For some while I’ve been kicking around the idea of writing a Nerdarchy series about games and toys from my childhood and early teens years, which were the 1970s and early ’80s. Board games, action figures, early role playing games, and other of my youthful pastimes would be the subject matter, hopefully raising some nostalgia for older readers and maybe a few chuckles from younger ones who get to see our old-fashioned playthings.
This is the first of the series, which will be fore-titled “Blast from the Past.” Not every Nerdarchy article I write will be part of this series, but enough will that it makes some sense to note the difference. Also, these “Blast from the Past” articles might delve into different subjects, possibly movies and other nerdy things from my younger days, but the focus will be upon games and toys.
This week I take a look at the board games I played the most. I hope you enjoy.
Guinness Game of World Records
There have been several board games based upon the famous Guinness Book of World Records, but my favorite was the 1975 version made by Parker Brothers. This was more than just a trivia game, though that was part of it. You actually had to perform feats like bouncing a ball a number of times on a stiff card, or stacking small figures atop one another, or playing a shortened version of Tiddlywinks. There were other tasks to be done, and you never knew which one you would have to perform until you or a fellow player’s piece landed somewhere on the board. Basically, you had to try and set your own records based upon the toys included with the game. I think this one would still stand up pretty good today, but most of those feats weren’t all that easy.
Technically I suppose “The Game of Jaws” isn’t a board game. I mean, there’s no board, after all. Still, it was made by Ideal, a toy maker and board game publisher back in the day, and on fan sites it generally gets labeled as a board game. Released in 1975 to capitalize on the fame of the Spielberg movie, this was a favorite toy of mine when I was six. Hey, what’s there not to like? You’ve got a giant plastic shark with rows of teeth, plenty of things for the shark to eat, and a long hook to pull those items out of the jaws of the beast. That was the goal, to pull all the goodies out of the shark’s mouth, but the trick was to do so without that big mouth chomping down on your hook. Most of the items in the mouth were junk, like a partial wagon wheel or human skull or fish bones, but for some reason it was important to get them out of there. And if you didn’t feel like playing the actual game, you still had a giant shark to play with. Lame? Not when you were six in the 1970s. Also, I remember seeing this same game years later, but it no longer bore the “JAWS” title but was called something else, probably because the game maker no longer had rights to the Jaws name.
Everyone has played Monopoly, right? Well, lots of people have, though which version of the game they’ve played could be anyone’s guess. For me, the Monopoly game I grew up with was the 40th anniversary edition released by Parker Brothers in 1975. At the time this edition seemed quite special to me as I’d never seen anything but the basic, classic version of the game. What set this Monopoly package apart from the others? For one thing, it came with a plastic tray for use by the bank. For another thing, it came with a round spindle which could hold all of the game’s property cards. I also believe one or two of the game pieces were special in some way, maybe rare, but I can’t remember. I do know there was a deluxe version of the 40th anniversary edition of Monopoly, with wooden houses and hotels and a leather case to hold the game, but that was too fancy for a kid.
Over the years there have been a number of board games called “Bonkers,” but the one that was my game was the 1978 version made by Parker Brothers and fully titled “This Game is Bonkers!” Even by 1978 standards, this was a pretty simple game. Two to four players move pieces along a board while trying to win by getting 12 points. The real fun came with the small instruction cards. At the start of the game, all the spaces on the board are blank, but whenever your piece landed on a blank space, you got to place one of the small cards next to that space. From then on, anyone who landed on that space had to follow the instruction on your card. Most times the instructions were simple, like “Roll Again” or “Ahead 10,” but some of the cards moved you to the Score space, where you earned a point, or allowed you to switch cards with other players, or other seeming nonsense. For the eight-year-old me, it was lots of fun, though I think it would probably not hold my interest today. In 1989, Milton Bradley came out with its own version of this game, being quite similar with only a few rules changes but a major difference in colors, though the board was laid out in the familiar pattern. Also, this game was originally designed by Paul J. Gruen, a rather well-known game designer who was also responsible for the famous “Pay Day” board game.
1980 was the year I first played this popular game, and I suppose that’s fortuitous because the edition I became familiar with was released that same year. Since then there have been tons of different versions of RISK, but the one I played came with little colored, plastic Roman numerals as the playing pieces instead of the more common plastic soldiers we have today. Of all the games listed here, perhaps this one holds the most memories for me. It’s not that it was my favorite game, though it was fun to play for hours upon hours, but the person I played with was my late father. We spent whole weekends playing RISK, and I don’t think we ever managed to finish a game, as neither one of us could take over the whole world. But that’s RISK, a long game that sometimes never seemed to end, though it’s fun while it lasts.
If you weren’t around from 1979 to about 1983, you have no idea of just how huge Pac-Man had become. Besides the initial video game and its sequels, there was Pac-Man everything, from cartoons to lunch boxes to all kinds of toys, including board games. Yes, in 1982, Milton Bradley released “Pac-Man the Board Game.” Now you might think, “Okay, easy enough. Just draw a maze on the board, then move around some figures shaped like Pac-Man, and you’ve got a game.” Okay, true enough, but the folks at Milton Bradley took game play a few steps farther. For instance, the famous power pellets were actual marbles that fit into holes on the game board. Then there was the funky little plastic Pac-Man which was built in a manner so you could actually move him around the board to eat those marbles, all while being chased by ghosts. Yeah, yeah, nothing special by today’s standards, but that was pretty nifty stuff in 1982.
Also known as “The Game of Life,” this was another one lots of people had played back when I was a kid, almost as many as had played Monopoly. This is the oldest game listed here, originally created back in 1860 when it was called “The Checkered Game of Life,” but the version most people know first came out in 1960. The specific version I played was published in 1985. If you’ve played this game, you know how it goes. Your playing piece starts off alone in a little plastic car. You get married. You get a job. You have kids. You buy insurance. You pay bills. Yaddy yaddy. Sounds boring, just like real life, doesn’t it? Actually, though, it was lots of fun, and a spin of the game wheel could change one’s fate.
There we go. I hope you enjoyed this little tour down nostalgia lane with me, maybe recalling some fond memories or simply enjoying looking at some of the games we used to play, and some people still play. If you get a chance, you might enjoy checking out these games for yourself, possibly if a friend or family member happens to have one shoved away in a closet somewhere.
But whatever games you play, whether board games or video games or tabletop, always remember to “Stay Nerdy!”
A former newspaper editor for two decades in Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky, Ty now earns his lunch money as a fiction writer, mostly in the fantasy and horror genres. In his free time he enjoys tabletop and video gaming, long swording, target shooting, reading, beer tasting and recalling fond memories of his late wife and their beagle baby, Lily. Find City of Rogues and other books and e-books by Ty Johnston at Amazon.