Category Archives: Board Gaming Nostalgia

Who owns the rights to Twixt?

A fascinating conversation on boardgamegeek has inspired me to write this post. Most of what I’m writing here is covered in the 6+ pages on BGG. However, I would like the story to be read more generally than on the Twixt “news” forum on BGG.

Who owns the rights to Twixt?

 

What is Twixt?

The fences and posts of Twixt
The fences and posts of Twixt

Twixt is an abstract game where players place posts and fences in an effort to connect their pieces from one side of the board to the other. The board is a 24×24 grid of peg holes. You place one post in the grid on your turn. If you have posts on the opposite ends of a 6 peg rectangle (a 2×3 rectangle) then you may connect your posts with a fence. Fences may not cross over other fences–they must go around,. You are free to rearrange your fences on your turn so long as you follow the rules above. If you connect your pieces across the game board, you are the winner.

Twixt holds a solid 6.6 game rating on BGG. Considering it’s an abstract from the 1960’s, this is high praise. I find copies at thrift stores and I always pick them up. I haven’t played Twixt yet but by all accounts I am doing myself a disservice by not giving it a whirl.

 

Background with 3M

3M logo
3M logo

In 1961, Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing (3M) added a board game division to their line of consumer products. In addition to making Scotch™ tape, 3M would make Mr. President, Stocks & Bonds and Acquire. The decision to add a board game division to their company required them to find game design talent. They added Sid Sackson and Alex Randolph to their line up.

Sid Sackson has a plethora of games under his belt. The aforementioned Acquire but also Sleuth and Can’t Stop. When you think of Sackson you should think of him as the 1960’s version of Reiner Knizia.

Enchanted Forest from Ravensburger
Enchanted Forest from Ravensburger

Czech born Alex Randolph was also a notable game designer. While not as prolific as Sackson, Randolph has some nice credits under his belt. Enchanted Forest comes to mind.

And so does Twixt.

Copyright entry
Copyright entry

Randolph created a pencil and paper version of his posts and fences game and brought it to Minnesota. 3M bought the rights to it and made it into a mass market game in 1962. 3M made a few changes to the rules but overall the game was what Randolph had intended. The 1962 Copyright Catalog shows 3M as the copyright owner. This would cover all the printed material such as the wording of the rules and the artwork. This would  not cover the mechanics or the name.

 

Avalon Hill

Avalon Hill logo
Avalon Hill logo

Avalon Hill was a publisher of high-end strategy games. In 1976 AH acquired the rights to 3M’s board game division. Avalon Hill got the rights to Twixt along with a host of other classics.

It’s long been believed that Randolph made a deal with Avalon Hill buy his designs back. Randolph’s estate has always believed the rights to his games were passed on to his heirs after his death.

No such record in the U.S. record has been found however. A failure to reapply for a copyright is quite common. It’s also a bit unfortunate in this case for the estate of Alex Randolph.

 

Hasbro

Hasbro
Hasbro

Hasbro bought Avalon Hill lock, stock and barrel in the 1990’s. I remember this dark day because I knew I would never see a reprint of any AH games. I was mostly right.

Hasbro had a trademark on Twixt, part of their agreement with Avalon Hill. This mark was cancelled in 2003 because Hasbro did not renew. The trademark only allowed Hasbro to the name Twixt, not necessarily the wording or the artwork (which would be protected by copyright law) or the game mechanics (which would be protected by patent law).

 

So where are we at now?

3M's Twixt version
3M’s Twixt version

The copyright has expired on Twixt. This hardly matters since if anyone who wants to publish the game would rewrite the rules in their own words and modify the artwork along with it.

Any patentable mechanics are long expired. The game was published by 3M in 1962 and designed in large part in 1957. Patent protection does not extend that far back.

Trademarks, however, can offer protection. Trademarks are for commercial names like “Coca-Cola” or “Vaseline”. You can make a soda pop. But you cannot call it “Coca-Cola” because there would be public confusion with your product and Coca-Cola’s flagship product. You can make a petroleum jelly but Vaseline is a name brand.

The name “Twixt” does not have anyone who owns it. At least not until this past summer. One Wayne Dolezal bought the trademark. After studious researching the game, Dolezal found that Randolph and his estate had made the common mistake of not renewing their trademark. Dolezal filed an application in July to secure the rights to the name.

What does this mean?

The mechanics of Twixt are more or less in the public domain. So anyone could publish a game of “fences and posts” just like anyone could publish a chutes and ladders aka snakes and ladders et. al. But the eponymous name of Twixt would only be allowed to be published under the authorization of Dolezal.

Twixt and Schlitz
Twixt and Schlitz

Mr. Dolezal mentioned this long winded but fascinating history recently on BGG. Many in the BGG community were not pleased with him or his tactics. I do not share the community’s contempt–mostly because Dolezal has been very congenial in his discussions. The link I provided shows an outstanding example of an internet argument that is actually constructive.

Dolezal says he plans to republish the game. He will put Randolph’s name on the cover. But he is reluctant to share royalties with the Randolph estate at this point.

The story is ongoing. I will blog again about this as new developments break.

 

Until then, follow us here…

 

 

Origins of Ameritrash: Milton Bradley’s Gamemaster Series

We will conclude our look at Milton Bradley’s contribution to the Ameritrash genre. As we have discussed, Milton Bradley was at the cutting edge in the 1960 with their American Heritage games. Milton Bradley published a large repertoire of Ameritrash games in the 1970’s. All of this leads us to the 1980’s Gamemaster series. This will bookend our current study. Why? The very name “Ameritrash” can be seen to be etymologically linked to the series. Fortress Ameritrash, a movement that celebrates American board game design, took its name from one of the Gamemaster series: Fortress America. While this may conclude our current study of Milton Bradley’s contributions, we will look at Parker Brothers and Hasbro’s contributions in future blog posts.

Origins of Ameritrash: Milton Bradley’s Gamemaster Series

Axis and Allies 1984

Most Muskegon gamers have played Axis and Allies
Milton Bradley’s Axis and Allies

In 1981, game designer Larry Harris wad struck deal with Nova Game Designs. He had been working on his World War II board game for some time. He settled on the name Axis and Allies. The game would allow players to prosecute WWII from a strategic level: you must finance the war and then send forces into battle.

Axis and Allies pieces NGD
Axis and Allies pieces NGD

Nova Games published the first edition of Axis and Allies. The game was a light wargame. Had the game remained under NGD, Axis and Allies would not be considered Ameritrash. Nova Games did not publish games with awesome plastic pieces. They published traditional cardboard counters.

Larry would freelance for Nova Games for the next few years until taking employment at Milton Bradley. Milton Bradley’s marketing team was interested in adding some game design talent to their roster. They offered Harris a job. He accepted. Milton Bradley’s marketing team also was interested in publishing specialty games. They were intrigued by three recent publications from Nova Games–all the design of Larry Harris.

Harris worked on a deal to move his titles from Nova Games to Milton Bradley. In 1984, the deal was struck and Milton Bradley published the first of the Gamemaster Series: Axis and Allies.

Axis and Allies components
Axis and Allies components

Milton Bradley did what they did best: add a heavy toy factor to their specialty games. The game came with a complement of 5 armies. Each army had battleships, bombers, infantry, tanks and other units. Each unit had its own combat abilities, special abilities and a financial cost to buy. This blew Risk right out of the water.

