying to have the most loot.  Then there are games that rely on your knowledge of people and events, which tend to be known as “party” games, perhaps because there are less little game components to lose during a drunken gaming bacchanal.  Of party games, there are two broad categories: those that test your knowledge of trivia, and can be played by any group, whether they are acquainted or not, and those that focus on players answering questions that deal with how well you know your fellow gamers, which means they are best played among friends.  Personal Preference, a classic game first published in 1987, is one of the latter.

Personal Preference Box

Game play in Personal Preference is relatively simple: during their turn players draw four cards from the category box corresponding with the game board space that their token is on.  Each card has a single item, either from the “FOOD & DRINK”, “ACTIVITIES”, “PEOPLE”, or “POTPOURRI” categories, and are placed on the game board for the other players to see.  (For example, drawing four cards from the “FOOD & DRINK” category box might net the player the following: “Beef jerky”, “Chocolate chip cookies”, “Garlic”, and “Pumpkin pie”.)  The player then ranks those cards in order of most to least favorite, using the four color-coded Preference Cards, placing the Preference Cards into a secret envelope hidden from the other players’ view.

At that point the other players attempt to guess the secret order of the Preference Cards, placing their special Preference Tokens on the game board in order of what they think the secret ranking is.  Once all players (or teams!) have committed to their preference guesses, the secret order is revealed.   Correct guesses move the corresponding player’s token further along the game board, while incorrect answers can move their tokens backwards.  The winning player or team is the one that manages to guess correctly enough times to move their token all the way to the FINISH square.

Personal Preference was originally published in 1987 by Broderbund (yes, the software company) in the United States, and Playtoy Industries in Canada, but was actually designed by Donal Carlston, Ph.D.  Dr. Carlston is currently a professor in the Psychological Sciences department at Purdue University, and his university bio explains much of the origin of Personal Preference:

“Primary research interests are in person perception, impression formation and social cognition. The current focus of this work is on the origin, organization and use of different kinds of mental representations of people and events.”

I connected with Dr. Carlston back in 2010, and he graciously consented to an email interview, but his schedule never permitted him the time to respond to my questions, which were fairly innocuous:

1. A 1988 review of your game stated that it was designed to further familial social bonds. Would this be an accurate statement, and what was your original purpose in designing the game? Was this game an example of your research or was it an academic aside? How did the idea for the game come about?,,

2. Do you have any favorite anecdotes of your time as a game designer that you could share?,,

3. You are also credited for being a designer for the board game, Lode Runner, based on the classic computer game. Did you design other games, and have you considered returning to the industry? Do you have any advice for those that may wish to pursue a career as a game designer?

However, it’s been four years since the attempt was made; even I am willing to give up on receiving an answer after this much time has passed! This blog entry has been waiting in the queue all this time…it’s time to let it free!

Personal Preference Contents

The Best Classic Board Games – Dark Tower (1982)

Some games, such as Monopoly, achieve an honoured place in popular culture, becoming easily recognizable brands to even the least gaming-minded segments of the vulgus populi.  Others are famous only within the gaming community, either as treasured memories of gaming days gone by or as coveted collector’s gems, either already collected or on the wish list of games designated to be one day added to the collection.  Such a game was Milton Bradley’s Dark Tower.

Box art for Milton Bradley's Dark Tower

Dark Tower was released in 1982, two years before Milton Bradley was purchased by Hasbro for $360 million.  The company took an aggressive advertising stance, hiring Orson Welles to star in the commercial designed to hawk the game on Saturday morning TV shows.  The commercial was a masterpiece, with Welles’ commanding voice intoning not only how the game was played but how he was “victorious.”  Electronic games were still fairly novel, and therefore somewhat expensive, but between the commercial and the sheer “cool” factor of the game, it looked like Dark Tower was set to become yet another Milton Bradley classic.  Too bad for them that they didn’t own the concept.

The Electronic Dark Tower game piece

Dark Tower was registered as a trademark on January 12, 1981 by Paul N. Vanasse (who incidentally is now the Director of Global IP and Enforcement for Hasbro).  Here’s where the story of Dark Tower gets interesting.  In February (or March, some claim) of 1980, two game inventors, Alan Coleman and Roger Burten, approached Milton Bradley with a board game concept they called Triumph, but Milton Bradley ultimately rejected their submission.  A year later the pair saw Dark Tower being demonstrated at a toy fair in New York, and concluded that Milton Bradley had stolen their game concept, and pursued legal action, suing Milton Bradley for  fraud, breach of contract and two counts of trade secret misappropriation.  During the proceedings in District Court, the fraud charge was withdrawn, and the jury found for Coleman and Burten, rewarding the two inventors the sum of $737,058.10 (based on the Dark Tower‘s royalties).

