Category Archives: History of Board Gaming

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 and the 1970’s [Part II]

We’ve been looking at Milton Bradley’s contributions to the genre known as Ameritrash games for some time now. We looked at the American Heritage line of games. More recently, I tackled Milton Bradley’s games from the 1970’s. We covered military themes along with science fiction and horror. We will conclude this overview with a look at the other genre expanding themes Milton Bradley offered: Suspense & Intrigue and Economic themes.

History of Board Gaming: Origins of Ameritrash Games

Milton Bradley’s games of the 1970’s Part II

 

Suspense & Intrigue

Origins Ameritrash Milton Bradley
Nixon resigns

Milton Bradley was a product of its time. In the 1960’s they published the American Heritage games-a series of games that was almost agitprop in its depiction of American history. After the Kennedy Assassination and Watergate, Americans were much more cynical in their outlooks. The affects of the Cold War permeated every aspect of American culture. This included board games.

Origins Ameritrash Milton Bradley
Conspiracy from Milton Bradley

It’s no surprise to find Milton Bradley lunged headlong into the Cold War theme. In 1973 they released Conspiracy.

In Conspiracy, four players secretly bid on foreign agents in an effort to recover a briefcase. Each player is given a Swiss bank book which is used to pay off the agents.

When you try to move an agent, any player can challenge that move. If you bid more on the agent than your opponent, you prevent him from moving the agent. You can also assassinate an agent if the two agents are together.

The blind bidding mechanism does capture the feel of a spy movie. Conspiracy is a very good blind bidding game.  You never know if your best agent will turncoat. Or get assassinated.

Does Conspiracy meet the definition of Ameritrash? In this author’s opinion: yes. The game has enough theme to give the game some narrative. The theme and narrative help teach the game give it the depth an Ameritrash game deserves. The components are also firmly in the realm of Amertrash: overproduced plastic busts for the agents. If this were a Euro, the agents would be simple colored cubes.

 

Enemy Agent (1975)

History of board games
Milton Bradley’s Enemy Agent (1975)

Milton Bradley added another Cold War game with 1975’s Enemy Agent. Players have a set of secret agents and travelers. They attempt to move their one of their agents across the

Enemy Agent: game set up
Enemy Agent: game set up

Berlin Wall, capture the Master Plan and bring it back.

The game comes with a 3D wall that separates the Red player from the Blue player. There are 3D buildings on each side that must be searched in order to find the Master Plan.

Players secretly select which role their movers will be by choosing passports. Each passport has a secret information on it that is revealed when put into a red viewer.

Enemy Agent does a good job of capturing secret agents infiltrating the Berlin Wall. The game relies on bluffing, secret roles and logistics, all of which would be necessary to bypass Soviet checkpoints in East Germany.  The game components are cool 3D pieces. Thus, Enemy Agent is an example of the Ameritrash genre.

Manhunt (1972)

Manhunt (1972)
Manhunt (1972)

One thing that Milton Bradley did very effectively was to take a theme that Parker Brothers had done and make it better. Parker Brothers came out with a murder mystery logic puzzle in 1949 called Clue. Milton Bradley made a more thematic version in 1972 called Manhunt.

Scanner and computer
Scanner and computer

Manhunt uses a punchboard type computer. You enter a punchboard into a plastic holder. The pattern on the punchboard is the solution to the crime. You will move your police car to the various areas: witnesses, stakeout or crime lab. With each area, you get information that helps narrow down who the criminal is. Players use a probe on the punchboard to determine if there is a hole or not in that area of the investigation.

Manhunt gives you the logic puzzle of Clue but with Ameritrash components and theme. There isn’t the thematic disconnect that Clue gives you such as, “We have a body riddled with .38 caliber bullets. Could someone please prove the weapon wasn’t a candlestick?”

 

Milton Bradley’s Economic games

Prize Property publicity shot
Prize Property publicity shot

As noted above, Milton Bradley would often take a Parker Brothers game make improve its theme and components. Everyone is familiar with Monopoly, Parker Brothers’ 1935 game dealing with real estate development. But in 1974, Milton Bradley decided to make an Ameritrash version of real estate development. This game was called Prize Property.

Components of Prize Property
Components of Prize Property

Players each own a chunk of undeveloped lakefront property. The first player to turn his parcel into a resort is declared the winner. Players must first develop the land itself, removing the cardboard overlay. Once this ground breaking is complete, the player can spend his money on buying buildings. There are three buildings in each of three levels: $5,000, $10,000 and $15,000. When a player has built all nine buildings, he has won.

