• 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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Board Game Companies We Have Known: Gamma Two Games

The 1970s was a time of powerhouse board game companies, with Parker Brothers, Waddingtons House of Games, and Milton Bradley hitting their stride, but there was room in the game market for a small, nimble company to sell games that the larger companies would not.  Gamma Two Games was such a company, founded principally by Tom Dalgliesh. I asked Mr. Dalgliesh to clarify some of the historical record in regards to Gamma Two Games – which he kindly did – and his comments are interspersed throughout this discussion.

Scottish born Tom Dalgliesh emigrated to the Canada in 1967, and graduated from Simon Fraser University with a BA in History (Honors) by 1971.  As he enjoyed playing wargames, Dalgliesh decided that designing wargames would be equally enjoyable, and so he and two other partners (Lance Gutteridge and Steve Brewster) formed their own game company in 1972: Gamma Two Games.  Their partnership changed quite quickly, however, as Mr. Dalgliesh explains:

Steve left quite early. Our initial seed investment was $100 each. But Steve opted out when we needed further investment of $1000 each. Steve was a high school teacher until he retired a few years ago.

Quebec 1759, Gamma Two Games

Their first offering, Quebec 1759, fit this mold, a historical wargame (Canadian history, no less!), based on the pivotal battle on the Plains of Abraham between English and French forces which ultimately led to France’s exit from North America, as did their next game released in 1973, War of 1812 (a game based on the two year conflict between the United States and Canada, well, the British Empire, but let’s not quibble), and the next release in 1974, Napoleon: The Waterloo Campaign (based on the conflict between France and everybody else in the European Lowlands which decided Napoleon’s fate).  All of these games were based on interesting and pivotal conflicts in the history of warfare in Western civilization during the 18th and 19th Centuries.

Airline, 1975 Gamma Two Games

However, the company’s 1975 game releases, Airline, Klondike, and Team broke away from the wargame motif, and were done in a more traditional board game style.  Airline was a game about establishing travel routes between various cities and cornering the landing rights in enough airports to achieve dominance in the airline industry (and came complete with little plastic airplane tokens – never underestimate the power of little airplane tokens!). Klondike was a game based on the Canadian Gold Rush, wherein players make their money prospecting for gold on one part of the game board, and then buy up properties to charge exorbitant rents on the other part of the game board. The “anything can happen” feel of the Klondike Gold Rush era was duplicated by the game, including the “riches-to-rags” possibility! (The game was even endorsed by noted Canadian historian and author, Pierre Burton.) Finally, Team was a strategy game based on managing a hockey team to make the playoffs (and then hopefully win it all!), which included drafting and trading players. It was later re-released as Slapshot.

Compared to the first three games, the next three releases of Gamma Two Games were completely different. Why make the change from wargames to board games? Mr. Dalgliesh explained the decision succinctly as:

Just a desire to sell more games. Wargames then (and still) are more a labor of love than good business sense.

Star Wars 1977 Gamma Two Games

More traditional board games followed, with The Last Spike in 1976 (a game based on the race to build a railway system across Canada from sea to shining sea), UFO: A Game of Close Encounters, also in 1976 (a game where one player defended the Earth from alien invasion, while the other player attempted to overcome those defenses and land his alien forces), and Star Wars in 1977 (another two player game wherein each player attempts to destroy their opponent’s fleet and capture their home star). The latter two games are interesting in the timing of their release, what their titles are, and when the movies Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Star Wars hit the theaters.  I asked Mr. Dalgliesh if Gamma Two Games had attempted to ride the coattails of the Spielberg and Lucas blockbusters:

The games were both developed before Star Wars. UFO came out unrelated to the Close Encounters movie. Star Wars came out three weeks AFTER the move and was, in effect, a very lucky break. I had heard the name being used in promo for the movie and I liked it for the game we were developing. There is no relationship between our game and the movie except the name. Like most others in the business, I had no idea that Star Wars would become the franchise it became. 20th Century Fox purchased our trademark name for their own use in Canada, a board game licensed to Parker Brothers.

