Board games: where do the classics come from?


With so much of the year spent at home, it is unsurprising that board games and other indoor activities have been extremely popular. In fact, sales of tabletop games rose by 240 per cent in the UK back in March. It was a similar story in Australia. 

It’s not only physical games that have become more popular. Digital versions of games provide a way to maintain friendships and closeness despite social distancing requirements and are fun to boot. For instance, cult role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons can be played via an online platform where players escape the boredom or stress of lockdown and embark on collective adventures. Other simulation games, like the latest version of Animal Crossing, where gamers can create a digital avatar and explore an untouched island, have also surged during the pandemic. They provide a predictable and gentle form of escapism and a sense of control in a period where many feel unmoored. Absorbing and entertaining, games are a way to pass the time, socialize with others and distract oneself from the world around.

While there are more options released all the time, it appears that family classics such as Monopoly, Cluedo (or Clue, depending where you come from) and UNO are still some of the best sellers. So where did they come from?

Monopoly

A widely-played and controversial family board game (apparently the game that causes the most fights), Monopoly was invented in 1903 by American woman Elizabeth Magie. It was originally designed to show the inequalities inherent under a capitalist system, especially how wealth can accumulate in the hands of the few. For as we all know, it is almost impossible to win Monopoly if you don’t invest in buying houses and important infrastructure like railways early on in the game. Magie actually designed two versions, a ‘monopolist’ and an ‘anti-monopolist’ option, to further illustrate her capitalist critique, but the anti-monopolist rules seem to have disappeared.

Today there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of different versions of Monopoly, including a version you can play online. It is available in 103 countries and in 37 languages, which is a testament to the game’s enduring popularity. There is always the chance that YOU could be the one to accumulate the wealth at your friends’ expense!

Cluedo

Designed during World War II and released in 1949, this murder mystery board game was modelled on the ever-popular role playing party games. In Cluedo, players must move their characters around the board, trying to work out who is the murderer, in which room the murder occurred and with what weapon. Over the years, the game evolved, introducing different weapons and updated characters to fit with the changing times.

The game has also inspired a stage play and a musical, highlighting the ongoing popularity of murder mystery games and storylines over the years. Cluedo also has lots of spin-offs, speciality editions and themed versions on offer.

UNO

While not technically a board game, UNO is a staple for all ages,This game entered the market in 1971 and was based on the card game Crazy Eights.  It was designed to be easier for younger players to learn and a game for the whole family to enjoy.

It was created by the Robbins family who cleverly marketed their new card game across the United States. After that it went global. It’s safe to say that the rules can often be controversial. To this day, there are lots of different variations on how to play the game, depending on the player. In fact, there was an uproar when in 2019, UNO distributors Mattel, clarified that it was in fact ‘illegal’ to place a draw-2 on top of a draw-4, creating a ‘draw-6’. But are these rules or merely guidelines?

As winter approaches in the Northern Hemisphere, perhaps it’s time to dust off that well-loved deck of cards? If you’d like to explore beyond the classics, these days there are countless board, card and tabletop games to keep you busy on cold nights. Happy gaming!

Cover Photo by DesignerVN on Unsplash

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