• 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

Advertising From Yesteryear…Milton Bradley’s Gamemaster Series

Just about everyone who loves board games or war games knows about Axis & Allies, Milton Bradley’s strategy board game that came in a large box and was filled with tiny plastic playing pieces.  The game was part of a special line-up of similar products that the giant board game company released throughout the 1980s, some of which are certainly much more obscure than others!  The Gamemaster series included the aforementioned Axis & Allies (the WWII game released in 1981), Broadsides & Boarding Parties (the Age of Sail strategy game released in 1982), Conquest of Empire (a Roman Empire wargame released in 1984),  Fortress America (an alternate universe wargame released in 1986, where America fights off an invasion from the rest of the world), and Shogun (a 1986 game set in feudal Japan, later renamed Samurai Swords).

To remind you of those fine games, here is a full-color, full-page ad from Milton Bradley found in the September, 1986 issue of the classic Dragon Magazine.  Incidentally, it is the first time I’ve ever seen Conquest of the Empire advertised in any format. Click on the image below to see an enlarged version, and enjoy the trip into yesteryear!

1986 Ad for Milton Bradley’s Gamemaster series.

Yesterday’s Freebies: The Sam ‘n’ Max Hit The Road Board Game

Squirreled away amidst the pages of LucasArts’ The Adventurer (No. 7, Winter 1994, to be precise) was a curious two-page spread entitled, Sam & Max Hit the Road: The Thrill-Packed and Completely Unrelated Official Boardgame. Just a little zany extra for fans of classic LucasArts comedic adventures, and a great ad for the Sam & Max PC game. (The Adventurer also contained an “interview” with Sam and Max, but if written slapstick humor is a lost art, this piece did nothing to locate it.) At any rate, below is the Sam & Max Hit the Road: The Thrill-Packed and Completely Unrelated Official Boardgame, ready for you to play – just click on the image to enlarge it to a usable size! (NOTE: The enlarged image is hi-res, so don’t click on it if you don’t have a fast Internet connection!)

Sam & Max Hit the Road: The Thrill-Packed and Completely Unrelated Official Boardgame

What’s In That Game Box? – Milton Bradley’s Hotels (1987)

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 featured this week on What’s In That Game Box? is Milton Bradley‘s classic dimensional game of high-rises and high stakes, Hotels.

Box art for Hotels (Milton Bradley, 1987)

The contents of Hotels are as follows:

The game box (featuring a full image of a fully set up game board. The inside of the box lid includes the instructions of the game in French)

The game board (featuring a 31-square path with adjacent spaces for various hotels and properties)

4 player limousine tokens (blue, green, red, and yellow)

1 red six-sided die (standard)

1 special six-sided die (sides are: 2, green dot, green dot, green dot, H, and red dot)

30 cardboard buildings (with 30 plastic bases and 33 plastic roof parts) which construct the following:

  • Bank (1 building)
  • Boomerang (1 building)
  • Fujiyama (3 buildings)
  • Le Grand (5 buildings)
  • President (4 buildings)
  • Royal (4 buildings)
  • Safari (3 buildings)
  • Taj Mahal (3 buildings)
  • Town Hall (1 building)
  • Waikiki (5 buildings)

8 cardboard Recreational Facilities (to be placed beside the hotels) which include:

  • Boomerang Hotel (swimming pool)
  • Fujiyama (swimming pool)
  • Le Grand (swimming pool)
  • President Hotel (golf course and swimming pool)
  • Royal (swimming pool)
  • Safari Hotel (swimming pool)
  • Taj Mahal (swimming pool)
  • Waikiki Hotel (swimming pool)

8 Title Deed cards, which include Cost and Rent Due tables

30 red plastic hotel entrance markers (miniature staircases)

A supply of play money in the following denominations: 50, 100, 500, 1000, and 5000. (All bank notes are marked with the number “4844” and include a picture of Milton Bradley with the title “M. Bradley” below it)

The rules sheet

Aside from a very well-laid out inner cardboard separator piece which also provides a photo of each hotel and construction instructions, that’s it!  Hopefully this will help would be hotel magnates realize their tycoon dreams!