Japanese units head towards China
Japanese units head towards China

Players take on the role of one of the main five belligerents of WWII. The game has a rigid game round structure. A player will purchase new units, research new technologies, make combat moves, the resolve combat, make non-combat moves and then collect income. Then the next player takes his turn. This rigid turn structure was old hat to wargamers but was fairly new to Milton Bradley’s typical consumers.

Axis and Allies is asymmetrical. There are three Allies fighting two Axis. But the Axis has two ways to win whereas the Allies but one. The geography of the board makes each nation fight the war a bit differently also. For example, Russia will be on the defensive all game. Japan has to take as much of Asia as possible while keeping the USA at bay.

Axis and Allies has been the most popular game of the Gamemaster Series. It has spawned several editions, a revised edition, an anniversary edition, a newbie-friendly edition, along with several other iterations. There are also CD-ROM games and miniatures games with the moniker Axis and Allies.

And it shows no sign of slowing down.

 

Broadsides and Boarding Parties 1984

Muskegon loves classics like Broadsides & Boarding Parties
Broadsides & Boarding Parties

Another design from Harris, Broadsides and Boarding Parties is as different from Axis and Allies as it is fun, a testament to Harris’ design abilities.

Broadsides and Boarding Parties was originally published by Citadel Game Systems. Their edition, much like Nova Game Designs’ edition of Axis and Allies, would constitute a light wargame. The game came with an unmounted board and cardboard counters.

Painted copy of Broadsides & Boarding Parties
Painted copy of Broadsides & Boarding Parties

Milton Bradley turned this into an Ameritrash game. It comes with two 3-D ships. You place your sailors and cannons on them along with your masts. This gives it the best visual flair of any of the Gamemaster Series.

The goal of B&B is to destroy your opponent’s ship. You will use your guns to destroy your opponent’s crew and masts. And then you will board his ship to finish him off. The game ends when a player has lost all three of his masts or his captain is dead.

Broadsides & Boarding Parties cards
Broadsides & Boarding Parties cards

This is a game of programmed movement. You place three movement cards down. Then you and your opponent flip over the first one and move your ships. Depending on the position of the ships, you can shoot none, some or all your cannons. Ideally you would like a broadside: when the long side of your ship is facing the narrow side of your opponent’s ship. This would give you more cannon shots than your opponent.

When you roll for damage, the damage could miss, hit crew and/or cannons, or damage a mast. If one or two masts are damaged, you lose one or two of your three movements. You lose if your last mast is damaged. If you are lucky enough to kill your opponent’s captain, you also win.

Boarding in B&B Parties
Boarding in B&B Parties

If your ships are in base contact, you can start boarding. Your crews will be locked in deadly hand-to-hand combat.

Broadsides & Boarding Parties got the least amount of love from the publishers. It didn’t get any additional editions or revisions from Milton Bradley or its successors. But it left an indelible mark in the history of Ameritrash games.

Conquest of the Empire 1984

Conquest of the Empire
Conquest of the Empire

The last of the Gamemaster Series to be designed by Larry Harris was 1984’s Conquest of the Empire. Conquest of the Empire takes place during a time of civil war. Each player controls a faction with a rival caesar. Your goal is to eliminate all the other caesars and become emperor.

Conquest of the Empire was much more like Risk than Axis and Allies. It was a free-for-all game, there were temporary alliances and there was player elimination. Despite this, Conquest of the Empire is considerably deeper (and better) than Risk.

Conquest of the Empire (1984) in progress
Conquest of the Empire (1984) in progress

There are several different units in Conquest. Each has its own cost and combat abilities. Players finance their war effort by deciding which units to buy. Players can also buy fortresses and roads. Fortresses give defensive bonuses while roads give movement bonuses.

Conquest had many good ideas. It had an inflation mechanic. Units would keep getting more and more expensive as the game went on, draining the coffers of all the would-be emperors. The wheelin’ and dealin’ was a nice touch that Axis and Allies could not add.

Gamemaster Series Advertisement
Gamemaster Series Advertisement

But the game did have a few flaws. The most notable was the power of the catapults. Catapults would give you a +1 to your dice rolls. And they are cumulative. And they are limited in supply. So if you bought them, you would have an unstoppable army.

The player elimination aspect is, of course, a vestige of yesteryear’s games.

This is not to say Conquest was without merit. Eagle Games picked up the game several years ago and republished it. They included the classic game along with some updated rules. The updated rules are very good and worthy of an occasional play. And the plasticky goodness along with the war/combat theme means that Conquest of the Empire is Ameritrash through and through.

Shogun 1986

Muskegon loves the Gamemaster Series
Shogun

The last Gamemaster Series games were the design work of Michael Gray. Gray, like Larry Harris, is a prolific game designer. He designed games like Dungeon and The Omega Virus. Milton Bradley added Gray to their team during the same time period they added Larry Harris.

Island fortress in Shogun
Island fortress in Shogun

Shogun was the next game in the series. Shogun takes players to feudal Japan where internecine fighting has consumed the islands. Players have a daimayo that they are trying to raise to emperor.

Planning board
Planning board

Shogun is really a revamped version of Conquest of the Empire. Gray seemed to take the ideas of Harris’ game that worked well and then fixed the ideas that didn’t. Shogun has a secret bidding round. Players will plan their allocations to in one of several different areas. Then players simultaneously reveal their plans. The player who bids most in “swords” gets to pick his turn order. The player who bids highest on the ninja gets the use of the ninja for the round.

Experience track for Shogun
Experience track for Shogun

There are several different units, all with different combat abilities. (Just like Axis and Allies and Conquest of the Empire). However, Shogun had an experience track for your generals. Each time your general won a battle, he went up in experience. This allowed him to make more moves and/or attacks. But watch out! The ninja could be used to assassinate him, reducing him back to his starting stats.

Shogun is a solid game, even by today’s standards. It was rereleased as Samurai Swords and then as Ikusa. With its wonderful complement of miniatures and light wargame theme, how else could we categorize this other than Ameritrash?

Fortress America 1987

Fortress America box
Fortress America box

And this brings us to the last game in the Gamemaster Series. And it’s the game that gave birth to the moniker “Ameritrash”. We are talking about Fortress America, of course. This was also a Michael Gray design.

Gamemaster Series ad (II)
Gamemaster Series ad (II)

In the near future, the US has perfected its star wars weaponry. The USA is now impervious to any nuclear attack. The rest of the world has decided it does not want to be held ransom by American weapons and has decided to attack. Three invaders, all on one team, move into and sack American cities. US troops desperately try to oust them long enough for attrition and partisan activity to be felt. The game ends when all the invaders are destroyed or when 18 US cities are captured by the invaders.

The Southern Invader arrives at San Antonio
The Southern Invader arrives at San Antonio

The invaders outnumber the US by 3 to 1. But they have only their starting complement of units. Once they run out, they don’t get any more. The US, however, draws two reinforcement cards each round and gets one laser tower each round. Plus the US gets lots of defensive bonuses. If they can hold out, they can defeat the invaders.

Milton Bradley's Gamemaster Series
Desperate fighting in New England

Fortress America is truly asymmetrical. This is a departure from Shogun, Broadsides and Boarding Parties and Conquest of the Empire which were all very symmetrical. It’s also a one versus many game, the only one in the Gamemaster Series.

Despite this, Fortress America is fatally flawed. The game, if played right, should end with an American victory every time. The invaders must take 18 cities. But American cities are not uniformly found throughout the country. The Eastern Invader has many more than the other invaders. If the US concentrates all of its laser fire and reinforcements here, the invaders will never get to 18.