It is true that no one had any idea that Star Wars was going to be a culture-changing phenomena, and it’s original trailer clearly shows that 20th Century Fox weren’t aware of the possibility, either.  Actually, the 1970s was a decade that saw a huge upswing in public interest for all things Sci-Fi. Popular television series included such classics as The Six Million Dollar ManPlanet of the Apes, and The Bionic Woman. (As well as some less popular, but still classic series, such as Logan’s Run, Star Trek: The Animated Series, and Space: 1999.) After Star Wars was released, even more TV shows appeared, including the classic Battlestar: Galactica and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. So science fiction themed board games were an excellent strategy to ride the wave of Sci-Fi’s cultural popularity. (Incidentally, the Star Wars game Mr. Dalgliesh refers to is the 1977 board game that Kenner sold in the United States, and Parker Brothers sold in Canada.) As for Gamma Two Games’ Star Wars game, it was re-branded as Starlord (and even had a box redesign in its 1977 re-release to further differentiate it from its original incarnation!).

Starlord (formerly Star Wars) Gamma Two Games

More games followed, with SupermoneyBacchus: The Ancient Roman Game of Skill and Strategy, and the hilariously unique Smokers Wild in 1978; Maneuver and Foreign Exchange in 1979; Score! Soccer Game in 1980; and, capitalizing on the success of the first “Wild” 1978 release, Lovers Wild and Drinkers Wild in 1981. Clearly the decision to move away from wargames to traditional board games was a fiscally sound one for the young company. As Mr. Dalgliesh has stated elsewhere, Quebec 1759 sold around 20,000 units (which he attributed to being distributed in department stores), which was a success for a wargame (5,000 units being deemed a good seller with modern wargames).  I asked him if any other games approached that level of success:

Sure, Klondike sold about 30,000 and Smokers Wild 80,000.

The first Hârn advertisement, found in a 1983 Dragon Magazine.

So if Gamma Two Games was a niche player in the board game market that was having success, where did it go? The answer is quite straightforward: it just changed its name! In 1983, Gamma Two Games relocated to the United States, and the company became Columbia Games. The company returned to its roots, releasing a slate of well-received and well-reviewed wargames, such as Richard III: War of the RosesJulius Caesar, Eastfront and the epic Eurofront, as well as the Hârn roleplaying system.  Columbia Games has since re-released its original wargames, Quebec 1759 and War of 1812, and they are not done with their old game catalog yet:

We are actually planning to release new editions of Last Spike and Klondike soon. Later this year or next.

This is wonderful news, as reprinting old titles in the company’s game catalog speaks to the soundness of their financial position. Hopefully a new generation of board game enthusiasts will enjoy these older titles, albeit repackaged and formatted for today’s gaming audience. In that same spirit, a final thank-you to Mr. Tom Dalgliesh for answering my questions; his company’s games were always some of my personal favorites when I was but a young lad, and those same games remain part of my collection of board games today. Here’s to wishing to the continued prosperity of Columbia Games: may they never become a half-forgotten footnote in board game history, but rather an example of how to adjust your business model to stay ahead of the ever-changing cultural and financial environment that has doomed so many other companies before them!

When Video Games Become Board Games Part I: 1981-1982

The 1980s saw a sudden increase in board games that were based upon classic video game cartridges or the quarter-devouring arcade machines.  Leading the charge was the powerhouse board game company Milton Bradley with an astounding array of video-to-board game titles, but were soon joined by competing gaming companies such as Ideal, Entex, and Parker Brothers.  It was a glorious time for board game enthusiasts!

This is the first of (hopefully) a series of articles listing and describing the various video game to board game properties that provided hours of family fun for a generation of gamers.  Just a quick note of definition: to be included on this list a game must fulfill a number of requirements: have its origin in a video game property, be for at least two players, and be an actual board or card game (not a handheld or tabletop electronic game).