Game board set up for Hotels (Milton Bradley, 1987)

All the buildings in Hotels (Milton Bradley, 1987)

Hotels (1987) Title Deeds, set 1

Hotels (1987) Title Deeds, set 2

Tokens and dice for Hotels (Milton Bradley, 1987)

Game money denominations for Hotels (Milton Bradley, 1987)

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!

What’s In That Game Box? – Land Grab (1974/1981)

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 featured this week on What’s In That Game Box? is Waddingtons‘ game of land speculation and development, the real estate game, Land Grab.

Box front of the 1981 Waddingtons game, Land Grab.

The contents of Land Grab are as follows:

The game box (there are two versions of the box lid, the 1981 version, which features a deep green background with a few buildings and the orange logo streaking outward like the the titles of the 1970s Superman movies; and the 1974 version with a cartoon aerial view of a city as the background with a white logo in large letters).

The game board, featuring three zones of undeveloped real estate lots.

80 player marker tokens (20 each of blue, green, red, and yellow)

A green six-sided die

A deck of 16 CROWN LAND cards, consisting of:

LOT NO. 1 – 20,000
LOT NO. 2 – 20,000
LOT NO. 3 – 30,000
LOT NO. 4 – 30,000
LOT NO. 5 – 30,000
LOT NO. 6 – 40,000
LOT NO. 7 – 10,000
LOT NO. 8 – 10,000
LOT NO. 9 – 20,000
LOT NO. 10 – 20,000
LOT NO. 11 – 20,000
LOT NO. 12 – 10,000
LOT NO. 13 – 20,000
LOT NO. 14 – 20,000
LOT NO. 15 – 10,000
LOT NO. 16 – 10,000

A deck of 16 VENTURE CARDS, consisting of:

  • A strike hits your construction company. You may not build or demolish on this turn.
  • Capital Investment Return: Receive an amount equal to one-half your total revenue on this turn.
  • Capital Investment Return: Receive an amount equal to twice your total revenue on this turn.
  • Capital Investment Return: Receive an amount equal to your total revenue on this turn.
  • On your next turn, you may buy land in any zone of your choice (Do not roll the die.) [x3]
  • On your next turn, you may force any opponent to sell you one lot of undeveloped land he owns – at the original market price. (You may do this in addition to your regular die throw) [x3]
  • TAXES: Pay 10,000 on every acre of undeveloped land you own. [x3]
  • TAXES: Pay an amount equal to your total revenue on this turn from buildings in Zone 1.
  • TAXES: Pay an amount equal to your total revenue on this turn from buildings in Zone 2.
  • TAXES: Pay an amount equal to your total revenue on this turn from buildings in Zone 3.

49 diecut building tokens, each with a different cartoonish looking art of a building property, consisting of:

2.5 cm x 2.5 cm: PRICE 30,000; INCOME 10,000 [x12]
2.5 cm x 7.5 cm: PRICE 100,000; INCOME 40,000 [x9]
5 cm x 2.5 cm: PRICE 50,000; INCOME 20,000 [x12]
5 cm x 5 cm: PRICE 200,000; INCOME 80,000 [x9]
5 cm x 7.5 cm: PRICE 400,000; INCOME 160,000 [x6]
7.5 cm x 7.5 cm: PRICE 800,000; INCOME 400,000 [x1]

A supply of play money in the following denominations: $5,000 (yellow); $50,000 (pink); and $100,000 (light blue)

The Rules sheet.

Aside from the inner cardboard filler to help hold all the pieces in an orderly fashion, that’s it.  Land Grab is a decent simulation of property development and speculation, but is certainly in the “More Obscure” category of board games.

Game board for Land Grab

Die cut property tokens for Land Grab

Game parts for Waddingtons Land Grab

Sample Venture and Crown Land Cards for Land Grab

What’s In That Game Box? – Dealer’s Choice (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 Parker Brother’s wheeling and dealing used card game, Dealer’s Choice.

Dealer's Choice game from Parker Brothers.

The contents of Dealer’s Choice are as follows:

The game box (with a picture of a fast-talking used car salesman working a deal to sell a corvette to a little old lady).