The game did get a reprint. Fantasy Flight redid this game, fixing these issues. Buffalo was removed and Colorado Springs was added. A few other tweaks were added as well. Now the game is at least balanced.

The game comes with plenty of different units, lots of plastic cities and laser towers. All of this wrapped in a light wargame. And that means we are dealing with Ameritrash.

Epilogue

Milton Bradley Logo (1980's)
Milton Bradley Logo (1980’s)

This concludes our look at Milton Bradley and its impact on the origins of Ameritrash games. I will spend some time soon looking at Parker Brothers’ contributions to this genre as well. I will wrap up the topic with Hasbro’s contributions.

And as always, drop by The Gaming Annex to play any of these or any other Ameritrash game.

Links

Larry Harris’s site

Information about Michael Gray

Gamemaster Series

 

 

 

 

 

 

Origins of Ameritrash: Milton Bradley’s Command Decision Series

Wiktionary defines Ameritrash games as “a genre of board games predominant in the United States, characterized by a high degree of luck, longer playtimes, player conflict, and highly-developed, often dramatic themes, especially involving war or adventure.” We talked about the different board game genres in a previous post. Ameritrash games were defined by theme, narrative, direct player conflict and “chrome” components. In order to be Ameritrash, you really need some player conflict, a strong theme or narrative along with toy components. The origins of this genre can be traced back to the 1960’s. We will cover this subject in several blog posts. This one will cover the saplings that would eventually sprout the Ameritrash genre: Milton Bradley’s Command Decision Series.

 

Board games before the Command Decision Series

Avalon Hill's Tactics II
Avalon Hill’s Tactics II

From the turn of the century until the early 1950’s, board games were nothing more than children’s rainy day activities. Games like Monopoly and checkers were activities that kept kids busy. Avalon Hill revolutionized the game world. Sort of. They took the idea of games and turned them into simulations. Avalon Hill’s games like Tactics II or Midway were deeply complicated affairs compared to Parker Brother’s offerings. The games were difficult to learn and even more difficult to find since they were not carried by department stores. The games coming from this upstart Baltimore publisher were high in strategy, high in complexity and low in general accessibility.

Waddingtons' Monopoly
Waddingtons’ Monopoly

This was the paradigm that existed in board games by 1960: children’s rainy day activities or military simulations. There was no middle ground.

Then something magical happened at American Heritage Magazine.

 

American Heritage Magazine collaborates to make history fun

American Heritage circa 1961
American Heritage circa 1961

American Heritage Magazine has a long and proud history. According to its website,

For 60 years, the magazine has told the American story with verve, humor, compassion and, above all, authority.

The leading historians of the past century have either contributed or edited the articles of American Heritage. The magazine began as a house organ in 1947 and became a quarterly magazine a few years later.

Milton Bradley's logo (1950-1964)
Milton Bradley’s logo (1950-1964)

History is a dense subject. It’s dry to read, it’s difficult to write and it’s unforgiving to teach. American Heritage made a decision to make history more fun and accessible to the younger generation. In the 1960’s, the magazine worked with leading game publisher Milton Bradley to make what would be known as the American Heritage Games or Command Decision Series.

The first game in the series was published in 1961. The series was concluded in 1975. The series, had it been released today, would be called for what it was: Ameritrash. We will look at all the games in this series and discuss how they contributed to the Ameritrash genre.

 

Battle Cry (1961)

Battle Cry from Milton Bradley
Battle Cry from Milton Bradley

The first game in the Command Decision Series was 1961’s Battle Cry, game of the Civil War. Players take on the role of either the Union or the South. Each player has a complement of plastic soldiers, cavalry and artillery.

Battle Cry from Milton Bradley
Battle Cry from Milton Bradley

A player may move his pieces up to the roll of his dice. Cavalry and artillery can move 2 spaces per pip and infantry but one space. Battles take place when you have a column of pieces in line with a column of your opponent’s pieces. The superior force wins, eliminating the weaker force.

The rules for Battle Cry are fairly simple. But the game does require careful planning if one is to successful prosecute the War between the States.

But what interests us here is not a game review so much as a genre review. And this author contends that Battle Cry is the first Ameritrash game. Let’s look at the key tenets of the genre.

  • Narrative and theme
  • “Chrome” components
  • Direct player conflict
Battle Cry player aid
Battle Cry player aid

Battle Cry has a narrative: it’s a game about the American Civil War. Battle Cry has plastic components. The toy factor is quite strong. Anyone who had played with toy soldiers and wished there was a game you could play with them got their wish with Battle Cry. And there is direct player conflict, obviously.

Battle Cry struck a balance between the children’s activity/war game simulation spectrum of its day. It was a game of strategy but not a full fledged simulation. It was a new game genre: one made in America with lots of plastic components. Thus, was Ameritrash born.

 

Broadside (1962)

Broadside from Milton Bradley
Broadside from Milton Bradley

American Heritage and Milton Bradley continued their collaboration with 1962’s Broadside. Set during the War of 1812, players take on the roles of either the US Navy or the British Navy. The game comes with 20 plastic ships, four land batteries and an oversized map of the shore.

British ships from Broadside
British ships from Broadside

Players move one of their ships during their turns. If they can move a ship so it’s broadside is adjacent to an enemy ship, the enemy loses a plastic mast. Once a ship has lost all of its masts, it’s removed from the game. The game continues until the British have destroyed four merchant ships or until the US has destroyed all the British ships.

American land battery fires on a British ship
American land battery fires on a British ship

Broadside’s importance to the Ameritrash genre should not be ignored. Broadside has all the key tenets of the genre and it was completely unlike Battle Cry. Had Milton Bradley simply rethemed Battle Cry, Ameritrash games would not have blossomed like they did. Milton Bradley took a different theme, several new but simple mechanics and applied them to a game with awesome toy ships.

 

Dogfight (1962)

Milton Bradley's Dogfight (1962)
Milton Bradley’s Dogfight (1962)

The next Command Decision game came right on the heels of Broadside. 1962’s Dogfight pits two teams in desperate World War I aerial combat. Each team has two squadrons of biplanes that fly above the color game board set in France or Germany. The game ends when one team has destroyed all their opponent’s airplanes.

Dogfight in action
Dogfight in action

The neat thing about Dogfight: it’s a card driven combat game. You have a hand of cards for each squadron. To attack, you must maneuver next to an enemy biplane and play a “Burst” card. Your opponent may then play a defense card. If he does, he survives, else his plane is eliminated. The trick is: you have to land your airplane to refresh your deck. So when you first launch an airplane, you can do all sorts of things but as you spend more time in the air, you get fewer and fewer options. This really helps sell the idea of a dogfight where pilots have to manage their fuel consumption.

Like its two predecessors, Dogfight is definitely Ameritrash: direct player conflict, toy airplanes, war/adventure theme. The game is thematically and mechanically very different from both Battle Cry and Broadside. The combat system was way ahead of its time.

 

Hit the Beach 1965

Hit the Beach from Milton Bradley
Hit the Beach from Milton Bradley

The next Milton Bradley/American Heritage collaboration took place in 1965. This time the game would deal with US Marines storming the Japanese held islands in the Pacific. Each player has a squad marines, an airplane a ship. Players are racing against one another to clear the Japanese obstacles and thus reach the final objective.

US Marines clearing Japanese held gun embankments
US Marines clearing Japanese held gun embankments

After clearing an objective, the player who cleared it may put it back on the board in a way to slow down an opponent. This is the primary skill in the game. The rest is a roll-and-move variant of Parcheesi.