Milton Bradley’s FROGGER

Frogger (Milton Bradley, 1981) While the fun of hopping across the road, avoiding certain death from a wide variety of sources was a hit as a video game, the translation – authentic as it was – did not have the same charm as a two-player board game, which, really, should not have been a surprise.   More interesting is that this may have been the very first board game to be based on a video game property!

The PAC-MAN Game by Milton Bradley

Pac-Man Game. (Milton Bradley, 1981) One of the best conversions of the arcade experience to table top board game play by using a game board in the design of the Pac-Man screen, with marbles taking the place of all the dots (the marbles are held in place by holes in the game board).  Four competing Pac-Man player tokens with the ability to capture and store marbles travel the board, avoiding ghosts and eating their way to success.  A brilliant translation!

Defender board game by Entex

Defender (Entex, 1982) Entex had introduced electronic handheld versions of several popular video games, including Defender in 1981.  Board games were still a hot market, and so they also experimented with a board game version. Up to four players could attempt to turn back the invasion of various aliens, their directions shifting using a spinner to simulate the mobility of the arcade version. An ambitious, difficult to find game.

Milton Bradley’s Donkey Kong Game

Donkey Kong Game (Milton Bradley, 1982) Players moved their Mario tokens on a game board reproduction of the classic game screen, dodging barrels and fireballs when necessary, climbing up the girders to defeat Donkey Kong and rescue the “fair maiden.” The game was actually a pretty decent conversion from the video game, and a lot of fun to play.

Invader board game by Entex

Invader (Entex, 1982) As previously mentioned, Entex produced many electronic handheld games, and some based on video game properties such as Defender and Space Invaders. However, the licencing was a bit of an adventure for this California-based company, and in this case, their agreement did not extend to making a board game based on the Space Invaders video game. Their solution? Rename it “Invader” and remove all mention of the game it was based upon!

Milton Bradley’s Ms. Pac-Man Game

Ms. Pac-Man Game (Milton Bradley, 1982) Although this game is based on the original arcade game and uses its elements, Milton Bradley ensured that the game play is completely different to prevent Ms. Pac-Man from becoming a duplicate of their original 1981 Pac-Man Game. The game board is divided into four quadrants, and players take turns moving the Ms. Pac-Man token attempting collect as many plastic dots as possible from their quadrant. Each player also controls one Ghost token, which he or she can use to intercept and regain control of Ms. Pac-Man. It may not be completely true to the original, but Ms. Pac-Man is still an enjoyable game to play!

Milton Bradley’s Pac-Man Card Game

Pac-Man Card Game (Milton Bradley, 1982) Pac-Man enters the world of educational card games, albeit with very little of the addictive charm that made the franchise so enduring. The mechanic is a bit labored with players attempting to fill lines of three spaces with Pac-Man cards to complete equations and score points.  To enjoy this game you either have to be a complete math or Pac-Man geek. Not much here for anyone else!

Turtles board game by Entex

Turtles (Entex, 1982) This game for 2 to 4 players was based on the Konami arcade game Turtles by Stern, and was another of Entex’s handheld games to board games series.  Just like the arcade game, players needed to rescue little turtles, and whoever rescued the most, won. Important to note that this game has NOTHING to do with any Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Possibly the most obscure video-to-board game entry on this list.

Milton Bradley’s Zaxxon Game

Zaxxon (Milton Bradley, 1982) Translating the faux three-dimensional Zaxxon video game with its altitude-shifting airships into a two-dimensional board game was a challenge that was met in full by Milton Bradley by using a few standard 3-D tokens in conjunction with ingeniously designed fighter tokens that could be raised or lowered on their stands as needed. Game play was very similar to the original Zaxxon game, but with two to four players attempting to reach and shoot Zaxxon with BOTH their fighters and win the game.