The Organizer (a red circular plastic tray with a picture of the little old lady taking the corvette out for a test drive, with nine slots to fit the various game papers inside)

Five Blue Books (these are the pricing guides to use to determine the value of the cars you deal)

Ten Value Cards (these are inserted into the Blue Books and have 24 random vehicles and values ranging from Junk to $10,000)

45 Dealer’s Choice Cards, consisting of:

BUY Buy a car from Auto Exchange for $200. [x3]
BUY Buy a car from Auto Exchange at 1/2 List Price. [x2]
BUY Buy a car of your choice from any dealer for 1/2 List Price. [x2]
BUY Buy a car of your choice from another dealer. [x5]
CANCEL Cancel one Insurance Policy of another dealer. [x2]
CAR STOLEN Force another dealer to return one of his cars of your choice to the Auto Exchange. [x3]
COLLISION Force another dealer to return one of his cars of your choice to Auto Exchange or he may pay repair bill of 1/2 List Price to bank and keep the car. [x3]
FIRE Car destroyed.  Force another dealer to send one of his cars of your choice to Auto Discard. [x3]
FORCE SALE Force another dealer to buy one of your cars of his choice. [x2]
FREE Receive one free Insurance Policy. [x2]
LOT CLOSED No deal required. May be used to cancel either a “FORCED SALE” or a “BUY” card when it is played on you. [x2]
SELL Sell a car for Blue Book price. [x5]
SELL Sell a car for List Price. [x4]
SELL Sell a car for List Price plus $2000 [x2]
SELL Sell a car for List Price plus $3000
STOLEN CAR FOUND Pay towing fee of $100 to bank and return car to your lot.
TAKE Take a Dealer’s Choice card from any player. [x2]
TAX Force another dealer to play Excise Tax of $5000 to the Bank.

24 Auto cards, consisting of:

1 List Price $5,000 1941 Lincoln Continental
2 List Price $3,000 1956 De Soto
3 List Price $9,000 Indianapolis Racer
4 List Price $2,000 1971 Volkswagen
5 List Price $10,000 1925 Mercedes-Benz
6 List Price $6,000 1932 Stutz Bearcat
7 List Price $3,000 1956 Oldsmobile
8 List Price $4,000 Tank
9 List Price $5,000 1912 Mercer Raceabout
10 List Price $8,000 1971 Lincoln Continental
11 List Price $6,000 1971 Jaguar
12 List Price $4,000 1905 Reo
13 List Price $9,000 1971 Cadillac
14 List Price $2,000 Checker Cab
15 List Price $8,000 1935 Duesenberg-SJ
16 List Price $4,000 1971 Corvette
17 List Price $2,000 1959 Edsel
18 List Price $8,000 1938 Bugatti
19 List Price $3,000 1947 Chrysler Town & Country
20 List Price $5,000 1956 Lincoln Continental
21 List Price $4,000 1931 Model A Ford
22 List Price $2,000 Harley-Davidson Motorcycle
23 List Price $3,000 1956 Studebaker Golden Hawk
24 List Price $6,000 1910 Stanley Steamer

Ten Insurance Policy cards, consisting of:

COLLISION insurance (Collect List Price) [x2]
COMPREHENSIVE insurance (Protection against FIRE, THEFT, COLLISION Collect List Price)
FIRE insurance (Collect List Price) [x2]
FLY BY NIGHT insurance (Protection against LEAKY GALOSHES No Value)
FLY BY NIGHT insurance (Protection against RANCID POPCORN No Value)
FLY BY NIGHT insurance (Protection against ROVING BANDS OF CHICKENS No value)
THEFT insurance (Collect List Price) [x2]

A supply of play money in the following denominations: $100 (fandango fuchsia); $500 (green); $1,000 (yellow); $5,000 (dark orange); and $10,000 (light orange)

The Rules sheet.

Aside from the inner cardboard filler to help hold all the pieces in an orderly fashion, that’s it.  Dealer’s Choice is a quirky game, but also a lost classic.  More on this game can be found here: The Best Classic Board Games – Dealer’s Choice (1972).

Blue Book from Parker Brothers' Dealer's Choice

Dealer's Choice Blue Book Value Cards

Dealer's Choice Blue Book Value Cards

Dealer's Choice Blue Book Value Cards

Contents of the 1972 Dealer's Choice game.