Closeup of the Dark Tower keypad

In what must have felt like Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown, the lawyers representing Milton Bradley immediately asked the judge for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, essentially a legal move asking the judge to disregard the jury verdict.  The court set aside the jury’s judgment, essentially letting Milton Bradley off the hook.  However, Burten and Coleman took their case to the United States First Circuit Court of Appeals, who performed an exhaustive examination of Milton Bradley’s disclosure agreements and past District Court cases of a similar nature.  After a deliberation that they described as a “close question”, the Court of Appeals reversed the District Court’s decision, and reinstated the monetary judgment against Milton Bradley.  (The decision in all its original legal glory can be read HERE.)

The four building types in Dark Tower

This has been the accepted canon regarding Milton Bradley’s court troubles over Dark Tower, but a dissenting voice can be found at Well-of-Souls.com, a Dark Tower homage website.  Robert Hoffberg, a programmer who worked for Milton Bradley (known for programming Connect Four and Cosmic Hunter into the Microvision), is quoted as stating that he saw Triumph, that its only similarity to Dark Tower was an electronic computer game piece in the center of the game board, and that the true inspiration for Dark Tower came from an old Synergistic Software Apple II game from 1980 called “Wilderness Campaign” (by Robert C. Clardy, who, incidentally, has an impressive resume, with involvement in several games, including Vengeance of Excalibur and Thexder).

Screenshot of Wilderness Adventure (Apple II)

After watching the YouTube video of “Wilderness Campaign“, some similarities between it and Dark Tower can be seen, but the reality is that the same can be said about half the published (and unpublished!) AD&D game modules of the era.  Trekking through the wilderness, running into random encounters, heading into a store for more supplies, and ultimately facing the evil Overlord in his castle were standard motiffs of the day.   So, perhaps Mr. Hoffberg is correct, perhaps not; without further evidence, the court’s opinion continues to be the historical record that the Dark Tower story is based on.

The three types of Keys in Dark Tower

For those who have never had the opportunity to play this classic game, Dark Tower is best described as a RPG transplanted into the board game genre.  The circular game board is divided into four kingdoms, and in the center sits the electronic Dark Tower.  Players quest around the game board to locate three keys (bronze, silver, and gold) which will allow them to solve the Riddle of the Keys, that is, which order the keys must be used to open the gates to the Dark Tower, and permit them to battle the forces within.  To defeat their ultimate enemy, they must find reinforcements (and feed them!) to help defeat the hordes of defenders awaiting them in the Dark Tower.  As they search for the keys, players can be attacked by Brigands, and if they win the battle, can receive a reward: gold, a Dragonsword, a magic key, a curse on one of your competing players by a friendly wizard (giving you 1/4 of their gold and warriors), even a ride on a Pegasus!  (If you’re really lucky, you can receive one of these rewards by simply entering one of the tombs or ruins on the game board.)

Scoring cards for Dark Tower

However, ill luck can follow you as you quest for the keys.  Sometimes the battle against the Brigands does not go your way.  Sometimes you can get lost and have to start over from your last position.  Sometimes a vicious plague wipes out some of your warriors (though you can avoid this by having a Healer in your ranks).  Sometimes your gold and warriors will be stolen from you by the arrival of the Dragon…unless you have the Dragonsword, and then you get all its treasure!  Of course, sometimes your move is benign, and nothing happens at all.

Assorted game tokens for Dark Tower

There are also special locations on the game board that can be accessed for good or ill.  There are tombs and ruins which might hold a treasure – or more Brigands!  There places of Sanctuary wherein you may be given more warriors, gold or food if you are in need.  Each player has a Citadel which acts as the home base and that can act as either a Sanctuary or as the launching point for the final assault on the Dark Tower.  Finally, there is the Bazaar, a place where many items might be for sale, such as warriors, food, a Healer (as mentioned above, saves you from a Plague), a Scout (keeps you from getting lost), or a Beast (carries your gold for you to free up warriors).  The Bazaar changes prices and selection, and you can always attempt to haggle if you think the price is too dear…but don’t push your luck or the merchant will shut down the bazaar and your turn is over.  You get NOTHING; good day, sir!

