13 Things you didn't know about board games

BY Emily Goodman

18th Jan 2024 Life

4 min read

13 Things you didn't know about board games
Many of us loving playing board games and people have been playing them for millennia. Here's some fun facts about this excellent pastime

1. We have been playing board games for millennia

Chess, checkers, backgammon and Go all have origins in the ancient world. King Tut was buried with multiple sets of an Egyptian game called senet. Hundreds of pieces of Greek pottery depict Ajax and Achilles hunched over a board in the midst of play. And the Ashanti people of Ghana are believed to have created a board game called wari, which you may know as the count-and-capture game mancala.

2. It wasn’t until the 19th century that board games began to be sold commercially

The first, The Mansion of Happiness, came out in England in 1800. The “mansion” was heaven, and players raced to get there.
"The first commercially sold board game, The Mansion of Happiness, came out in England in 1800"
Decades later, an American named Milton Bradley reworked— and rebranded—it as The Checkered Game of Life.

3. Ludo has roots in ancient India, where it was called pachisi

Pachisi is from the Hindi word for “twenty-five,” the highest possible outcome of a single throw. But whereas Americans only tweaked the name to Parcheesi, the British decided to call it Ludo (‘lew-doh), Latin for “I play.” So when Englishman Anthony E Pratt developed his murder-mystery board game in 1943, he called it Cluedo, playing on Ludo. (In some countries, it’s called Clue.)

4. Around the world, the colourful cast of Cluedo can look quite different

Cluedo modern box
Professor Plum was originally called Dr Orange in Spain. Mr Green goes by Chef Lettuce in Chile. Mrs Peacock is Mrs Purple in Brazil and Mrs Periwinkle in France, and in Switzerland, she’s Captain Blue, a man.

5. Board games occasionally inspire screenwriters

There’s the 1985 mystery Clue, the 2012 action movie Battleship and the 2023 fantasy film Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves.

6. At least one board game is being adapted into a television show

The game's creator was a famous French filmmaker , Albert Lamorisse, who wrote and directed the 1956 Oscar-winner The Red Balloon, also created a board game he called La Conquête du Monde (Conquest of the World).
"A French filmmaker created a board game which an American manufacturer introduced to the US and renamed it Risk"
Parker Brothers, an American toy and game manufacturer, introduced it to the US soon after, and renamed it Risk.

7. Another game inventor, Alfred Butts, called his game a couple of other names before Scrabble

Two women playing Scrabble
Butts first called his creation Lexiko, then Criss Cross Words, before settling on Scrabble—a word that means “to hold on to something.” The hugely popular game has been translated into 29 languages and more than 150 million sets have been sold around the world.

8. Over a game of Scrabble, Canadians Chris Haney and Scott Abbott came up with the idea for their game, Trivial Pursuit

Its success launched a years-long legal battle with an American encyclopedist who claimed Haney took trivia from his books, something Haney readily admitted to doing. In the end, the courts decided you can’t steal trivia and dismissed the suit. During the 1980s, Trivial Pursuit outsold even Monopoly, racking up $800 million in sales in 1984 alone.

9. At the highest levels of play, it’s not all fake money

The winner of the World Chess Tournament takes home up to 60 per cent of the €2 million purse, with the runner-up receiving the smaller share. Even the Monopoly world champion takes home real cash: US$20,580, the amount that comes in a standard Monopoly game.

10. Arguably the wrong person is credited with the creation of Monopoly

The American who sold Monopoly to Parker Brothers in the 1930s, Charles Darrow, often receives the credit for creating the game. But it was another American, Elizabeth Magie, who, decades earlier, earned a patent for her invention, The Landlord’s Game.
"Ironically, Magie’s aim was to show the evils of accumulating wealth by bankrupting others"
Players purchased railroads, paid rent and occasionally ended up in jail. Ironically, Magie’s aim with the game was to show the evils of accumulating wealth by bankrupting others.

11. Monopoly was a polarising game in communist countries

Fidel Castro banned it in Cuba, and it was also banned in China for much of the 20th century. But an even more dramatic bit of board game history occurred during the Second World War. Since prisoners of war in Germany were allowed board games, American troops hid maps, compasses and real money inside Monopoly sets to help them escape.

12. The idea for the kids’ classic game Candy Land came from Eleanor Abbott, an American polio patient

Candy Land modern box
In 1949, Abbott wanted to create something for children to play in quarantine. In fact, illness has served as game inspiration many times. In the British mobile-app-turned-board game known as Plague, players take on the role of deadly diseases trying to mutate and spread across the world. Conversely, in Pandemic, created by an American, players try to contain the spread of diseases and discover cures.

13. Thousands of new games are released each year and there's annual awards for the best

How can you tell which ones are worth buying? One reliable indicator is the Spiel des Jahres (“Game of the Year” in German), a prestigious award given each summer by a jury of (mostly German) game critics who volunteer to play and vote for the winning games. Previous award recipients include Settlers of Catan, Dominion and Ticket to Ride. 
Banner photo: Illustration by Serge Bloch
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