Prize Property's gavel
Prize Property’s gavel

Players may also spend money on legal action cards. This allows them to either prevent their opponent from making a building purchase or to defend themselves from their opponents’ legal action cards. For each legal action card played, a red marble is placed in a plastic gavel. For each defense, a green marble is also placed therein. The gavel is then shook. The marble that drops out determines if the player is allowed to make the build or not.

Prize Property does a better job of creating the theme of real estate development than other games of its era. The game comes with several 3D buildings. When fully fleshed out, the game board will look like a miniature resort–which is the goal of the game.

King Oil (1974)

King Oil from Milton Bradley
King Oil from Milton Bradley

Milton Bradley was the master of making 3D game boards. We saw several examples of this in the previous blog post, such as Voice of the Mummy and Sub Search. King Oil is the next example we will look at.

Oil drilling in King Oil
Oil drilling in King Oil

King Oil required a 3D game board because players are literally sticking an oil derrick into holes around the board to determine the depth of the oil wells. The deeper the well, the more costly the drilling will be. The game comes with three rotating disk so the game has thousands of different positions.

King Oil, had it been published in the past 10 years, would definitely be heralded as Ameritrash. The game has tons of plastic pieces. And the components and the game board serve to sell the theme of being oil magnates.

 

Milton Bradley & Ameritrash…the 1980s

Fortress America box
Fortress America box

We will conclude this study in board game history in the next blog post in this column. It will bring us to the Game Master series. The most famous game would be Axis & Allies. But the Ameritrash genre draws its name largely from a different game in this series: Fortress America. Until then, you can keep up with all of our shenanigans here…

Origins of Ameritrash: Milton Bradley and 1970’s Part I

It’s time for some more history of board games from everyone’s favorite amateur historian–yours truly. We discussed the origins of Ameritrash games about a month ago. Specifically, we looked at Milton Bradley’s American Heritage games. It is my contention that the genre of Ameritrash games was born in that game series. The American Heritage Command Decision game line ended in the 1970’s. But Milton Bradley continued to produce games that continued in that ilk. Here we will look at the games of the 70’s that Milton Bradley published which would bridge the gap between the American Heritage Games of the 1960’s and the Gamemaster Series of the 1980’s.

 

Ameritrash games evolved during the 70’s

70's Disco ball history of board gaming
It’s the 70’s, baby!

The biggest design considerations for Ameritrash games is theme or narrative (hence the “Ameri-” in Ameritrash). The secondary consideration is plastic components (hence the “trash” in Ameritrash). All the games in the American Heritage game series had a strong theme with plastic components. But the themes were all centered around American history.

This changed during the 1970’s. Milton Bradley released several Ameritrash style games. But the themes much more varied. Let’s see what different themes Milton Bradley tackled.

 

Military Ameritrash

Board game history Chopper Strike
Chopper Strike’s 3D Board

Milton Bradley left the magazine American Heritage and its historical based games. But Milton Bradley didn’t stop making military based Ameritrash. There were several immersive games from the publisher in the 1970’s. The first was 1973’s Sub Search.

Sub Search (1973)
Sub Search from Milton Bradley 1973 History Board Gaming
Sub Search from Milton Bradley

Sub Search is a classic example of Ameritrash. It’s a 3D board with four board levels. The subs hunt on the lower three levels whilst the destroyers drop depth charges from the surface. Players take turns calling out either torpedo shots or pinging their opponent’s locations. The game is like a juiced up version of Battleship.

Board game history Sub Search
Four levels of submarine prowling

This game fits into the definition of “Ameritrash” because it has awesome plastic pieces plus the game board is all chrome. These help sell the narrative and drama of being a white knuckled sub captain prowling for his prey.

Tank Battle (1975)
Milton Bradley's Tank Battle (1975)
Milton Bradley’s Tank Battle (1975)

Milton Bradley released a series of games dealing with land, air and sea battle. The line was so popular that it was re-released in 2003 as the Mission Command family.  The original game in that later series can be seen here: 1975’s Tank Battle.

American tanks stand ready to fire
American tanks stand ready to fire

Each player is a tank battalion commander. Tank Battle is a cross between Stratego and Battleship. Players move their tanks but also must predict which locations their opponent is bombarding. If you successful bombard where your opponent moved to, his tank is destroyed. If not, his tank can fire at a target it is adjacent too.