Instruction manuals for Dark Tower

Much like an arcade game, Dark Tower also provided you with a score for how well you did during the game, from a lowly 1 to the maximum of 99.  The more warriors you used and more time you took circling the game board, the lower your score.  It was possible to get no score at all, meaning that although you ultimately defeated the brigands of the Dark Tower and were awarded the Ancient Scepter, it took too many turns to do so.  Not every victory is one for the bards!

Orson Welles being "Victorious" in Dark Tower

So what is the fascination with Dark Tower that has propelled it into the stratosphere of board game value?  A casual search of eBay.com returns listings with a range from $100 to $300 for this game.   (My favorite board game website, magisterrex.com, does not have the game in stock.)  It could be the collective memory of playing the game, but at its original price point (more expensive than a regular board game; reading people’s recollections of how much they paid run the gamut from $40 to $130, which goes to show you how subjective our  memories can be…but I digress.), it was not as ubiquitous on North American game shelves as a game such as Monopoly, which would belie that hypothesis.  Perhaps it is as simple as the memory of wanting to play Dark Tower, but not being able to afford it – or being able to convince the responsible parental units to purchase it.  That desire for a memory that could have been may be driving the price of Dark Tower.

Lit screens from Dark Tower

Ultimately, it does not matter why Dark Tower continues to be one of the most sought after Holy Grails of classic board game collecting.  It’s an electronic game with depth that is astounding for the era it was produced in, and truly enjoyable to play.  For this reason, Dark Tower deserves to be remembered as one of the Best Classic Board Games, and well-worth adding to anyone’s board game collection!

The Best Classic Board Games – The Six Million Dollar Man: Bionic Crisis (1975)

Growing up in the 70s and watching TV was awesome, with shows like Battlestar Galactica, The Incredible Hulk, Space: 1999, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Mork & Mindy, Wonder Woman, The Shazam/Isis HourThe Star Wars Holiday Special, Happy Days, The Bionic Woman, and The Six Million Dollar Man.  Parker Brothers was quick to capitalize on the popularity of many of these shows within their own target demographic by releasing games based on each series.  Some were terrible, the board game equivalent of shovelware, but one in particular was a classic – The Six Million Dollar Man: Bionic Crisis.

Box art for The Six Million Dollar Man: Bionic Crisis

Bionic Crisis was invented by Paul J. Gruen, who invented such classics as This Game is Bonkers!Gambler and Payday.  He was also the game creator behind some of Parker Brothers’ television properties, such as Battlestar Galactica and Barney Miller with the 12th Precinct Gang, as well as the designer of  some lesser known games, such as Voyage of the Dawn Treader and Dungeon Dice.  Truly, the man was a prolific creator of board games (he passed away in 1993). For such an amazing talent, not a single picture of him can be found on the Internet – except his gravestone. What a crazy world we live in.

Paul J. Gruen's only picture on the Internet

Bionic Crisis was a game that contained both elements of chance and deductive reasoning.  To set up, each player took one of the four Console Boxes and inserted a Console Card into it.  The red and yellow board pegs are placed somewhere where everyone can reach them. Then the deck of Bionic Circuit Cards was shuffled, and one was dealt to each player, who kept it hidden from his or her opponents.  Finally, the deck of Number Cards was shuffled, with each player given three cards and the rest placed face down for everyone to draw from during gameplay.  Once set up, the play began.

Sample Number Cards for Bionic Crisis

The object of the game was simple: be the first to use the Number Cards to duplicate the Bionic Circuit of the player on your left.  Each turn a player called out a number from one of the Number Cards.  If number was on his left-hand opponent’s Circuit Card as one of the ten red spaces, he got a red peg.  If the number was adjacent to a red space, a yellow peg was given instead, and if the number completely missed the mark, then the player ended his turn empty-handed. (Yes, I realize you now want to chant, “You sank my battleship!”…but control yourself.)  This process continued until the Bionic Circuit Card was revealed.

Sample Bionic Circuit Cards from Bionic Crisis

A shortcut to winning the game was to simply map out the entire Bionic Circuit Card by making a guess.  If you were correct, you won the game.  However, if you were wrong – even by a single circuit – you were no longer able to win, though you still had to answer questions from your opponent.  This consequence were so severe that guesses were rarely worth the risk.  We had a House Rule that granted up to three guesses to each player, which added more deduction and less random chance to the gameplay.

