• 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 – Careers (1955-2009)

Fame. Fortune. Happiness.  Those were the three goals that the player had to achieve, with a total of 60 points to be divided between them, as each player chose their own combination as their ultimate career achievement (if only real life was that simple!).  The first player to reach their three-part goal won the game.  Of course, being a Parker Brothers game, things get a tad more complex with other game elements, including special game board spaces and unique situations presented by Experience and Opportunity cards, that altered game play.

The box front for the 1955 Careers game.

Careers was developed by noted sociologist Dr. James Cook Brown, who also happened to be a science fiction author (he wrote The Troika Incident) and inventor of the artificial language, Loglan.  Dr. Brown designed Careers to be an answer to the what he perceived as the 1950s focus on greed and monetary-based self worth.  Careers encourages players to think beyond just making money, and instead consider that being successful in life has many paths and aspects.  He later redesigned the game to include “enlightenment”, “virtue”, and “power”, but these were not also adopted by the game’s publishers as it transformed Careers from a family game into a game for adults.

There have been several versions of Careers through the years, starting in 1955, with new versions coming out in 1965, 1971, 1976, 1979, 1990, 1992, 1997, 2003, and 2008.  With each version came changes to the career choices, box art, contents, and even publisher, but the game mechanic stayed basically the same. (There have also been several non-North American releases, but this article will only discuss Careers games that were sold in Canada and the United States.)

The box front for the 1965 Careers game.

The game was first published by Parker Brothers in 1955.  The original version of Careers featured occupations in Farming, Big Business, at Sea, Uranium Prospecting (really!), Politics, Hollywood, or an Expedition to the Moon (space program).  Players could also get college degrees in Law, Medicine, Engineering, Science, or a general College Degree.  With luck, players could achieve a salary base as high as $19,000 a year!  The 1958 version added reuseable score pads, but those vanished with the 1965 version, which also used the same occupations, but different box art.  The 1955 box art was spectacularly gaudy, and the 1965 version was much more understated. The game board reflected the tenor of the times, with spaces like “Gorgeous Secretary 4 ♥” in the Big Business path or “Shopping Spree” in the main path, where you find out how much your wife spent!

The box front for the 1971 Careers game.

A few short years later, Parker Brothers released a new version of Careers, this time with slightly different occupations: Ecology, Big Business, Teaching, Politics, The Arts, Sports, and Space.  The college education degrees were the same, as was the potential salary level.  The box art changed once again, this time reflecting the spirit of the decade, as did the new look for the play money and Experience and Opportunity card decks. One look at a 1971 Careers game box and you know which decade it’s from!  The 1976 release contained identical pieces and game play to the 1971 version, with a new yellow colored box. Of the two, the 1976 version is much more difficult to find.  Incidentally, the “Gorgeous Secretary 4 ♥” square was replaced by “Lunch with Secretary 4 ♥”, while the “Shopping Spree” flavor text was removed altogether.

The box front for the 1976 Careers game.

In 1979 the game was altered once again, with some of the occupations dropped, the game simplified, and new box art.  This version of Careers had Sports, Show Biz, Big Business, Politics, and Space as occupations (what happened to Ecology?).  Players earned University degrees – not college degrees – in Physical Education, Business, Science, or Law.  The game board was much less detailed, almost as if Parker Brothers were attempting to “dumb down” the gaming experience.  As an aside, any mention of having a secretary was removed from the Big Business path, and replaced with “Given Larger Office 4 ♥”.  The times, they were a-changing.

The box front for the 1979 Careers game.

A relatively unknown version of Careers was the 1990 release of Careers for Girls.  This abysmal game failed both in its mission to prepare girls for their life career choices and to provide an interesting game to play, with choices of Super Mom, Rock Star, School Teacher, Rock Star, Fashion Designer, or Animal Doctor.  This version is best forgotten, unless you’re in the mood to experience mind-numbing awfulness.  But I digress.

The box front for the 1990 Careers for Girls game.