Making improvements to Stratego or Battleship may not seem like a lofty goal. The importance of Tank Battle is the toy factor. Gamers could play Tank Battle and get a more immersive experience than they could by playing Stratego or Battleship which are largely abstract games.

Chopper Strike (1976)
Milton Bradley's Chopper Strike
Milton Bradley’s Chopper Strike

Milton Bradley loved to make multi level game boards. They adapted checkers to a multi level board and added cool plastic helicopters and jeeps. Players attempt to jump their opponents jeeps and choppers before getting their own forces jumped. What Chopper Strike lacked in depth it made up for in toy factor. Kids of the 70’s were primed for 1981’s Axis and Allies after playing Chopper Strike.

Carrier Strike! (1977)
Carrier Strike (1977) history board games
Carrier Strike (1977)

Milton Bradley liked 1977’s Carrier Strike! so much they couldn’t resist adding an exclamation point to the title. And they couldn’t resist republishing it in 2003 under the Mission Command series.

The yellow squadron closes in on the red CV
The yellow squadron closes in on the red CV

Each player controls two aircraft carriers and two squadrons of planes. Players launch their fighters and torpedoes to sink the enemy carriers. Players must maneuver their fighters and their ships so they can get the betters shots on their opponent.

The game offers more than just strategy, though. The game comes with four large plastic aircraft carriers and 16 plastic fighters. Milton Bradley could have made the exact same game with cardboard chits and lots of spreadsheets, a la Avalon Hill. But Milton Bradley went the way of Ameritrash, not wargames.

 

 Horror & Science Fiction

Board game history Voice of the Mummy
Milton Bradley’s Voice of the Mummy (1971)

Milton Bradley expanded into non-military themed games too. These games have a huge toy factor in their components along with innovative ways to sell their theme. The first game in this list is Voice of the Mummy.

Voice of the Mummy (1971)

Long time followers of this blog know that 1971’s Voice of the Mummy is one of my grail games. Justifying $200+ for it is has been difficult. Why would this game make a grail list? Or command high triple digit prices to this day? Because it’s a classic Ameritrash.

The sarcophagus game board
The sarcophagus game board

Voice of the Mummy creates the theme of being a tomb raider by having a plastic sarcophagus game board adorned with Egyptian like icons  along the side. Players attempt to loot the gems from the tomb before the mummy awakes.

Voice of the Mummy really lives up to its name when players trigger the hidden record player beneath the sarcophagus. Before the advent of the modern phone or computer, Voice of the Mummy would play random tracks to evoke the theme of horror and suspense. Milton Bradley capitalized on this again a year later with Seance.

Séance (1972)
History board games Seance 1972
Seance (1972)

Séance somehow flew under the collective radar of the religious Right. For ages 7 and up, Séance allows players to have a ghostly summoning of one of their deceased relatives. This game also has a hidden record player. Random tracks are played that dictate which relative (player) is betrothed which piece of wealth. The wealthiest relative wins.

Bermuda Triangle (1976)
Bermuda Triangle (1976)
Bermuda Triangle (1976)

There was a considerable revival in Bermuda Triangle lore in the 1970’s. This was due to the popularity of Charles Berlitz’s conspiracy filled book Bermuda Triangle published in 1974. I’ll save a deep dive into the cause and effects of popular culture and board games for a different blog post. Here we will only look at how the theme of horror and suspense was captured in a board game–and how only an Ameritrash game could do it justice in the 1970’s.

A sinster cloud is closing in on a ship
A sinister cloud is closing in on a ship

Milton Bradley made a pick up and deliver game in 1976. Wait! Isn’t that a de facto Euro game? Well, yes. But when you make the pieces out of plastic and you include a sinister cloud that literally hovers over the Atlantic, the game moves quickly from Euro to Ameritrash.

Players seek to deliver their goods to different ports. It’s a race to $350K. But players have to contend with their opponents and a magnetic storm. The magnetic storm can pick up your ships which have also are magnetic. If your ship gets sucked up by the cloud, it’s removed from play, never to be heard from again!

The cloud moves in a random direction. This adds to the suspense and drama. The plastic pieces help sell the theme too. I have to admit that pick up and delivery games would be much more exciting if there was a magnetic storm lurking in the middle of the ocean.

 

To be concluded

I thought I could cover this topic in a single blog post. I’m already over 1,000 words and still have several more genres to cover. Yes, Milton Bradley was a prodigious publisher in the 1970’s. They published economic Ameritrash games along with suspense and intrigue. We will look at these and other games that bridge the gap from the American Heritage game line to the Gamemaster line in our next post.