A completed Bionic Circuit Card in Bionic Crisis

Parker Brothers labeled the box for ages 7 to 14, which is quite accurate, as Bionic Crisis was clearly not an adult’s strategy game.  However, the game still brings back fond childhood gaming memories, and must be judged for what it was: a child’s game based on a television property.  It was fun then, and if you can bring back your inner child, it can be fun to play even today.  Only the best classic games can do that!

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!

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!

The Best Classic Board Games – RISK The Game of World Domination

Wargaming has historically been a niche market, as most war games tend to be long on detail and not suited for those short on attention spans.  One game transcended the genre, becoming a popular and nearly iconic board game: Risk, by Parker Brothers.

Thank-you, France!

Like the Statue of Liberty and French maids, Risk was a gift from France.  The game was originally entitled, “La Conquête du Monde,” and was invented by Albert Lamorisse, a French playwright and director who had won the 1956 Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for his short film, “The Red Balloon,” as well as the 1956 Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.  Lamorisse was a creative force, and his movies were masterpieces of elegant simplicity that were filled with metaphors and as layered as an onion.  It is no surprise that La Conquête du Monde was a similar effort.  The game that became Risk was and is a work of irony, and designed to show players what kind of person it takes to rule the world through war: an iron fist to destroy resistance, a subtle tongue to convince others to ally against common enemies, and an amoral capacity to betray any ally or friend to win the field.  Machiavelli and Bismarck would have done well.

La Conquête du Monde game box

Lamorisse entered into an agreement with Miro, a French publishing company, which distributed the La Conquête du Monde in 1957, with a few minor revisions.  The game caught the attention of Parker Brothers, who negotiated the North American publishing rights with Miro, and brought Risk to the American audience in 1959, adding the cards to improve game play, as well as using wooden cubes for the army tokens.  As for Lamorisse, the filmmaker did not attempt a repeat of his efforts, and returned to his filmmaking roots, to which he remained devoted until his untimely death in a helicopter accident during a movie shoot at the young age of 48.

Albert Lamorisse and The Red Balloon

Game play in Risk is quite straightforward.  First, each player receives his or her share of army tokens.  The amount depends on how many players there are: 40 armies each for 2 players; 35 armies each for 3 players; 30 armies each for 4 players; 25 armies each for 5 players; and 20 armies each for 6 players.  The game board is then set up by players taking turns placing an army unit on an empty territory until every territory is occupied.  At that point players add their remaining armies to whichever territories they own (taking turns doing so).  With the game board filled, the actual game begins.

1959 (top) and 1975 (bottom) Risk game parts

Players make alliances (or not) and begin their quest to conquer the world by attacking a rival player’s territory.  The outcome depends on the roll of the dice: the attacker uses up to three red dice (one for each army being used in the attack); the defender uses up to two white dice (one for each army committed for defence).  The highest roll wins the field (ties go to the defender).  The attacker’s highest die roll is compared to the defender’s highest die roll, and the lower die loses an army. This process is repeated with the second die, which means that the result is either up to 2 armies lost for either the attacker or defender, or one lost for each.  If the defender loses all their territory’s occupying armies, the attacker can move their units forward into it.

The 1959 Risk game box

The game would be over fairly quickly if that was all there was to playing Risk.  Armies are constantly replenished in one of two ways: either from a natural growth based on how many territories they occupy or by collecting and redeeming Risk cards, which are a set of 44 cards, one for each territory and two “wild” cards.  Each one has a symbol for artillery or cavalry or infantry, and can be traded in for more army units.  To do so the player must either collect three cards with all the same symbol, or one of each symbol.  (Each player can never have more than 5 cards; if they do, they must turn in a set at the end of their turn.)  Every time a player conquers a territory, they collect a Risk card, which means that to the victor truly go the spoils.

Risk: Star Wars Original Trilogy Edition game box

There have been many variations of Risk through the years.  The first North American release in 1959 included coloured wooden cubes for armies, but by the 1975 version, these had become plastic.  The 1993 edition included plastic miniatures of infantry, cavalry, and artillery rather than geometric shapes, only to come full circle and return to wooden pieces with the “nostalgia” game series of 2003 and the “Continental” version (a reproduction of the 1959 version) in 2009.  Risk can be found in different settings, such as the Lord of the Rings Trilogy Edition (2003), Star Wars Original Trilogy (2006), or the Risk: Transformers (2007) editions, although gameplay remains the same throughout each.