The game disappeared of the gaming radar screen in the 1980s, but returned under a new publisher – Irwin Toys – in 1992.  This version brought back Ecology as an occupation, as well as Big Business, Politics, Entertainment, Teaching, Sports, and Computer Science.    The “Given Larger Office 4 ♥” was replaced with “Transferred to Hawaii 4 ♥” which you would think was surely worth more than four hearts.  The whole presentation had a much cheaper feel than past incarnations, with poorer quality game cards and board art. I’d pass on this version, too.

The box front for the 1992 Careers game.

Pressman Toys brought out a version of Careers in 1997 that was a mashup of several previous releases, with career choices of Big Business, Ecology, Entertainment, Expedition to Mars, Politics, Computer Programming, and Sailing.  The board is a throwback to the 1971 version, and gameplay is the same.  This is a good non-Parker Brothers release, and if you cannot locate a 1971 or 1976 copy, the 1997 version is a good substitute.

The box front for the 1997 Careers game.

Hasbro picked up the Parker Brothers brand name in a corporate acquisition in 1991, and released a new version of Careers in 2003.  This time the box was shrunk to half the original size, and the game board was much more colourful and laid out in a different fashion than previous versions.  Career paths included: Entertainment, Politics, Conservation, Teaching, Sports, and Big Business.  Not a bad version, but still not as enjoyable as the 1970s versions.

The box front for the 2003 Careers game.

The latest reissue of Careers brings the game full circle back to its 1955 roots.  Winning Moves Games has taken the original and brought it back to life, with career paths including Entertainment, Politics, Exploring, Farming, Expedition to the Moon, and Adventure at Sea.  College degrees include Law, Medicine, Engineering, Science, or a general College Degree, which is exactly like the original.  The game board is more colourful than the 1955 version, but it is not as gaudy as some of the other releases.  This is a good version to pick up if you can’t find an original, but bear in mind that it calls for only 2 to 4 players, not 2 to 6 like its predecessors.

The box front for the 2008 Careers game.

No matter which year or which version you play, the game is fairly straightforward to play.  Although there’s a lot going on in Careers, there’s not so much that only adults would enjoy it.  The game gives a minimum age of eight years old, which is, in my opinion, fine.  Although anywhere from 2 to 6 players can play (excepting the 2008 release), this is the kind of Parker Brothers board game that begs for maximum occupancy around the game board.  In other words, Careers is another highly recommended, classic board game. Enjoy!

magisterrex Retro Game of the Week – LOOM (1990)

Some classic games are more obscure than others, but are no less gaming gems than those games that inspired a multitude of sequels and imitators.  LOOM, a LucasFilm Games (the original name of LucasArts Entertainment) product, is one such game.

The front cover of the PC game, LOOM.

Released in 1990, LOOM contained a complex plot involving the fate of the universe resting upon the shoulders of one gifted man-child who is the last practitioner of an ancient guild of magicians called the Weavers.  The plot was so complex, in fact, that the preamble goes on for 30 minutes.  You read that right.  Originally a cassette tape was included so you could listen to the audio drama before starting the game. In the later CD-ROM version, the audio file was included on the CD.

The classic retro game LOOM begins!

Bobbin Threadbare, the aforementioned only surviving member of the Guild of Weavers, must learn the ways of his craft.  This is not a simple adventure game; players don’t simply point and click their way to the grand finale.  In LOOM, magic is music and music is magic.  Bobbin can cast spells, but only as musical sequences on the C Major scale, and only if he possesses his “distaff,” a combination walking stick and wizard’s staff. Much of the game revolves around Bobbin seeking new “drafts” – the magical musical sequences – for him to use in his quest to save the universe from a “grey strand” that has unbalanced creation.

The Practice Mode of LOOM.

This game is pure delight from beginning to finish.  I loved the musical element and complete departure from the standard LucasArts adventure fare that this game provided.  The puzzles weren’t all that challenging, but different enough to be memorable.  The graphics were good for the time, also.  But most importantly, you couldn’t die or be returned to the beginning of the game for a simple mistake, making LOOM the first game to follow the LucasArts game design philosophy.

