A board game is a game in which pieces or counters are moved around a pre-marked surface or board. It will traditionally have a set of rules by which the game is played, and allow the players to compete against each other in varying numbers.
Types of game
Many board games are based on simplified simulations of real life. Some use simple counters, whilst others use representations of objects and many modern role-playing games use detailed miniature models.
Board games are played in a variety of ways. Some are based purely on luck or chance, such as those determined by the roll of dice (as in Snakes and Ladders). Others may require the use of tactical skill and planning (such as Chess), deductive reasoning (Cluedo) or test the players’ general knowledge (Trivial Pursuit).
Often a board game will feature a combination of these styles, such as Monopoly which relies on both the luck of the dice and a level of tactical skill. Games which are based on luck are usually aimed mainly at children, whilst the more complex games using high levels of tactical planning are geared towards adults and teenagers.
Board game collectors favour board games from the late 19th century from manufacturers such as McLoughlin Bros, and early versions of popular modern games such as Monopoly.
Games from the 1950s and 60s based on films, television shows and comic book characters are also popular, and are often collected as items of memorabilia.
The value of a vintage or collectible board game is based on its condition and rarity. The most valuable games are those which still contain their rules and all the playing pieces, with mint condition boxes and packaging.
Ancient board games
The history of board games can be traced back to the Ancient Egyptians, and the game of Senet. The board featured thirty squares, arranged in three rows of ten, and used several sets of playing pieces. The exact rules and method for playing are not recorded, but experts believe it was a form of race game.
Senet boards have been discovered in burial tombs from the Predynastic era circa 3500 B.C, and took on an important role in burial rituals (for which it is mentioned in the funerary text the Book of the Dead).
Another early game of the same period is the Royal Game of Ur, discovered in the Royal Tombs of Ur in Iraq by Sir Leonard Woolley in the 1920s. The two boards found date from the First Dynasty of Ur, before 2600 B.C. From the shape of the boards and the number of pieces it too is believed to be a form of race game, but like Senet the rules and method of playing the game remain unknown.
Other early games included the tactical Chinese game Wei-qi, dating back as far as 2300 B.C, and Mah Jongg, which is still played today. The secrecy of ancient Chinese culture meant the game remained undiscovered to the outside world until the 1920s, despite having been played in China for around 4000 years.
The Ancient Greeks and Romans both played a similar game of military tactics, called Ludus latrunculorum by the Romans and recorded as early as 116 – 127 B.C, and in England an early strategy game dating from 40 – 60 A.D was found buried in the famous grave of the Druid of Colchester in Essex in 1996.
19th century board games
Board games of one form or another have been popular for centuries, but the development of the modern board game as recognisable today began during the middle of the 19th century.
The Industrial Revolution had led to increased amounts of leisure time, and advances in paper and printing technology had made board games relatively inexpensive.
In 1843 W. & S.B. Ives of Salem, Massachusetts published the game ‘The Mansion of Happiness’, a race game based on Christian morality which was later republished by Parker Bros in 1894 after they bought out W. & S.B. Ives in 1887.
In 1858 the McLoughlin Bros company was formed by game maker John McLoughlin. They went on to create some of the most beautiful games ever published in the United States, and today their games such as ‘Bulls and Bears’ are the most sought-after by antique games collectors.
Then in 1860 ‘The Checkered Game of Life’ was created by Milton Bradley. As with many games of its time it had a strong moral message, and the object of the game was to raise a family and live to old age. It was republished in 1960 on its 100th anniversary as ‘The Game of Life’ and remains popular to this day. In 1920 Milton Bradley bought out McLoughlin Bros.
Companies such as J.W Spear (1874) and Parker Bros (1883) both began producing and marketing board games towards the end of the century, with many imitating real-life events such as ‘Klondike’ based on the Alaskan gold rush and ‘War in Cuba’ based on the impending Spanish-American War. Throughout the 1920s games reflected such events and drew inspiration from diverse subjects such as the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb and Charles Lindberg’s flight.
20th century board games
Then in 1935 Parker Bros published Monopoly, "the most played (commercial) board game in the world."
The game had its roots in the Landlord Game, created in 1924 by Lizzie J. Magie and adapted by Charles Darrow in 1933. Darrow hand-made boards for his new version, called Monopoly, and in 1935 Parker Bros bought the rights and sold over a million sets in the first year.
The Second World War brought production to a halt for many companies as factories were taken over for essential war work, but the late 1940s saw production back in full swing and the creation of several highly successful games such as Scrabble and Cluedo (both 1948).
The 1950s saw the birth of Risk, created in France in 1957 by Albert Lamorisse and published by Parker Bros in 1959. The decade also saw a huge number of games based around television shows and characters, as game companies tried to use the popularity of television to aid their sales, and the dominance of larger companies who could afford to television adverts aimed directly at children.
The 1960s saw the popularity of games such as Mouse Trap (1963) and Operation (1965), and the 1970s saw the creation of Boggle (1972), Connect 4 (1974) and Trivial Pursuit (1979).
In recent years board games have lost popularity as computer games have become more dominant in the market. Nearly all traditional board games now have a licensed computer game or online version available.
The world’s most expensive board game
The most expensive board game ever sold at auction is a 1933 hand-made Monopoly board, built by one of the game’s inventors Charles Darrow. Darrow sold his hand-made sets until the idea was purchased by Parker Bros in 1935 and mass production began. The 1933 set is the earliest to have survived intact with pieces and rules, and the only one with a circular board. It was sold as part of the Malcolm Forbes toy collection sale at Sotheby’s in December 2010 for $146,500.