A Footnote
It is important to remember that board games are not video games and neither should be expected to match the other’s total gaming experience.  Video games of this era were all about constant motion, quick reflexes and split-second decision-making.  Board games, however, are about measured decisions, random die rolls or card draws, and ever-changing strategies based on the play of your opponents.  In addition, board games often have suggested ages for players. I have read several reviews over the years from adults who were unable to understand that a game meant for children would have limited appeal to adults (and who scored them based on their own experience of playing them as an adult), or from reviewers who also expected a board game to be a video game.  These kinds of reviews do a tremendous disservice to the board game genre and to those who are searching for more information on one of these classic games.  To those game reviewers – and you know who you are – STOP IT! Let the game be judged on its actual merits, not on standards that it was never intended to fulfill.

What’s In That Game Box? – The Game of Life (1977)

Ever searched the Internet looking for what exactly you were missing from the old board game you pulled from your closet, only to find no succour in your time of need?  Well, stop that fruitless searching through endless google results, as this week we look at the 1977 version of Milton Bradley‘s classic Game of Life.

Box art for the 1977 Game of Life

A much deeper discussion of the game’s origin, gameplay mechanic and the differences between the various versions throughout the years can be found in a previous blog entry, titled,  The Best Classic Board Games – The Game of LifeWhat’s In That Game Box? deals specifically with the game’s contents, which are:

The game box (with white background and several pictures of the game being played)

The game board (with a 162 space intertwined track which crosses over several mountains and a bridge)

A curved white bridge that attaches to the game board.

Three green mountain pieces (small, medium, and large) that attach to the game board.

The Wheel of Fortune, a four piece three-dimensional spinner that attaches to the game board.

Seven white plastic buildings which attach to the game board. They are numbered on their bottom, and include:

1. University
2. Church
3. A little house (interchangeable with #7)
4. Office building
5. Industrial Complex (three factories)
6. Mansion
7. A little house (interchangeable with #3)

Eight player car tokens (dark blue, green, light blue, orange, pink, red, white, and yellow)

60 people pegs (30 blue and 30 pink)

A blue plastic Banker’s Tray to hold the play money

A supply of play money in $500 (yellow), $1,000 (pink), $5,000 (mustard yellow), $10,000 (blue), $20,000 (orange), $50,000 (mint green) and $100,000 (white) denominations all with Milton Bradley’s portrait in the center.

A supply of $20,000 Promissory Notes.

32 Certificates, consisting of 8 each for Car Insurance, Fire Insurance, Life Insurance, and Share.

A deck of 24 Share the wealth cards, consisting of 8 each of the following:

  • EXEMPTION CARD. The holder of this card DOES NOT PAY when given a ‘Share the Wealth’ card. (Return to bottom of pile.) [x8]
  • SHARE THE WEALTH. Give this card to any player landing on a yellow COLLECT SPACE.  That player must pay you half the amount collected there. (Return to bottom of pile.) [x8]
  • SHARE THE WEALTH. When you land on a yellow PAY SPACE give this card to any player.  That player must pay you half the amount you pay to the Bank. (Return to bottom of pile.) [x8]

The Number Board (a long strip of cardboard with the numbers 1 through 10 on individual colored squares).

A “MB” stamped inner blue plastic tray to store the game’s components.

A single two-sided sheet labeled “Game of Life Assembly Instructions” for learning how to set up the three-dimensional game board.

A single two-sided sheet with the instructions for playing the game.

That’s it!  The Game of Life has had many incarnations over the years, but this version is one of my favorites. What’s yours?

Game board for the 1977 version of The Game of Life

Share the Wealth Cards for The Game of Life (1977)

Play money for The Game of Life (1977)

Player car tokens and people pegs for The Game of Life (1977)

Plastic storage tray for The Game of Life (1977)

What’s In That Game Box? – The Last Spike

Box art for The Last Spike

Ever searched the Internet looking for what exactly you were missing from the old board game you pulled from your closet, only to find no succor in your time of need?  Well, stop that fruitless searching through endless google results, as this week we look at the classic Gamma Two Games 1976 game The Last Spike, the game that simulates the spread of the Canadian Pacific Railway across Canada.

The game’s contents are:

The game box (with a picture of a black model steam engine appearing to come out of the box)

The game board (with a 20 space main path, as well as an inner railroad path to connect the 9 cities.)

Six player round plastic “donut” tokens (blue, black, green, red, white, and yellow)

Two small six-sided dice.

48 small black railway track tokens.

A supply of play money in $1000  (James Cook, green), $5000 (Louis Riel, orange), $20,000 (George Brown, yellow), and $50,000 (Gabriel Dumont, blue) denominations.

A deck of 45 Deeds cards, containing 5 identical cards for each city with the following markings:

  • Calgary [x5]
    1. $5,000
    2. $12,000
    3. $22,000
    4. $35,000
    5. $50,000
  • Edmonton[x5]
    1. $6,000
    2. $15,000
    3. $27,000
    4. $42,000
    5. $60,000
  • Montreal [x5]
    1. $10,000
    2. $25,000
    3. $45,000
    4. $70,000
    5. $100,000
  • Regina [x5]
    1. $7,000
    2. $17,000
    3. $32,000
    4. $50,000
    5. $70,000
  • Saskatoon [x5]
    1. $8,000
    2. $20,000
    3. $36,000
    4. $56,000
    5. $80,000
  • Sudbury [x5]
    1. $5,000
    2. $12,000
    3. $22,000
    4. $35,000
    5. $50,ooo
  • Toronto [x5]
    1. $6,000
    2. $15,000
    3. $27,000
    4. $42,000
    5. 60,000
  • Vancouver [x5]
    1. $9,000
    2. $22,000
    3. $40,000
    4. $63,000
    5. $90,000
  • Winnipeg [x5]
    1. $4,000
    2. $10,000
    3. $18,000
    4. $28,000
    5. $40,000

The rules pamphlet

Aside from the inner cardboard spacer, that’s it!  This is a rare game from a company that found a small niche market during the board game boom of the 1970s, and certain worth playing a game or two.  Enjoy!

Game board for The Last Spike

Game tokens for The Last Spike

Sample Deeds for The Last Spike

What’s In That Game Box? – The aMAZEing Labyrinth (1988)

Ever searched the Internet looking for what exactly you were missing from the old board game you pulled from your closet, only to find no succour in your time of need?  Well, stop that fruitless searching through endless google results, as this week we look at Ravenburger’s 1988 magical maze game The aMAZEing Labyrinth, a game for ages 8 and up.

Box art for The aMAZEing Labyrinth

The game’s content’s are as follows:

The game box (with a graphic of a 3-D maze populated by various creatures on a yellow/orange background)

The game board (with 16 maze pieces affixed, with space for 34 more pieces.)

Four player tokens (blue, green, red, and yellow)

A deck of 24 Treasure cards, containing:

  • Bag of Gold Coins
  • Bat
  • Book with Clasp
  • Dragon
  • Ghost (in bottle)
  • Ghost (waving)
  • Gold Crown
  • Gold Menorah
  • Gold Ring
  • Helmet (armor)
  • Jewel
  • Lady Pig
  • Lizard
  • Moth
  • Owl
  • Rat
  • Scarab
  • Set of Keys
  • Skull
  • Sorceress
  • Spider on Web
  • Sword
  • Treasure Chest
  • Treasure Map

A set of 34 MAZE cards, which contain:

  • Creature Right-Angle Corridor Maze piece [x6], one each of the following:
    • Lizard
    • Moth
    • Owl
    • Scarab
    • Rat
    • Spider with Web
  • Creature Straight Corridor Maze piece [x6], one each of the following:
    • Bat
    • Dragon
    • Ghost in Bottle
    • Ghost (waving)
    • Lady Pig
    • Sorceress
  • Empty Right-Angle Corridor Maze piece. [x9]
  • Empty Straight Corridor Maze piece. [x13]

A Ravensburger product catalog.

The rules booklet (in both French and English)

Aside from the inner plastic tray that holds all the playing pieces, that’s it!  Hopefully your copy of this wonderful game is complete – just don’t forget to set aside a night to play it with your family!

Treasure Cards from The aMAZEing Labyrinth

Maze Cards from The aMAZEing Labyrinth

Game board for The aMAZEing Labyrinth

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