Standard Mode for LOOM

The game featured three challenge levels: Standard, Practice, and Expert, all relating to how the player learns the new scripts (spells) as they play.  With Practice mode, players could see the letters for the notes that were played. Standard mode takes away the letters on the notes, but instead the distaff glows when the notes are played.  Toughest of all – the Expert mode – removes both the glowing distaff and the musical letters, forcing the player to “play by ear” repeating the spells without the aid of any graphical representation.

Expert Mode for LOOM

Although this is a definitely a one-of-a-kind game, its creator, Brian Moriarty, claims that it was originally intended to be the first of a trilogy.  The sequel, Forge, would have followed Rusty Nailbender of the Guild of Blacksmiths in his fight to free his home from the evil of Chaos.  Following that would have been The Fold, wherein Fleece Firmflanks (I’m not making this up!) must restore the all the guilds to their former glory.  Alas, the sequels were not meant to be, and LOOM remains the unique game that it is today.

This is a fabulous piece of retro gaming history, and one of the most sought-after PC games for most collectors.  If you have a chance to play it, do so.  You won’t regret your time spent saving the world!

The Best Classic Board Games – Scotland Yard

If you’re looking for a game that has a little more depth, but not to the point of needing to take a course from your local community college to play it, Scotland Yard is the game for you.  The object of the game is to capture a criminal who is on the lam from Scotland Yard, chasing him or her through the streets and subways of London, England.  One player takes the role of the fugitive, the rest work together as members of Scotland Yard’s finest.

The 1985 Milton Bradley Scotland Yard

The criminal, Mr. X, can hop on board the subway, take a transit bus, or grab a taxi as he attempts to elude his pursuers.  The police players are always attempting to move into the same space as Mr. X, thereby capturing him.  However, although they know what method of transportation Mr. X is currently using, they usually don’t know where on the game board he is, except during the five times in the game that Mr. X must reveal his location.  Even armed with this knowledge, the police players have only so many turns to capture Mr. X, as they each have a limited number of movement tokens they can use.  Once all players have used up their movement tokens, they cannot move again.  If Mr. X avoids Scotland Yard’s net until all the other players have used up their tokens, he wins the game; if any player lands on Mr. X’s current location, they win the game.

The 1991 Ravensburger version of Scotland Yard

Interestingly, two game companies published this game.  In the United States, Milton Bradley secured the rights to sell Scotland Yard.  In Canada and Europe, Ravensburger distributed the game.  Of the two versions, the Ravensburger game is a far superior product, with much better quality playing pieces.  The game play is exactly the same, though.

The 2000 Ravensburger version of Scotland Yard

This is a game for 3 to 6 players, ages 10 and up, and takes around 45 minutes to complete.  Although Scotland Yard is not a true 100% cooperative play game, it has cooperative play elements.  The more players there are, the more difficult the game becomes, as the police players need to coordinate their searches (which can lead to some spectacular fiascos worthy of the Keystone Cops!).  It is also an award-winning game, winning the 1983 Spiel des Jahres (the German Game of the Year).

If you and your children are seeking a slightly more challenging board game to sink your teeth into, I heartily recommend Scotland Yard. Pick up a copy – you won’t be sorry!

The Best Classic Board Games – WHOSIT? (1976)

A little known classic board game that’s fun for the whole family is WHOSIT? by Parker Brothers.  Released in 1976, WHOSIT? is a game where players begin by randomly taking one of 20 Character cards, keep it hidden from other players’ eyes, and then try to guess who has which card based upon the questions they draw from the Question Card deck.  Players answer YES or NO depending on the question, such as, “Are you holding something?”, “Do you have glasses?”, “Are you male?”, or “Do you smoke?“ Lucky players can draw a “Ask ANY Question” card, which contains all the questions in the deck on one card.

WHOSIT? by Parker Brothers

The characteristics vary from card to card, such as the Genius (White / Male / Child / Glasses / Tie / Gold Room), the Vampire (White / Female / Adult / Blue Room), or the Hero (Black / Male / Adult / Moustache / Smoking / Jewellery / Gold Room).  Players pick up Question cards that give them the opportunity to see who has what feature. But it’s not as easy as you might think, because there are a few curveballs thrown in.  Some characters may not answer truthfully, no matter what the question is, such as the Spy (Always LIES / Oriental / Female / Holding Cigarette / Adult / Hat / Smoking / Glasses / Red Room), the Censor (Always Says NO), or the Director (Says YES or NO / White / Male / Adult / Moustache / Gold Room / Scarf / Holding Riding Crop).

The game board helps in identifying players as it shows each of the characters as they are shown on their Character Cards.  This is darn right necessary when you start trying to remember all the different answers to match up who might be whom. There are no player tokens or dice; the game board is provided just for a place to store the Question cards and as a visual reference.

Contents of Parker Brothers' WHOSIT?

Once a player is ready to make a guess on the identities of all their opponents, a special box, divided in two (one side for YES and one side for NO), is handed around the room.  If their character card has been identified, then they put their chip into the YES side, if not, into the NO side.  If all the chips are on the YES side when the box is opened, the game is over.

This is a fun family game that can be played in less than an hour.  There is nothing risqué about the characters or the questions, so even the younger members of the household can play (though they will need to be able to read their Character card).  Although as little as two and as many as six players can play WHOSIT?, more players make for a more challenging game.  WHOSIT? is yet another wonderful Parker Brothers classic game.  Highly recommended!

magisterrex Retro Game of the Week – Wing Commander (1990)

Classic games are recognizable by both how much fun they are to play and how much they change the genre – or create their own.  Wing Commander by Origin Systems is a game that fits this criteria for greatness.

The original Wing Commander game circa 1990.

Back in 1990, this game pushed the technology envelope.  It needed a 80386 class machine to really run well, and a VGA card to get all the eye candy it had to offer.  A good argument can be made that Wing Commander helped sell a lot of 386 computers to gamers who needed better hardware to get their sci-fi space combat fix!

The creator of Wing Commander, Chris Roberts, characterized his game as “World War II in space.”  The player took the role of a fighter pilot for the Confederation, battling the war machine of the Kilrathi, a race of feline aliens.  Attack runs and defensive missions were launched from a space-going aircraft carrier, the TCS Tiger Claw.  If the player was successful in meeting mission objectives, the storyline continued with Confederation forces pushing back the Kilrathi armada.  If the player failed their objectives, they could continue to the next mission, but too many failures resulted in the Confederation retreating and ceding the sector to the Kilrathi.  This “campaign tree” game system was innovative and fresh in 1990, and a large part of the reason why Wing Commander is a classic.

The First Wing Commander Add-On Pack

Critics agreed: Wing Commander won the Origins Award for Best Fantasy or Science Fiction Game, as well as Computer Gaming World’s Overall Game of the Year award.

The game also spawned an entire series of sequels, add-on packs and stand-alone games: Wing Commander: The Secret Missions, Wing Commander: The Secret Missions 2 – Crusade, Wing Commander II: The Vengeance of the Kilrathi, Wing Commander II: Special Operations 1, Wing Commander II: Special Operations 2, Wing Commander II Speech Accessory Pack, Wing Commander: Privateer, Wing Commander: Academy, Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger, Wing Commander: Armada, Wing Commander Privateer: Righteous Fire, Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom, Wing Commander: Prophecy, Wing Commander: Prophecy – Secret Ops, and Wing Commander: Privateer 2 – The Darkening.  Numerous “gold” editions for the games which combined the add-on packs with the original games or multi-game packs that featured one or more of Origin’s other titles were also published.  Wing Commander was even ported to other game systems, including the Commodore Amiga system, the Sega CD system, and the Super Nintendo (SNES).  The series even crossed over into Hollywood with a feature film release in 1999.

The 2nd Wing Commander Add-On Pack

If you haven’t played the flagship of the Wing Commander universe, pick up a copy and imagine it’s 1990 all over again.  Become a Confederation cadet and fight the Kilrathi menace – you’ll be glad you did.