The 2008 Risk Revised Edition game box

Risk has also evolved with new rules or game maps.  Risk / Castle Risk was a set produced in 1992 and introduced new game elements and strategies for winning, as well as a completely different game board.  Risk 2210 A.D. introduced time limits, a rudimentary economic system, further game board changes, and special powers for certain units.  Risk: Balance of Power (2008) centered the game map on Europe and is limited to only two players.  Finally, Risk: Revised Edition (2008) introduced objectives, new victory conditions, and game pieces.  Much like what has happened to Monopoly, there’s a version of Risk out there for everyone.

Kramer learns that the Ukraine is far from weak…

1980’s television commercial for Parker Brothers Risk

The Best Classic Board Games – Mouse Trap

Has any game inspired so many budding engineers than Mouse Trap? If there ever was a game that taught cause and effect, Mouse Trap was it. Some have claimed it was “too difficult” to put the game board together. Heaven forbid we teach our children the value of perseverance and rewards from accomplishing something difficult, or take the time to pull ourselves from our daily grind to actually spend quality time with our children. Our microwave society seems hell-bent on celebrating “everyone gets a medal day” while removing any challenges from our children’s paths, while decreasing the level of difficulty for any task to the point of being ridiculously simplistic. But I digress…

Box front for the 1963 Mouse Trap game.

Mouse Trap was created by Harvey Kramer, while working for Marvin Glass & Associates, and in 1963, the game was licensed to the Ideal Toy Company. Mr. Kramer was an odd duck: a toymaker who disliked children. (Shades of old Stauf from The 7th Guest!) The original game design called for very little interaction, with players simply moving their pieces around the game board and trying to avoid being trapped. The lack of interactivity wasn’t surprising, as the game was originally envisioned as a toy, and it wasn’t until well within its development that a game board and die were added. The resulting game sold well enough to propel Ideal into the market as a board game publisher.

The incredible Sid Sackson.

The game was redesigned somewhat in the 1970s by the legendary game designer (and freelance game troubleshooter), Sid Sackson. He added extra game elements to improve Mouse Trap’s interactivity: players now collected pieces of “cheese” while roaming the game board, and could now contrive to get their opponents into the special trap space. This version was released in 1984 by Milton Bradley – who had assumed the game’s manufacturing rights from Ideal – and remains the one embedded in the gaming community’s popular consciousness.

A typical Rube Goldberg contraption.

Mouse Trap was indeed a GREAT game. It was inspired by the drawings of Rube Goldberg, whose complicated contraptions had entertained Americans through the middle of the 20th Century. Unfortunately, although Marvin Glass acknowledged Mr. Goldberg’s influence to the game’s design, declined to play the then quite elderly artist any royalties, which Mr. Goldberg had neither the resources nor strength to fight. It’s hard to believe, but board game history is full of dastardly deeds such as this – just ask who actually invented the game of Monopoly. (But I digress…again.)

How the Mouse Trap works...

In a typical Rube Goldberg drawing, many small actions build one upon the other to create a chain reaction. In Mouse Trap, the sequence is as follows: the player turns a crank, which engages a set of gears. As the gears turn, they push against a lever, which causes a shoe to kick a bucket containing a metal ball. The bucket tips over, and the ball is sent down a set of stairs and into an eaves trough (rain gutter), eventually reaching the bottom where a rod holding a “helping hand” sits. Once the ball strikes the rod, a large marble is dislodged, passing through a bathtub, and landing directly onto a diving board, which in turn sends a surprised diver sailing through the air and into a large wash tub. The impact causes a cage to drop down onto the “trap square,” trapping whatever poor mouse is under it. Whew! I don’t know about you, but it sure sounds like a Rube Goldberg device to me.

Mouse Trap game box.

Although Mouse Trap is a game for 2 to 4 players, and is recommended for ages 6 and up, it really isn’t meant for kids to play unsupervised. The game board is too complex and finicky for a child to set up on their own, without a parent to either guide the process or to offer encouragement when things go awry. However, the game remains one of the best teaching tools to show the relationship between cause and effect, and the consequences of small actions. It can lead to a great conversation between parent and child on this topic, or can be a segue to a long discussion on the unforeseen consequences of undesirable behavior. Any game that can accomplish those tasks is a classic board game, and highly recommended!

And just because it is the best live-action Rube Goldberg machine I’ve ever watched on YouTube, here’s This Too Shall Pass from OK Go: