HOW TO SCORE 1,782 IN SCRAB­BLE spell­ing the word be­low (a pain-re­liev­ing drug, since you ask). Just one of the snip­pets from an in­trigu­ing new his­tory of board games

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Which board game was de­stroyed on the or­ders of Fidel Cas­tro but also helped Al­lied pris­on­ers of war es­cape from Colditz? Who hand­cuffed new games to his wrist and then hid them in gi­ant bank vaults? Why did Cluedo’s Rev­erend Green come a crop­per in Amer­ica? We now spend al­most €8bn a year on board games world­wide and Monopoly alone has sold more than 250mil­lion copies since its in­ven­tion – so if you’re plan­ning a few hours fu­ri­ously com­pet­ing around a ta­ble this Christ­mas, a fas­ci­nat­ing new book, It’s All A Game, re­veals the ex­tra­or­di­nary sto­ries be­hind the cre­ation of these clas­sics….


The cap­i­tal­ist board game banned by Rus­sia, China and Cuba. Claim to fame The best-sell­ing branded board game ever cre­ated, with more than 250 mil­lion copies sold world­wide.

WHAT’S THE SCORE? When Monopoly be­gan life in 1902, de­signed by an Amer­i­can in­ven­tor and fem­i­nist, El­iz­a­beth ‘Lizzie’ Magie, it was called The Land­lord’s Game and aimed to show the tragedy of a cap­i­tal­ist so­ci­ety. Play­ers trav­elled around the board us­ing pa­per money to buy land, rail­ways and util­i­ties, much as they do to­day. But each time they passed a cor­ner square marked ‘La­bor upon Mother Earth pro­duces wages’, they col­lected a salary of $100. In an­other cor­ner was a square warn­ing: ‘No tres­pass­ing. Go to jail.’ In a fi­nal cor­ner there was a pub­lic park and the poor house where bankrupted play­ers would end up.

In 1933 it was re­designed and com­mer­cialised by Charles Dar­row, who, in 1935, sold it to Parker Brothers, who added the fi­nal touches. By the end of that year, more than 250,000 copies of the game, now called Monopoly, had been sold in the US.

Parker pres­i­dent Robert Bar­ton then sent a copy to the Leeds-based card-game man­u­fac­turer Wadding­tons, whose boss Vic­tor Wat­son asked his son Nor­man to play it over a week­end. He loved it. Keen not to waste time, Wat­son made a transat­lantic tele­phone call (at a cost of roughly £250 a minute in to­day’s money) to Parker Brothers to buy the rights. Parker, as­sum­ing Wadding­tons must be a big deal in Bri­tain be­cause of the ex­pense of the call, sold them the rights.

To rename the prop­er­ties, Wat­son and his sec­re­tary spent a day tour­ing Lon­don in a taxi, se­lect­ing lo­ca­tions to put on to the board. The An­gel, Is­ling­ton, was named BY TRIS­TAN DONO­VAN af­ter the pub in which they were hav­ing a drink at the end of the day.

DID YOU KNOW? Dur­ing WWII, Wadding­tons made spe­cial Monopoly sets to send to PoWs. Each con­tained a silk map, a com­pass and two files within the board. Real cash for bribes was hid­den among the Monopoly money. They were a suc­cess, most fa­mously aid­ing es­capes from Colditz Cas­tle.

FACT The be­lief that fines and taxes are put in the cen­tre of the board and are won by any­one land­ing on Free Park­ing is wrong, but has en­tered into folk­lore.


Scene of the ter­ri­ble crime. Claim to fame The game that em­bod­ied the golden age of de­tec­tive fic­tion.

WHAT’S THE SCORE? It was in­vented in 1943 in Birm­ing­ham by fac­tory worker An­thony Pratt. A keen in­ter­est in mur­der mys­tery books in­spired him and his wife Elva to cre­ate a board game called Mur­der. Orig­i­nally there were 10 rooms and the guests were Dr Black, Mr Brown, Mr Gold, the Rev Green, Miss Grey, Prof Plum, Miss Scar­let, Mrs Sil­ver, Nurse White and Colonel Yellow (later changed to Colonel Mus­tard) and a set of un­usual mur­der weapons.

The Pratts showed the game to Wadding­tons’ Nor­man Wat­son in 1945. He pub­lished it but made changes. It be­came Cluedo, the board lay­out was al­tered and the guest list changed. The pis­tol be­came a re­volver, while the axe, the cud­gel, the bomb, the poi­son and the sy­ringe were re­placed by a span­ner, a can­dle­stick and a sec­tion of lead pip­ing.

DID YOU KNOW? In the US, Rev Green be­come Mr Green, since Parker wor­ried that a homi­ci­dal cler­gy­man would not go down well.

FACT The Pratts made lit­tle from the game they in­vented. In May 1953, they ac­cepted a one-off pay­ment of £5,000 for the rights out­side the UK. Mr Pratt died in 1994.


The game took 20 years to spell ‘SUC­CESS’. Claim to fame The game that in­spired its own dic­tionary. WHAT’S THE SCORE? When New York draughts­man Al­fred Butts was made re­dun­dant in 1931, he de­cided to cre­ate a board game. He opted for an ana­gram game in which play­ers would pull let­ters out at ran­dom and use them to con­struct words. He spent weeks por­ing over news­pa­pers, count­ing how many times each let­ter of the al­pha­bet ap­peared. That dic­tated how many of the 100 tiles in his game should rep­re­sent each let­ter of the al­pha­bet – vow­els such as E and A are far more com­mon than the let­ters X and Z.

He sold it un­der a va­ri­ety of names: Lex­ico, It, Criss-Cross Words. But it wasn’t until 1947, when James Brunot, a New York so­cial worker, bought the rights to it, spruced up the board, re­named it Scrab­ble and had it com­mer­cially pro­duced that it be­gan to take off. Ar­gu­ments over which words were and were not ac­cept­able led to the cre­ation of Scrab­ble dic­tio­nar­ies.

Mat­tel owns the rights to the game ev­ery­where in the world apart from the US.

DID YOU KNOW? The US Scrab­ble dic­tionary has ruled that pro­fan­i­ties and words that could cause of­fence must not be in­cluded. This clear-up be­gan af­ter a Holo­caust sur­vivor dis­cov­ered that her Scrab­ble dic­tionary con­tained an of­fen­sive slang term for Jew. A sub­se­quent cull removed about 175 words. The Collins dic-

tionary leaves the pro­fan­i­ties in place.

FACT It’s pos­si­ble to score 1,782 points on a sin­gle word – ‘oxyphenbu­ta­zone’ (an anti-in­flam­ma­tory drug). To get the points, the word would have to be played across the top of the board, hit­ting three triple word score squares while con­nect­ing with seven cross­words down­wards.

Mouse Trap

Cre­ated by the Willy Wonka of toys. Claim to fame It sold about three mil­lion copies in its first year.

WHAT’S THE SCORE? Chicago-born Marvin Glass was a 5ft 3in, para­noid, chain-smok­ing ball of ner­vous en­ergy who be­came known as the Willy Wonka of toys. Hav­ing set up a toy com­pany in 1941, he made a for­tune from a plas­tic chicken that laid mar­ble eggs and a set of wind-up, chat­ter­ing den­tures. But he is best re­mem­bered for Mouse Trap, a 1963 game in­spired by a news­pa­per car­toon that de­picted a hu­mor­ous, over-de­signed con­trap­tion that solved an ev­ery­day task. A cou­ple of com­pany employees de­signed a con­vo­luted mouse trap with cranks, gears and lev­ers that would cause a shoe to kick a bucket, a metal ball to roll down a rick­ety stair­case and a drain­pipe, and a bowl­ing ball to drop through a hole in a bath­tub and land on a see­saw, be­fore fi­nally un­bal­anc­ing a cage that dropped down and cap­tured the mouse. They then cre­ated a race game around that ridicu­lous ap­pa­ra­tus. By the early Seven­ties, an es­ti­mated one in 20 toys and games sold in the US be­gan life in Glass’s Chicago toy lab.

DID YOU KNOW? Glass fret­ted con­stantly about the risk of cor­po­rate es­pi­onage. He trans­formed his of­fices into a war­ren of high-se­cu­rity rooms, and ar­rived at trade shows with armed guards and a suit­case con­tain­ing his lat­est pro­to­types hand­cuffed to his wrist.

FACT Glass dreaded sleep­ing. ‘It’s like be­ing dead,’ he said, re­veal­ing he slept just five hours a night. He died at 59 af­ter years of smok­ing three pack­ets of cig­a­rettes a day.

Triv­ial Pur­suit

Si­na­tra ad­mired them for do­ing it their way. Claim to fame The must-have game of baby-boomers, it de­fied the trend for video games. WHAT’S THE SCORE? When Mon­treal Gazette photo ed­i­tor Chris Haney bought a new Scrab­ble set in 1979, its price con­vinced him and his friend Scott Ab­bott that there was a for­tune to be made in games. Ab­bott sug­gested a trivia-quiz game, and the pair came up with a pro­to­type in 45 min­utes. They chose ques­tions that they felt their gen­er­a­tion would enjoy an­swer­ing or learn­ing the an­swers to.

The game was launched in 1981, and the first copies were sold at a loss – each game cost £48 to make and they were sold to shops for £10. But de­spite the fact they were try­ing to sell it at the peak of video-game mania, it be­came one of the big­gest sen­sa­tions of the Eight­ies. The nos­tal­gic ap­peal of the ques­tions was im­por­tant. The game re­con­nected baby boomers, now sad­dled with mort­gages, kids and ca­reers, with the TV shows, mu­sic and defin­ing mo­ments of their youth.

DID YOU KNOW? In 2006, the game’s mak­ers were ac­cused of dumb­ing down their ques­tions.

Down­ton Abbey cre­ator Ju­lian Fel­lowes lamented: ‘The mak­ers are hav­ing to re­flect the col­lapse of ed­u­ca­tion in this coun­try.’

FACT Ev­ery­one who took shares in Triv­ial Pur­suit walked away with hefty re­turns, while the com­pany’s founders sold the rights to Has­bro in 2008 for £56 mil­lion, hav­ing al­ready sold more than 88 mil­lion sets. ‘It’s All A Game: A Short His­tory Of Board Games’ by Tris­tan Dono­van is pub­lished by At­lantic, priced £12.99.

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