If there was one dud in the group, it would be Hit the Beach–rated a weak 5.1 on BGG, Despite this, the game is still Ameritrash. Cool plastic pieces, direct player conflict (more or less) and a war/adventure theme. And with its one simple mechanic of moving obstacles, Milton Bradley again made a completely different game instead of simply rehashing of the previous efforts.

 

Skirmish (1975)

Skirmish from Milton Bradley
Skirmish from Milton Bradley

The final game in the Command Decision Series was 1975’s Skirmish. Set in the Revolutionary War, the British player has several armies, warships and a troop carrier while the American player has several small land units to fend them off.

British Navy and Army moving along the coast
British Navy and Army moving along the coast

The game is completely asymmetrical. The British have less maneuverability than the Americans. But they have greater firepower and get reinforcements quicker. The British win by defeating the Continental Army. The Americans win by defeating the four British armies.

This game sports both plastic armies and ships. The combat is done by a random card draw–not my favorite mechanic but a new twist on simply rolling a die. Milton Bradly, again, was able to come up with a fresh design in this game series.

 

Intermission

What sort of man plays Ameritrash?
What sort of man plays Ameritrash?

This subject is too long for a single post. The next post will deal with the Ameritrash games of the 70’s like Carrier Strike. We will conclude our column with the Gamemaster Series of the 1980’s in the third blog. Stay tuned! In the meantime, if you were wondering what type of man plays Ameritrash, check out this ad from the 70’s.

 

 

-Chris, on behalf of the Muskegon Area Gamers

 

 

Trump: the Game

This blog is purposely apolitical. I don’t waste time here discussing the ongoing presidential election cycle, who’s a demagogue or who’s facing imminent indictment. But the recent news that Donald Trump is the defacto GOP candidate does afford me a rare opportunity: a timely look at a classic board game. The classic board game? Parker Brothers’ Trump: the game.

 

1. It’s not whether you win or lose…it’s whether you win

In the late 80’s, people knew of Donal Trump. This, despite the fact he was not yet a reality TV star. He was promoting himself in various financial articles in Time or Newsweek. He sat down and did interviews with many in the news agencies or talk shows. (Not much has changed). When not promoting his image or his business ventures, the tabloids would hound him. I remember hearing about him and his then wife Ivanka even when I was in high school.

In 1989, a man named Jeffrey Breslow approached The Donald about a board game. Jeffrey Breslow has several game titles under his belt

Jaws from Ideal
Jaws from Ideal

including Jaws (Ideal) and Guesstures. Breslow had an idea for a bidding/auction game. With the name TRUMP attached to it, the game stood a greater chance of getting picked up by Parker Brothers or Milton Bradley.

Trump agreed. Not because he loved our hobby but because he is a shameless self-promoter. Some stars get action figures. Some get candy bars. And a rare few get board games.

With Trump’s name, Parker Brothers agreed to publish the game. Trump starred in the commercial for the game. The tag line was quite memorable: “It’s not whether you win or lose, but whether you win!”

But is the game itself memorable?

 

2. Overview of the rules: the goal

Trump: the Game 1st Edition
Trump: the Game 1st Edition

The goal of Trump is to end the game with the most money. Players take on the role of a real estate mogul. Both these things are in line with a game based upon Donald Trump. +1 for theme!

There are eight properties that go up for sale. Each property has a cartridge (because it was the 80’s). Inside the cartridge is the value of the property. As the game progresses, unowned properties gather more income, simulating their accrued value. Eventually players will land on the property (like in Monopoly) and the property goes up for auction. High bidder spends his bid and claims the property. The money inside the cartridge is his. Hopefully he invested wisely.

There are two editions of the Trump game. And the rules have several differences. But in both games, the game clock is when all eight properties are owned by the players. The last phase of the game happens when the last property is bought. When the last phase is complete, players tally their money. The most money is the winner.

 

3. Action choices

Trump: the game board
Trump: the game board

Players have a choice of actions on their turn. After drawing a Trump card, the active player chooses to either roll the dice and move his pawn or play a Trump card.

Playing Trump cards, generally gives you money. The Trump cards will give

Trump Cards (1st edition)
Trump Cards (1st edition)

you money if you own a specific property. This gives players secret goals. If you draw a couple of Casino cards, you have more incentive to buy the Casino than other players.

Moving around the board is how you force certain auctions to take place. It’s also a way to add money to the cartridges of unowned properties, making their upcoming auctions juicier.

The auction mechanism in Trump is…unique. It’s a two phase auction. The first phase is closed and the second phase is open. Players secretly select how much they are going to bid on a property. Players simultaneously reveal their totals. Players who bid nothing are not allowed to participate in the second phase of bidding. During the second phase, players in turn order will bid on the property or pass. Players who pass may jump back in later. The auction ends when all players pass in a row. The winner claims the property and spends his money. All other players keep their bids.

 

4. What’s memorable about Trump: the Game

Trump: Property cartridges
Trump: Property cartridges

The auction mechanic is definitely unique. Reiner Knizia has not even designed that into one of his games. And he designed Modern Art which is nothing but different styles of auctions.

The game also has a game end that is player provoked. Players can try to force the end of the game by trying to get the last property auctioned. Games where players force the end of the game are usually more satisfying than games with a hard limit of turns.

The property cartridges were a cool component. They look pretty cool (for a 1980’s game). And they allow for secret information.

And speaking of secret information: the Trump cards are just that. You have a hand of action cards that you can use to gain some money or to slow down a runaway opponent.

All of these aspects make Trump: the Game more memorable than its closest living relative: Monopoly. And the play time is around an hour so it’s got Monopoly beat there as well.

 

5. Trump: the Game 2nd edition

Trump: the Game (2nd Edition)
Trump: the Game (2nd Edition)

Donald Trump’s empire suffered a blow in the 90’s. He filed bankruptcy and went through a messy divorce. I thought I had heard the last of him. But he somehow managed to rebuild his wealth.

And he landed a reality TV show. Since the world was being subjected to Donald Trump: the 2nd Edition, why not subject us to Trump: the Game (2nd edition) as well?

Trump: 2nd edition has several differences over its 1st edition. There is an additional action choice. Players may wheel and deal their Trump cards. Got an Airline card that’s worth $50 million to me? We can work out a deal.

You're Fired!
“You’re Fired” cards knock other players out of the bidding on a property. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Nicole Crowder

Donald Trump’s reality show coined the phrase, “You’re fired!” So the 2nd edition added several “You’re fired!” cards to the deck. These allow you to eliminate someone from an auction.

The newer edition also doesn’t allow you to buy owned properties. The original edition allowed you to “force” the sale of a property, even a property someone already owns. If you sell your property you collected the sale price. They took this mechanic out in the new edition. I think that was a mistake. I kinda like that mechanic.

 

6. Final Thoughts

2008: Campaign Manager
2008: Campaign Manager

Trump: the Game is one of the better Monopoly clones. This makes it a mediocre game. It has some kinda good ideas. Those ideas would need more work to make it a good game.

The Trump cards are a good idea. But they need more polish. The roll-and-move aspect of the game is just bad. And lazy. There are so many other ways to address this instead. Fix these issues and you would have a pretty good game.

This election cycle, like it or not, has been fascinating. Wouldn’t it be great if the design team that brought us 1960: the Making of the President and 2008: Campaign Manager were to give us a 2016 version? No matter the winner: I would buy that game!

 

 

Board game nostalgia: Axis & Allies

There have been a few games that have really shaped my gaming history. These games have taught me a lot about the hobby while also nurturing my love for board games. One of the most important contributions to my gaming development was Axis and Allies. Axis and Allies would graduate me from Risk and chess to Civilization and Republic of Rome. Sit back for a stroll down memory lane as I reminiscence about a Milton Bradley classic.

 

1. What’s in that huge blue box with red letters?

Most Muskegon gamers have played Axis and Allies
Milton Bradley’s Axis and Allies

In 11th grade, I’d go to my friend Larry’s house to play Dungeons & Dragons. As the session would wear on, our attentions drifted and more tomfoolery took place than actual role playing.

It was during one of these times that I noticed a large game box in his room. It said Axis & Allies in large typeface with a collage depicting World War II. I had recently done a research project on World War II. I believe my thesis was “How the U.S. singlehandedly won World War II”. If I’m not mistaken, my thesis was strongly defended by both my prose and the historical record. I was intrigued by this time period. And a board game that covered this was sure to whet my appetite.

Larry said, “I’ll show you how to play”.

 

2. Playing Axis and Allies

Muskegon loves classic Ameritrash like Axis and Allies
Milton Bradley’s Axis & Allies

The goal of Axis and Allies is to win World War II. The game is set in Spring 1942. The Axis war machine has reached its historic high point. For three more years, the Allies would encroach on the imperialist holdings of the Axis until unconditional surrender was declared.

Axis and Allies has two win conditions. It’s the first game I can recall playing where this was the case. The Allies win by conquering both Axis capitals. The Axis wins by either two of the three Allied capitals or by reaching 84 on the IPC track. (IPC’s are Axis and Allies bucks; thus the Axis could achieve an economic victory).

Players take on the roles of one or more of the five major players of World War II: USSR, Germany, UK, Japan or the USA. Players collect income for all the territory their country controls. This income is used to develop new technologies and to purchase units. Those units are then hurled at your opponent’s territories, claiming new territory, gaining additional income which feeds your war efforts. This continues until one of the victory conditions is met.

 

3. My first play

Components of Axis & Allies
Components of Axis & Allies

After a rules explanation, we set the game up. Larry liked the idea of succeeding where Hitler and Hirohito failed. He took the Axis. That was fine with me because I wanted to be the good guys. Like Stalin.

We spent several hours prosecuting World War II that night. I misplayed the USSR. The USSR is tough to play when you are new to the game. And it’s exacerbated when you are managing three different economies that have different turn orders. I watched in horror as Larry’s forces eventually brought the USSR down. He reached the 84 IPC threshold, winning the game.

While I lost the game, I was enamored by Axis and Allies. I wanted to play it again as soon as possible. Larry won the second game as well.

I made Axis and Allies “my game”. I studied every nuance: the units, the set up and the board. I then went on to beat Larry in our third game. And our fourth game. And every game we played thereafter. Eventually he would no longer play with me. So I found new opponents.

And then I beat them too.

 

4. Why was Axis and Allies so special?

The rule book for A&A
The rule book for A&A

Axis and Allies was my earliest exposure to asymmetrical gaming. Normally I played games like chess or Risk where everyone started with equal forces. Not so in Axis and Allies. The Axis has a substantial material advantage. But their economy is greatly outclassed by the Allies.

The difference in units was brilliantly integrated into the game. When I would play Risk, I thought it would be cool if there were airplanes and tanks. But I couldn’t figure out how to do it. My understanding of game mechanics was greatly expanded by my exposure to A&A’s combat dice. Each unit rolls a die. Each unit has a certain hit value. If the die roll is equal to or less than the hit value, you score a hit against your opponent. This is standard fare nowadays. But in 1988 (when I first played Axis and Allies), this was new and exciting.

Several other aspects of the game were ahead of its time as well. The two win conditions for the Axis which I already stated. And those weapons development rolls. By spending 5IPC’s, you could roll a die. If you rolled a 6, you got a random technology. Some were bunk. But two of them were so amazing, they would almost win you the game. The risk/reward aspect of weapons development was very satisfying for an 80’s game.

5. Where does Axis and Allies stack up today?

Axis and Allies with poker chipsAxis and Allies with poker chips
Axis and Allies with poker chips

We don’t play much Axis and Allies at The Gaming Annex. In fact, I haven’t played it since around 2000. While ahead of its time, Axis and Allies has since been surpassed by better games.

New versions of the game are still being published. The definitive favorite today is probably Europe 1940 along with Pacific 1940. Hardcore fans play both games simultaneously.

These new versions add a ton of new units. When I played, there were infantry, tanks, fighter planes, bombers, transports, battleships, aircraft carriers and submarines. Now there’s artillery, halftracks, destroyers, tactical bombers and cruisers. The map measures a whopping 70″ by 32″. Expect to be engaged for up to 12 hours if you are going to take on this beast.

And there’s more than just the hardcore 1940 games. There are six pages of Axis and Allies games on boardgamegeek. The game has spawned a generational following. While my flame may have died out, Axis and Allies is still sparking the imagination of new gamers.

-Chris, reminiscing on behalf of the Muskegon Area Gamers.

Board game nostalgia: Mystery Mansion

It’s no secret that I love mystery games. Santa brought me a copy of Clue in 1980. It was love at first sight. Santa out did himself in 1986 when he brought me Milton Bradley’s Mystery Mansion. While Mystery Mansion is not a great game, it is a game that inspires a lot of nostalgia.

1. Clue has a challenger

Mystery Mansion game box
Mystery Mansion game box

Clue was the perennial mystery game for me. Players would move about a mansion, collecting clues, slipping through secret passages and raced to find the solution. You can imagine my excitement when I opened up Mystery Mansion on Christmas Day, 1986–a game where players moved through a mansion, slipped through secret passages, collected clues and race to find a treasure.

The box artwork exudes a more ominous feel than Clue. The mansion, with the lightning in the background with a dark blue and purple overtone is reminiscent of Scooby Doo’s opening score. That alone hooked me. I was eager to rip open the box and examine the contents.

2. What’s in the box

Mystery Mansion play
Mystery Mansion play

A game of Mystery Mansion comes with lots of plastic bits. There are stairways, secret passages and treasure chests. The stairways are just chrome but it was a nice addition to the game.

There are two decks of cards: one for searching and one for clues.

But the coolest components in Mystery Mansion were, of course, the rooms. The rooms were made of cardstock. They had to be constructed before your first play. But after that, you have a three dimensional game board.

Mystery Mansion rooms
Mystery Mansion rooms

The artwork on the rooms really sells the fact that you are in a creepy old mansion. The rooms are a top view of the room with a cool 3D perspective. I definitely approve of the artwork choices Milton Bradley made.

 

3. Game Play

Goal of Mystery Mansion
Goal of Mystery Mansion

The goal of Mystery Mansion is to find the treasure. There are two treasure tokens and five spider web tokens. These are randomly placed into plastic chests (which actually open and close). Successfully finding and navigating a treasure laden chest to the starting point is how players win.

Players will have three actions on their turns.

Chests with cob webs and treasure
Chests with cob webs and treasure

They can move or search with their action. If they search, they play a Search card that has an icon matching something on the room they are in. For example, you might have a Search card that says “Crate” or “Sink”. If there is a crate or a sink in your room, you may draw a Clue card. The Clue cards might be a chest, a key, a special action or (more than likely) a cob web.

Once you find a chest, you immediately place one of the seven chests into the room you are at. Each chest has two numbers on the bottom. You claim the chest if you have a key that bears this number. Take your claimed chest to the starting point and then open it up. If it has a treasure in it, you win!

Other actions you can take are moving and/or adding rooms to the mansion. You roll the die.

Mystery Mansion search cards
These items are probably on the 1st floor

Five of the sides are “Open” which allows you to move or to add a room to the mansion. The rooms must be placed copacetic to other doors on the mansion. There are plastic stairways you can place between rooms of different floors. This is chrome but it does make the mansion look cooler.

The strategy of the game is really to manage your hand of Search cards so you optimize your actions. Go in the basement if you have Search cards that would typically be used there. Make use of secret passages when necessary. Have a few special actions (some of the Clue cards) ready to slow your opponents down. Rinse and repeat.

4. Mystery Mansion’s place in gaming history

Clue cards
Clue cards

Mystery Mansion was ahead of its time. The use of “actions” is easily recognizable in most modern games. I cannot think of too many games previous to Mystery Mansion where players were given several different action choices on their turns and were given more than one action on a turn.

Betrayal at House on the Hill from AH
Betrayal at House on the Hill from AH

Mystery Mansion is easily the inspiration for Avalon Hill’s Betrayal at House on the Hill. In both games, you explore a creepy old mansion. In both games you search for clues (or omens…). In both games, you build the mansion as you go, selecting from three different stories. I’m certain the designers for Betrayal at House on the Hill were big fans of Mystery Mansion when they were kids. They simply removed the treasure hunting aspect and replaced it with a horror theme.

Mystery Mansion really makes you feel like you are exploring and searching. Adding rooms to the mansion adds the exploration facet. You never know what you will encounter. And the playing of search cards requires you to pay attention to the artwork on the rooms. So you are searching for rooms that have the items matching what you have in your hand.

Mystery Mansion is ultimately dated. Despite being ahead of its time, the game is showing its age. A game can drag on because of the luck of the draw of keys or chests. The internal game clock present in modern games is missing in here.

Mystery Mansion would be a great thrift store pick up. I would like to find a copy at a local store to add to my heap. Hopefully I will be able to report that I found a copy in my next thrift store blog.

 

-Chris, noted gaming nostalgist.

 

 

Board Game Nostalgia: Mage Knight

I’ve always been a fan of the miniature war gaming hobby. I’ve never been a fan of the price, however. I’ve never been a fan of spreadsheets either. And mini war games seemed to be heavy on price and on spreadsheets. So I struggled to either cobble a collection of minis to use or I struggled to find other gamers. Then in 2000, Wizkids announced they were solving both of these problems. The outcome: Mage Knight. And this blog post shows why I still have a touch of nostalgia for this flawed masterpiece.

1. The Perennial Champion: Warhammer 40K 

40K Terminator Squad
40K Terminator Squad

 

Games Workshop does a few things extremely well. 1. they make exceptional looking minis; 2. they have kept themselves relevant for decades.

Games Workshop does several things horribly wrong. And while I could fill two blog posts with those details, here I will only mention price. A squad of Space Marine terminators (five 28mm figures) has an MSRP of $70. And that is unpainted and unassembled.

For those who are willing to abandon all other games to singularly pursue 40K as a hobby, this is not that much of an obstacle. But for the rest of this, this is a deal breaker.

Space Marine Predator
Space Marine Predator

But Games Workshop has maintained a strong fan base despite this. This is because they sell a hobby, not games. And they zealously guard their business model.

I was involved in 40K . I really wanted a minis game. And the fact that 40K had a built-in fan base meant I didn’t have to hunt for other players. But I was not loyal. I was on the look out for anything that was a serious challenger to Games Workshop.

 

 

 

2. A Challenger: TSR’s Battlesystems

TSR's Battlesystem
TSR’s Battlesystem

TSR released a few different editions of what they called a “Battlesystem”. It was their version of a minis game. They used Ral Partha models which could give Citadel models a run for their money. And TSR was a large enough company to go toe-to-toe with Games Workshop.

TSR, living up to their name Tactical Studies Rules, built medieval combat rule set that was just as good Warhammer Fantasy. And Ral Partha found a way to sell minis for about 60% less than Citadel.

And I was hooked.

I was never a fan of painting or the assembly. But I did like the visual flair. And the universe of TSR was D&D and was thus much more recognizable than GW’s Warhammer’s universe.

But TSR did not support this game for long. And Ral Partha did not pick up the slack. And the game never really took off. Finding minis and finding people to play was a constraint. And few gamers were willing to migrate from Warhammer to something that was untested.

 

3. A New Company, a new vision

Mage Knight Dial
Mage Knight Dial

In 2000, a new company was founded: Wizkids. Wizkids was the brainchild of Jordan Weisman, one of the creators of the popular robot mini games Battletech. Mr. Weisman had an idea to solve what he perceived to be the gaping problems with conventional minis games. And as it turned out, his perceptions and my perceptions had substantial overlap. And the outcome of his vision: Mage Knight.

Mage Knight corrected the problem of the high costs of minis games. You could get the base set for $13.99 and a booster pack for $5.99. For $50 or so, you could make an interesting army.

Mage Knight also corrected the problem of needing extensive charts and tables. Each figure had a combat dial. And the dial dictated all the items you needed to know about that figure. The boot icon was how far the unit could move. The sword icon was added to your combat dice roll to see if you scored a hit. The shield icon was the target value of that dice roll. And the starburst was the amount of damage you scored when your hit landed. Simple.

And there were lots of special abilities. Special abilities were color coded squares or circles on the sword, boot, shield or starburst values. Learning the special abilities was easier than most historical mini war games.

4. Tons of Expansions

Soaring Crossbowman
Soaring Crossbowman

Mage Knight’s initial success was augmented by a slue of expansions. And each expansion definitely expanded the MK universe.

The first expansion, Lancers, included the mounted figures which were on double sized bases. There were dragonflies, cavalry and various fantasy steeds.

More expansions followed. These expansions included extra factions while also fleshing out the existing factions. The mysterious Solonavi and the gawdy Shyft were added to the Atlantis, the Orcs, the Elves and the Black Power rebels.

5. Mage Knight anew

Mage Knight 2.0
Mage Knight 2.0

After several expansions, Wizkids decided to streamline their game with Mage Knight 2.0. Wizkids made 2.0 largely incompatible with 1.0 rules. They did this to get rid of some of the troublesome special abilities and other unbalanced aspects the original game had.

Mage Knight 2.0 is a superior game to Mage Knight 1.0 if you compare them in a vacuum. 2.0 added “proficiencies”. The boot icon, sword icon, etc were labeled as proficiencies. And each had a small but meaningful power. Mage Knight 2.0 added a bow and arrow to some figures instead of the sword. Some figures had a wing instead of a boot.

In the original game, figures might have the special ability of “fly” and they could move across terrain and figures without hindrance. In 2.0, the same was true but

Mage Knight "Ardent"
Mage Knight “Ardent”

the figures had a flight stand. This allowed the figures to hover over the battlefield, literally separating them from ground combat.

Mage Knight 2.0 also had relics and spell books. Every booster had at least one relic in it. The relics allowed you to add a special weapon with some awesome power to one of your figures. You would break out the relic token from the styrene card and then place the token into the slot of the figure.

Spell books allowed some characters to have lots of spells at their command. This added many customizable options for army building at the cost of additional complexity.

6. The new addition adds mounts

Scalesworn Honor Guard
Scalesworn Honor Guard

And then there are the Mage Knight 2.0 mounts. They fixed the one problem I had with the original mounts: the dudes can be separated from the mounts. The rider has a separate dial and hit points from his steed.

The mounts came with a slue of new proficiencies, again adding to the complexity of the game. Mounts could overrun figures, knock back figures or impale them.

This was largely good for the game. And the minis were looking better than ever.

But all was not well.

 

7. The Cracks begin to show

Mage Knight Nexus
Mage Knight Nexus

Mage Knight released Nexus in 2005. This would be the last Mage Knight 2.0 expansion. This expansion, by all accounts, was one of the best.  But Wizkids decided to abandon Mage Knight.

Wizkids had lost a large portion of its customers along the way. And the new expansions were not bringing new customers to the game at strong pace. There are several reasons why this was the case.

Wizkids promised they would learn from Magic: The Gathering’s failures when it came to obsolescence and errata. Then Wizkids sent all 1.0 figures into obsolescence.

Solonavi Soulshredder
Solonavi Soulshredder

The errata of many special abilities suggested the game was rushed to market. There is no better way of receiving biting criticism from gamers than sending their previous editions into obsolescence and then issuing extensive errata for your new product. The tournament scene dried up. Boosters that sat on the game store shelf for too long were put on clearance. The gaming crowd moved onto the next shiny game.

And Mage Knight was done.

Wizkids had to undergo substantial overhaul to stay afloat. Weisman left the organization. The company took some new direction. And now in 2015 they are much more robust then they were in those last several months of 2005.

 

 

 

 

8. Mage Knight the Board Game

The Muskegon Area Gamers plays Mage Knight about once a month.
Mage Knight from Wizkids

Wizkids tapped Vlaada Chvátil, the JJ Abrams of board game design, for their reimagining of Mage Knight. The Mage Knight board game is a smashing success. It currently sits at 8 on the all-time board game list on board game geek. The game has spawned several expansions and has won more awards than you shake a stick at.

This reimagining takes some of the figures along with the MK universe and creates an epic (if dense) board game experience. Players must manage their hand of cards if they are to outwit their opponents and achieve the high XP level.

 

 

9. Epilogue

Club Sternberg
Club Sternberg

We certainly played the heck out of Mage Knight. My brothers and I played often. Dugas, Nate and Bubba and I played often too. I had tons of 28mm buildings to go along with my Mage Knight castle. Seen here is the City of Agippa from our Club Sternberg days.

It’s difficult for me to assess the impact Mage Knight had on the gaming world. Yes, it spawned the massively popular board game. But maybe we can give it more credit than just that too?

Relatively inexpensive miniatures that are prepainted is the true mark of Mage Knight. All gamers are lovers of toys. And prepainted toys X-wing base gamesuperior to do-it-yourself-painted toys. And the game world has responded.

Fantasy Flight has taken this to heart with its line of Star Wars toys minis. X-wing and the new Star Wars Armada boast magnificent miniature ships that are prepainted. And the price point is more attractive than Games Workshop’s dreck.

Can we credit this in part to the success of Mage Knight? I think so.

-Chris, on behalf of a nostalgic feeling Muskegon Area Gamers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Board Gaming Nostalgia: Milton Bradley’s Prize Property

If I had to go out on a limb, I would say board gamers are more nostalgic about their hobby than other hobby enthusiasts. We remember the games that were fun when we were young. Then we go to extravagant lengths to reacquire those games as adults. Then those games sit idly on our shelves because of the Cult of the New. To shed some light on my feelings of nostalgia, I thought I would discuss one such gem. The game is Milton Bradley’s Prize Property.

1.  The Day I first saw Prize Property

Giles Road Baptist
Giles Road Baptist

I didn’t know that Milton Bradley released this gem until the mid 80’s. I was at a church function at Giles Road Baptist. The youth pastor and his wife had a copy. I was enamored. It didn’t take much coaxing to get me to want to play.

It would be 25 years later when I finally had a copy myself.

2. Milton Bradley improves upon Parker Brothers’ Monopoly

Prize Property from Milton Bradley
Prize Property from Milton Bradley

Improving upon Monopoly is not exactly setting the bar very high. But Milton Bradley’s Prize Property was definitely superior in almost every metric.

Players take on the roles of real estate developers. The goal is to be the first to build all nine buildings. There is no player elimination unlike Monopoly. Players get more income for owning sets of buildings similar to Monopoly. The game takes about 90 minutes to play (the time listed to play Monopoly which is wholly inaccurate).

This alone would not inspire that much nostalgia. So let’s take a look at the particulars!

 

3. Glorious bits

Prize Property publicity shot
Prize Property publicity shot

Prize Property is the spiritual predecessor of Milton Bradley’s Hotels. And the components show this. Prize Property had fantastic components for 1974. The 3-D cardboard buildings added lots of visual flair.

There were three levels of buildings players could build. And there were three buildings in each level. The biggest buildings cost $15,000, the mid-sized ones cost $10,000 and the smallest cost $5,000.

As the game progressed, players would get a sense of accomplishment from watching their resort materialize on the board.

 

4. The Mechanics

Gavel, die and cards
Gavel, die and cards

A player’s turn begins with collecting income. A player rolls a six sided died for income. The die had 1, 3 or a red circle on its sides. A player could roll the die as much as he wanted until he rolled the red circle. Rolling the red circle means the player earns no income. Otherwise the player earns income equal to the sum of what he rolled. He doubles this if he owns all the buildings in set. And he triples it if he owns the buildings in two sets. This press-your-luck mechanic for income collection works surprisingly good. Of course a string a bad luck can be frustrating but in the end, the game was going for “thrills” over “balance”.

After collecting income the player could develop his land. The board starts with overlays that must be removed before he can place buildings. A

Townhall marbles and die
Townhall marbles and die

player can also spend his money on townhall cards and/or on placing building.

Townhall cards give a player the ability to either challenge another player’s building efforts or defend themselves from another player’s challenge. When you try to build, you spend the money but the townhall might object to your plans. Your opponents can litigate against by playing their “Legal Action” townhall cards. This allows them to throw a red marble into the gavel. You may play “Defense” cards to throw green marbles into the gavel. You shake up the gavel. And a marble falls into the slot. If it’s red, townhall ruled against. If green, then your plans are approved!

This mechanic adds thrills (albeit by introducing randomness) to the game. The other benefit of this mechanic is it taught children of the 70’s that litigation is largely unrelated to the merits of the case.

5. Specialness

Overlays for Prize Property
Overlays for Prize Property

The components were cool. And the mechanics were definitely a unique blend for its day and age. But there is really something special about the overlays.

I really like the idea of the board being transformed in ways other than placing buildings. The implementation of overlays in Prize Property is about the most basic way they can be implemented in a game. But it was a very inspired game mechanic.

How inspired? This may very well be the first use of overlays for a board game. Overlays are quite common now especially in wargames. But I cannot think of another game published before 1974 that used this now recognizable mechanic.

 

6. Feeling nostalgic?

Muskegon Area Gamers

Muskegon, MI
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This group is for anyone interested in playing board games, card games or any table top game. This group learns and teachs new games all the time. We welcome fresh players. We…

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The Linchpins of My Gaming History

I’ve thought about how it is I came to rent office space just so we can play board games. It’s been an evolutionary process really. Throughout my life, it seems, there have always been games. Below are the linchpins that have really forged my love for the hobby.

