• 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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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.


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? – 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? – Stratego (1972)

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

Box art for the 1972 Stratego game.

The contents of Stratego are as follows:

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

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

Two plastic trays to fit the game pieces in

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

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

The Rules sheet.

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

Box contents of the 1972 Stratego game.

Red and Blue armies for the 1972 Stratego game.

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!

What’s In That Game Box? – Bermuda Triangle (1976)

Ever scoured the Internet looking for what exactly you were missing from the old board game you pulled from your closet, only to find no one who could give you the answer?  Well, stop that fruitless searching through endless google results, as this week we look at the somewhat obscure Milton Bradley classic, Bermuda Triangle Game, the 1976 Sinister Mystery Cloud Swallows Ships game.

Box art for Bermuda Triangle Game (Milton Bradley, 1976)

The contents of Bermuda Triangle are as follows:

The game box (with background art of a cargo ship in troubled waters, and a foreground of the game’s contents set up and ready to play).

The game board (featuring a detailed map of the Bermuda Triangle area, from Florida to Puerto Rico, overlaid with a 46 space ship path.)

The two-piece Bermuda Triangle Cloud.

The three-ringed Cloud Spinner.

16 plastic ship tokens (four each in blue, green, red, and yellow) with a small magnet embedded in their centers.

A single six-sided die

A set of 8 Port Cards (stating HOME PORT BONUS $20,000 on one side, and Bermuda Triangle Game HOME PORT on the other side)

A set of 24 Product Cards, consisting of:

BANANAS $10,000
BANANAS $20,000
BANANAS $30,000
BANANAS $40,000
LUMBER $20,000 [x2]
LUMBER $30,000
LUMBER $40,000
LUMBER $50,000
LUMBER $60,000
LUMBER $70,000
OIL $60,000
OIL $70,000
OIL $80,000
OIL $90,000
OIL $100,000
SUGAR $30,000 [x2]
SUGAR $40,000
SUGAR $50,000 [x2]
SUGAR $60,000
SUGAR $70,000
SUGAR $80,000

The Rules booklet.

Aside from the inner cardboard fillers to help hold all the pieces in an orderly fashion, that’s it.  This is a great game, and one that deserves more attention than it gets.  For those who already have a copy, pull it out of the closet and have fun!

Game board for Milton Bradley's Bermuda Triangle

Cloud and Spinner for Milton Bradley's Bermuda Triangle

Product Cards for Milton Bradley's Bermuda Triangle Game

Home Port and Product Cards for Bermuda Triangle

Ships for 1976 Milton Bradley game, Bermuda Triangle