1. Monopoly

Monopoly was a gaming linchpin for Muskegon
Monopoly from Parker Brothers

The year was 1977. Star Wars had just been released. Jimmy Carter had taken the oath of office. And I first laid eyes on Monopoly. My dad, my aunt and my older cousins sat down to play a rousing game of Parker Brothers’ real estate trading game.

After pleading with my dad (to no avail) that I too should be allowed to play, I resigned myself to sitting on his lap and “helping” him play.

My eyes lit up when I saw little buildings spring up from the earth and money exchanging hands.

But Monopoly didn’t just have cool bits–it was a game that adults seemed to enjoy. All the other games I had played up to that point (Candyland, Casper the friendly ghost, etc), were children’s activities. But Monopoly had adults(!) building the Atlantic City skyline while trying to dodge the police and paying rent.

I was hooked!

 

2. Chess

Muskegon needs a chess club
E.S. Lowe’s Chess Set

The next linchpin happened a year later. The year was 1978. Luke Skywalker didn’t know who his father was yet. Jimmy Carter was still in office. And my dad had a renaissance chess set like the one seen here. The cool little guys made me want to play this game badly. I knew how to play checkers, a game that uses the same board, so how hard could this game be?

My dad taught me how to play. And my love of chess only grew over time.

 

 

 

 

3. Clue

Muskegon loves a good mystery
Clue from Parker Brothers

I guess I’ve always enjoyed puzzles. And Clue is nothing more than an interactive logic puzzle.

Luke Skywalker found out who his father was but not his sister. Jimmy Carter lost the election to Reagan. And I received Clue for Christmas in 1980.

I loved the little metal bits. It was cool trying to solve the mystery while imagining how a candlestick might be a murder weapon.

I forgave the game all of its conceits back then. For example: “We have this dead body riddled with .38 caliber bullets. Can someone please prove to me that this pipe wrench wasn’t the murder weapon?”

Clue represented the last game of its kind: a family game that I enjoyed.

 

4. Risk

In 1982 Luke Skywalker destroyed a second Death Star, the British invaded the Falkland Islands and I was first exposed to Risk.

I was at my cousin’s house when I saw Risk sitting on the shelf. I took it down and read the rules. I was really eager to play. I was told to “Be careful with that game. That game costs $8 at K-Mart.”

Risk blew every other game I had ever played out of the water. Not since I had first laid eyes Monopoly (1977) was I so taken with a game.

Players attempted not to take over Atlantic City but the world itself! Negotiations? Check. Military? Check. Economic considerations? Check.

Risk represented the first game of its type that I had encountered. It was a game that adults could enjoy (like Monopoly) but Risk was also a gamer’s game–not just a family game. And my love of the hobby deepened.

 

5. Dungeons & Dragons

Muskegon loves Dungeons & Dragons. Best game of the 80's!
TSR’s Dungeons & Dragons

I was fascinated by Dungeons & Dragons long before my first play of it. The polyhedral dice were way cool. Medieval fantasy is a wonderful setting.  The pewter or plastic figurines accessories were nifty ways to pimp your game. Plus there was the forbidden allure of playing something so roundly condemned for leading children into witchcraft and satanism.

It was in 1987 when I first got a copy of the the red box (basic edition) of D&D. Before long I was on adventures defeating monsters and stealing their loot.

Rolling fistfuls of dice and keeping extensive statistics would prepare me for the games I would play in the 90’s.

 

 

 

 

6. Axis and Allies

Muskegon loves classic Ameritrash like Axis and Allies
Milton Bradley’s Axis & Allies

Monopoly may have introduced me to my first adult level game; Risk may have introduced me to my first gamer’s game. But it was Axis & Allies that introduced me to my first modern gamer’s game. And the effects were sweeping.

In late 1988 I was at my friend Larry’s house. He pulled out this coffin sized box, colored navy blue with large red fonts that read “Axis & Allies”. The pieces were an amazing cache of toy soldiers. And subject of the game? Why, my favorite period in history.

Larry proceeded to beat me the first couple of times we played. Then I studied the board and the rules. Then the polarity of the beatings was permanently reversed.

Axis & Allies wasn’t just a gamer’s game like Risk. It was a modern gamer’s game. Axis & Allies was published during my lifetime (1981) unlike Monopoly (1933) and Risk (1959). But more than just that, Axis & Allies was modern in its design not just in its publication date. Players had many more levers and buttons at their command than in Risk or Monopoly. More economics than Risk? Check. More robust military? Check. Historical context? Check. Axis & Allies was the wave of the future. I knew it even back then.

 

7. Advanced Civilization

Muskegon Area Gamers play a lot of Advanced Civilization
Avalon Hill’s Advanced Civilzation

1994 was the next watershed moment in gaming for me. That year Magic: The Gathering came to Muskegon. I dabbled into the M:TG craze but nothing more.

The game that made 1994 special was Avalon Hill’s Advanced Civilization. I found a copy of Civilization for $10 at House of Hobbies when they were still in the Park Row Mall. I was intrigued by the lack of randomness in the combat system.

The game was about diplomacy and trading as much as it was about expansion. And with the right crowd, this game shines. The expansion, Advanced Civilization, fixes all the issues I had with the base game. It was the first game I ever had an expansion for. And it was really a patch for the base game. This was truly the mark of modern design.

We played this game a lot during the 90’s. We even mustered a full crew of 8 players once. Good times.

 

 8. Mage Knight

Muskegon Area Gamers played tons of Mage Knight
Mage Knight’s Order of Vlad

I’ve always had a soft spot for games with a heavy toy factor. Miniature wargames were constantly calling out to me. The prohibitive cost of Warhammer made me reconsider my love for this toy factor.

Then in early 2000 Wizkids came out with an affordable alternative: Mage Knight. The cost was very reasonable. The rules were fairly straight forward. And the minis were already painted so I didn’t have to paint them myself.

We played this game all the time. We created thematic armies and clashed them in Dugas’ basement. I even slapped Nate on the face when I caught him cheating.

The game was heavily supported by Wizkids for several years. And the expansions added much to the game.

The game imploded in the mid-2000’s and the designer left Wizkids to pursue other projects. But Mage Knight was definitely a linchpin that steered me through the hobby to where I am at now.

 

9. Twilight Imperium

Twilight Imperium Twilight Struggle Muskegon
When it comes to Twilight, Muskegon hates vampires but loves board games.

There was a lull in my gaming career after Mage Knight ended. I missed regular gaming. Plus I missed Advanced Civilization (which by 2005 I no longer owned).

I was browsing at the Barnes and Noble on Harvey Street one day in July of 2005. Barnes and Noble began to stock games in their stores about this time. I was walking through their game area when I saw a coffin sized box colored navy blue with large red fonts. The game was Twilight Imperium. The description made it sound like Axis & Allies meets Advanced Civilization. You managed an economy; you built large military forces; you waged war; you negotiated peace; you made lasting trade agreements. And it was space themed! The price was a whopping $80 so I didn’t pull the trigger.

I was at work that week and the thought of this game wouldn’t let me go. I didn’t have $80 to squander on a game. I didn’t have the game group I had in the mid 90’s. The game probably sucked.

But.

I found myself at Barnes and Noble the following weekend, after working 20 hours of overtime. Suddenly I DID have $80 to squander. And suddenly I found renewed energy to reestablish our mid 90’s game group. Plus the game probably didn’t suck.

I pulled the trigger and bought it.

It was several months later when I was finally able to get this game to the table. But on that day was born the Muskegon Area Gamers!