Until then, follow us here…

 

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

 

 

Encroaching Technology in Board Games: a History

We’ve had some spirited discussions at The Gaming Annex as of late. We’ve been discussing games that have apps like the new Descent 2.0 app and XCOM. There is a concern about this encroaching technology in our hobby. We’ve decided to turn our discussions into a three part blog series. We will look at how technology has historically shaped board games, then we will look at where the technology is now and finally look at where the technology seems to be headed. This post will look at the past: technology that was added to games leading up to the 1990’s.

 

Before there were computers: Buzzers

Tudor's Electric Football game
Tudor’s Electric Football game

The use of buzzers was probably the earliest example of “high technology” to be used in board games. Several games have implemented buzzers. The first was in the 1940’s.

Tudor’s Electric Football game is the earliest example I could find. The game comes with an electric buzzer that vibrates the sheet metal game board. This is supposed to cause the miniature football players to move in a controlled football formation.

It fails.

The football players move like epileptics. But what did you expect from the 1940’s?

Hasbro's Operation
Hasbro’s Operation

The most familiar example of a board game with a buzzer is probably Hasbro’s Operation game (1965). Players take turns with a pair of electrodes trying to remove a Charley horse or butterflies in the stomach. If your electrode touches the metal contact on the game board, the buzzer goes off, typically causing the player to have a heart attack from its sudden alarm.

Radar Search
Radar Search

The most interesting example of a buzzer in a board game would have to be Ideal’s 1969 release: Radar Search. In this asymmetrical naval simulation, one player secretly moves his ships from his hideout to the other side of the board and back to his hideout. The other player scans the ocean in his helicopter, trying to find the hidden ships. While this game sounds amazing, the electronics technology was not strong enough to accomplish the design intent of this game. Players could often miss where the ships were due to poor components.

 

Before there were computers: Springs & Gears

Pie Face board game
Pie Face board game

The novelty of buzzers mostly wore out in the 1960’s, save for Operation which is still a popular children’s game. The late 60’s and early 70’s saw the addition of gears and springs to the component bill of materials in board games.

Slinky: an industrial spring becomes a toy
Slinky: an industrial spring becomes a toy

Hasbro’s Pie Face comes to mind. Players crank on the handle, awaiting the inevitable dousing. This game has a spring loaded mechanism similar to a Jack-in-the-box. In fact, Pie Face could easily be called “Jack-in-the-box the Board

Game”. While a spring loaded handle might not be impressive technology to millennials, it still constitutes “encroaching technology”. Prior to the advent of modern wire-forming, springs could not be turned into toys or games.

Milton Bradley's Town Dump
Milton Bradley’s Town Dump

In the case of 1977’s Town Dump, the main game token is a spring loaded bulldozer. Players pull back on the bulldozer and let it roll on the board in an attempt to push the garbage onto their opponent’s landfill. This game required the advent of the pull back car toy. On a side note, the adorable 5 year old girl on this game box looks like she’s having a bit too much fun for  game that teaches children about the financial rewards of ignoring environmental stewardship.

Milton Bradley's Down Fall
Milton Bradley’s Down Fall

Before 2012’s Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar there was 1970’s Down Fall. Both use an sophisticated gear system to drive the game. Players spin the gears in an attempt to collect all of their tokens. But the gears on your side differ from your opponent’s so you cannot be sure if you are helping or hurting your cause.

 

 

Before there were computers: Record Players

Voice of the Mummy from Milton Bradley
Voice of the Mummy from Milton Bradley

Board gamers can be a demanding bunch. Before the advent of computers and modern circuitry, game publishers had to get creative. And the product of that creativity was to add record players to board games.

The first example of this would be Milton Bradley’s Voice of the Mummy (1971). Players race around a sarcophagus, collecting gems. The record players sounds with an ominous voice which gives instructions affecting game play. When the midpoint is reached, the record is flipped over and players try to escape.

Milton Bradley's Séance
Milton Bradley’s Séance

Milton Bradley followed up with a sequel in 1972’s Seance. Players invoke the spirit of their dead relative in order to affect how much wealth they will be bequeathed. Fun children’s theme!

Seance was not as widely popular as Voice of the Mummy because it feels much less  adventurous. But you have to hand it to Milton Bradley: their game ideas and their game technology was way ahead of its time.

Mattel's Talking Football Game
Mattel’s Talking Football Game

One of the more popular Mattel games that also fits into this category is 1971’s Talking Football. The game comes with 13 records. Each little record has several tracks. Players pop a record into the record player, push the lever and listen to the announcer describe what happens. “The kick is away. It’s good!”

 

Games with computers

Adding record players to games made games much more immersive than previous games. This would portend the coming technology of today’s app driven games. But before the advent of the “app”, game publishers used simple computers to get the job done. All the major publishers of the 1980’s took a crack at adding computers to their games.

Game board for D&D Dragon Labyrinth
Game board for D&D Dragon Labyrinth

Mattel collaborated with the unlikely TSR to come out with 1980’s Dungeons & Dragons Computer Game. TSR supplied the theme; Mattel supplied the electronic toys division. Players navigate a treacherous path in a dragon’s labyrinth. Players can detect walls by listening to the beeps. The game

comes with magnificent pewter figures and a 3D board. Precipitating the Dungeons & Dragons Saturday morning cartoon, this game should arouse the nostalgia of kids from this era. The game play leaves a bit to be desired. It’s rating on BGG is a mere 5.9–typical of Mattel’s input into our hobby.

 

Parker Brother's Lost Treasure
Parker Brother’s Lost Treasure

Parker Brothers took a stab at this genre in 1982’s Lost Treasure. Players ping for treasure with the diver control computer. Using this information, players can narrow down where to dive. Then

Electronic Driver Control Center for Lost Treasure
Electronic Driver Control Center for Lost Treasure

players race to get the lion’s share of it. Watch out! These waters are the hunting grounds of pirates! The cooperative and yet competitive aspect of this game was also ahead of its time. Players work together to narrow down where the treasure is but only one can win! This game still commands a respectable 6.2 game rating on BGG.

Dark Tower from Milton Bradley
Dark Tower from Milton Bradley

The most famous game of this genre has to be Milton Bradley’s Dark Tower. The game comes with a large, black three dimensional tower (hence, Dark Tower) that has a computer chip in it. This computer regulates all aspects of the game. Players input their moves into the computer. The computer assigns damage, let’s the player know what happens on the board, etc.

Published in 1981, Milton Bradley really put forth a strong effort for this game. The computer in Dark Tower was a marvel of game design. Milton Bradley was undoubtedly trying to

Milton Bradley's Dark Tower is a Holy Grail game in Muskegon
Milton Bradley’s Dark Tower

stymie the effects Atari was having on the game industry. In addition to a robust computer, Dark Tower also sported a robust marketing campaign. Milton Bradley hired none other than Orson Welles to do the TV spots for this game.

 

 

Games that assume you own consumer electronics: VCR & DVDs

And now we get to the crux of the material. The final portion of this history blog post will deal with VCR and DVD games. These games show the encroachment of technology in board games. The encroachment in this case assumes you own consumer electronics. If you didn’t own a VCR, you couldn’t play the game. This is the direction the app driven games are headed. But the focus of this blog is history so let’s take a look at the 1980’s and 1990’s.

Clue VCR Game
Clue VCR Game

Coming closely on the heels of the cult classic “Clue” movie, we have Clue the VCR game. Instead of popping the Clue movie into the VCR, families could use their VCR to play this game. The game comes with one VCR, 18 separate cases to solve, plenty of overacting from the acting troupe and sore thumbs from all the required rewinding.

Nightmare VHS Game
Nightmare VHS Game

While Clue may have been the earliest VCR game, Nightmare is probably the best received. Nightmare (later called Atmosfear) spawned ten sequels or spin offs.

All of these games are exercises in stress. Players are in a rush to take their turns because the dreaded Gatekeeper could appear at any time. If it’s your turn when he appears, you would have to endure some obstacle. The components in the Nightmare/Atmosfear line were generally decent plastic bits. But the overacting made the game a bit campy.

Mattel's Wayne's World VCR Game
Mattel’s Wayne’s World VCR Game

Turning Clue into a VCR game could add ambiance to your game sessions. And Nightmare used the VCR as a game clock, pressuring players with a time crunch. Both of these ideas have merits worthy of our hobby. But publishers realized that adding a videotape to a game could allow them to drive up the price. Take Mattel’s Wayne’s World VCR game. If ever there was a theme that didn’t need a board game, it would probably be Wayne’s World. Sticking a VHS into the box afforded Mattel the ability to raise the price.

Monopoly Tropical Tycoon
Monopoly Tropical Tycoon

DVD games are generally better than VCR games. DVD players can be the controller of random mechanics in a game that a VCR cannot be. An interesting example of this is Monopoly Tropical Tycoon DVD game.

Unlike most Monopoly dreck, Tropical Tycoon is won by the person with the most victory points. Tracks play on the DVD player to determine random events like Chance and Community Chest. The CGI cartoons splash across the screen to convey a tropical real estate feel.

Since DVD’s allow some random output, DVD games can be seen as the progenitors of the app driven games of today. Both require the ownership of some consumer electronic: either a DVD player or a tablet. The use of tablets or smart phones will be the topic we cover next.

-Chris, on behalf of the Muskegon Area Gamers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Star Trek and Board Games: Part I

The nerds who enjoy intellectual hobbies also enjoy intellectual television. A love of board games typically comes with a love of Star Trek: show me a board game fanatic and I’ll show you a Trekkie. We see in Geek and Sundry the former Ensign Wesley Crusher now podcasting about some of our favorite board games. A case could be made that the continued popularity of Star Trek is in part due to rise in popularity in high end board games. Let’s take a look at how Star Trek and board games have influenced each other.

 

1. The early Star Trek games: 1967 to 1979

Star Trek from Ideal
Don’t get so emotional, Mr. Spock

The first Star Trek themed game was aptly named, “Star Trek” Game. The publisher, Ideal Toys, was a bit off the mark with the box cover. Spock looks like he’s constipated. The game, however, was not a simple roll-and-move after thought. It was a card driven race game several decades ahead of Snow Tails. Players had to move to various planets, collect fuel cards and return to Earth.

Star Trek Game from Hasbro
Star Trek Game from Hasbro

Star Trek’s five year mission lasted for three TV seasons. Fans pleaded with Paramount to release more episodes. In 1973, CBS/Paramount released two seasons of Star Trek the cartoon show. It’s a good cartoon that has stood the test of time. Hasbro’s take on this show, however, has not. This spin-and-move game gives Hasbro’s typical dreck a bad name. Hasbro wouldn’t hire talented game designers until the 80’s. And even then I’m being generous.

Star Trek Game from Palitoy LTD
Star Trek Game from Palitoy LTD

Palitoy Ltd. released a game, also bearing the monicker “Star Trek Game”. This game, published in 1975, was inspired largely by the Gold Key Comics. The game includes a giant rubber spider, Klingon standees and an advertisement for Planet of the Apes action figures. Oh, the game play? Probably something that wouldn’t hold your interest.

 

2. The Star Trek movies inspire another generation of board games: 1979 to 1985

Star Trek Game from Milton Bradley
Star Trek Game from Milton Bradley

Paramount decided to forego making another Star Trek television show in the late 70’s. This decision was made because of the popularity of Star Wars. Paramount decided they could cash in on some big

MB's Star Trek
MB’s Star Trek: the game board

screen adaptations of our beloved franchise.

And Milton Bradley sunk their teeth into the project to adapt this into a board game. They got famed game designer Michael Gray (designer of Fortress America, Dungeon! and many other titles) to do the heavy lifting. The outcome is a solid game that does the Star Trek theme justice.

Players roll-and-move about the galaxy in a Merchant of Venus style game board, completing missions and scoring points along the way. The game still holds a solid 6.12 at BGG, by far the highest Star Trek game of its day.

Star Trek Adventure Game from West End Games
Star Trek Adventure Game from West End Games

West End Games got Greg Costikyan (designer of MegaCorps and Pax Britannica) to design a Star Trek themed game. The result: Star Trek the Adventure Game.

This game is a predecessor to Tales of the Arabian Nights. It’s a storybook game where you have to interact with numerous different worlds and refer to a paragraph book

Components for Star Trek the Adventure Game
Components for Star Trek the Adventure Game

to see the results of their decisions.

The game plays 1 to 2 players. And from what I can gather, it can be brutal. You could very easily lose your crew or your ship.

Still, the game holds an impressive 6.8 on BGG. And it’s a much more interesting theme than Tales of the Arabian Nights.

McDonald's Star Trek Game
McDonald’s Star Trek Game

Before the advent of the Chicken McNugget, McDonalds toyed with the idea of making board games. Their “Star Trek Starfleet Game” was free to kids who bought a 1979 Happy Meal. While this game has little strategic decision making, it is surprisingly inexpensive. Copies go for $5 on amazon.

 

3. Star Trek teams with Task Force Games: 1979 to 2014

Star Fleet Battles from Task Force Games
Star Fleet Battles from Task Force Games

Task Force Games (later Amarillo Design Bureau) would publish Star Trek knock offs for the better part of four decades. Star Trek is not listed in the logos or titles but this is the Star Trek theme lifted and applied to classical wargame mechanics.

One side is the Federation and the other is the Klingons. Players allocate energy to their shields, weapons, engineering, etc. They try to outthink and outplan their opponents.

Federation and Empire
Federation and Empire

While Star Fleet Battles took on tactical starship combat, Federation & Empire took on the strategic, political aspects of the Alpha Quadrant. Federation & Empire melds with Star Fleet Battles almost seamlessly. You can play Federation & Empire until it’s time to resolve combat and then you can break it down into a game of Star Fleet Battles.

I was not able to discover in my research how Task Force Games was able to publish Star Trek themed games without using the logos or names of Star Trek. I’ll look into this more and get back to you on that. But if you see a Task Force Game at the thrift store: pick it up! It’s probably a good game.

4. Star Trek partners with FASA Games: 1983 to 1989

Star Trek Starship Tactical Combat
Star Trek Starship Tactical Combat

While Task Force Games used material from Star Trek, FASA was allowed to use the logos and licensing. FASA did Star Trek up nicely too. Until 1989. We’ll get to that point in a moment.

FASA was a miniatures publisher. Think: Battletech. The designers at FASA made amazing miniatures in the 1980’s. Their Star Trek was no exception.

FASA Star Trek minis
What FASA did well
FASA's Star Trek RPG
What FASA did terribly

Their line of miniatures were expensive. And they required painting. And assembly. But nerds in 1983 were okay with it.

The rules were overly complicated and required extensive patching and errata. But nerds in 1983 were okay with that too.

FASA also published some RPG material. Minis, strategy wargames, RPG’s and Star Trek: FASA did it all.

FASA thought they had the rights to make anything Star Trek related. They published a rules book for Star Trek; The Next Generation without explicit permission from Paramount. Paramount was horrified by FASA’s cavalier attitude regarding their new hit show. The relationship soured and Paramount yanked the license from FASA in 1989.

 

5. Intermission

Star Trek: The Next Generation Game
Star Trek: The Next Generation Game

I might be deluded in thinking I can write poignantly on the history of Star Trek board gaming. But I do know that such a thesis is too broad for a single blog post.

We’ll return soon with the following topics: the new TV shows, Star Trek the CCG Years, Star Trek: the Wizkids years and the where Star Trek board gaming is heading. That should be a strong overview of Star Trek and board gaming.

At least as strong an overview as I can give.

-Chris, on behalf of the Muskegon Area Gamers.

Inspired Game Mechanics: Evolution of Dice in Gaming

I’ve been noticing some trends in gaming. Specifically in the implementation of dice. I’ve been diggin’ how creative game designers have become. Some of these ideas are truly inspired.

1. Basic use of dice: roll-and-move

Muskegon doesn't play Monopoly
Monopoly?!

Dice have been used in board games forever. Historically, games used dice for movement. Roll a die, move that many spaces. Monopoly, Clue, Payday…are all examples. This use of dice is really basic. It actually removes some decisions from the game, reducing board games to more of an activity.

 

2. Basic use of dice: combat resolution

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

Risk would use dice for combat resolution. This was a rather basic implementation. The attacker and defender roll dice. Each die roll determines the casualties.

Axis and Allies took this idea and improved upon it. Each unit rolls a die and scores a hit based upon its unit’s potency. Successes result in your opponent taking casualties. I prefer Axis and Allies dice implementation to Risk’s. And I prefer Risk’s to Monopoly’s. But there are better dice mechanics out there.

 

3. Advanced use of dice: Polyhedrals

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

I love polyhedral dice. They may be the reason I was drawn to Dungeons & Dragons in the first place. Polyhedral dice allow you to get results other than 1 through 6.

Many modern board games have moved to polyhedral dice because 1 to 6 just didn’t get the designer’s intent across. Formula D and Twilight Imperium are some examples. Formula D uses it for roll-and-move, making the movement way more interesting than it is in Monopoly. And Twilight Imperium used d10’s instead of Axis & Allies’ d6’s. This gives TI3 a more interesting combat dynamic than some of its predecessors.

 

4. Advanced Use of Dice: Dice roll modifiers

Avalon Hill's Advanced Squad Leader
Avalon Hill’s Advanced Squad Leader

Avalon Hill, more than any other game publisher, implemented, perfected and ultimately overused the dice roll modifier (DRM).

+1 if you have a height advantage; -2 if the target is in a wooden structure; etc.

You sum up the DRM’s and apply them to your dice roll. This allows a player to mitigate the dice and/or outmaneuver their opponent. For its time, the DRM did those things okay. But adding long strings of numbers to then add to a dice roll is tedious. I think we can do better than this in 2015.

5. Expert use of dice: 5’s and 6’s are successes

Arkham Horror
Arkham Horror

DRM’s were good for a while. (“A while” is approximately 20 years of board game development). But some designers have found ways to remove some of that tedium.

Arkham Horror is the first instance (that I know of) that uses the “5’s & 6’s” mechanic. Rolling a 5 or 6 is a success; everything else is a failure. The modifiers are for how many dice you roll rather than what the target value is. This eliminates some tedious counting and chart perusing. Other games use this mechanic too such as War of the Ring.

 

6. Master use of dice: specialized d6’s

Forbidden Stars (play)
Forbidden Stars (play)

Many newer games have learned from the above mechanics and worked to make dice implementation even more robust. This brings us to specialized dice.

Specialized dice are dice that are specific for a game. Forbidden Stars has specialized dice. Three sides have bolt guns (hits), two sides with shields (saves) and one side with an eagle (special).

Roll for the Galaxy
Roll for the Galaxy

This gives you a weighted result without the need for DRM’s. The icons are (usually) intuitive so this removes the need for a “5’s & 6’s” mechanic. And you can mitigate your dice rolls with card play that gives you more icons or more dice rolls.

Other games that use specialized dice are Star Wars Imperial Assault, Memoir ’44 and Roll for the Galaxy. Note: when designing a game, please do not follow Roll for the Galaxy’s lead. The iconography is not intuitive. But then, the iconography in Race for the Galaxy is not intuitive either.

 

7. Grandmaster use of dice: specialized polyhedrals

Dice for Star Wars Armada
Dice for Star Wars Armada

Which brings me to where we are at now: specialized polyhedrals. More and more games are moving to these.  I’ve been noticing d8’s have been replacing d6’s lately. This is a move in the right direction.

d8’s allow you to garner more than six results without the need for DRM’s or complicated charts. d8’s also give you the ability to get weighted results in ways far different than d6’s. Adding specialized dice to the mix makes it all the more amazing.

Take Star Wars Armada. The dice are color coded. There are three levels of damage acuity: blue, black and red. The dice are d8’s which means you will get more than just 6 different results. And the dice are specialized, with icons on them that tell you how critical the damage is. When combined with the card damage mechanic, Star Wars Armada has implemented a combat system for its miniature war game that is as deep as any minis game from the 80’s but that requires no extensive DRM’s or combat tables.

Star Wars RPG
Star Wars RPG

And other games have used this idea too. X-Wing fighter (Armada’s predecessor) uses specialized d8’s. I think Fantasy Flight is really onto something here. They have implemented specialized polyhedrals in some of their RPG’s as well.

The use of specialized polyhedrals is so inspired I predict you will see this mechanic more often in the coming years.

 

8. Grandmaster use of office space: The Gaming Annex in Muskegon

 

 

 

History of Board Gaming: Milton Bradley’s Holy Grails

I recently picked up one of my Holy Grail games. It was Milton Bradley’s Thunder Road. The game is still good even by today’s standards. As I was perusing my next Holy Grail purchases (because, let’s face it: I’m an addict), it dawned on me how many of them were Milton Bradley games. Milton Bradley, like its biggest competitor of the day: Parker Brothers, released many games. But unlike Parker Brothers, many of Milton Bradley releases were gamers’ games. Many of these games were THE game that brought us into the hobby. I thought it was time to make a list of those games which brought many of us into the hobby and which may be on our Holy Grail list.

1. Thunder Road

Thunder Road from Milton Bradley
Thunder Road from Milton Bradley

I mentioned this on in my opening monologue. Thunder Road is Milton Bradley’s unlicensed take on the Mel Gibson “Mad Max” franchise. Players have three cars and a helicopter. The goal is to have the last operable vehicle.

Players race down a desert path weaving in and out of danger with their dystopian racers. The game is still rated a solid 6.54 on bgg.

Status: Holy Grail

 

 

2. Broadsides and Boarding Parties

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

Kids from my generation remember the Milton Bradley “Gamemaster Series”. These coffin sized game boxes were filled with plastic crack. It was hard to muster $24.99 to buy these games when my allowance was $5/week.

Of these games, one is a true Holy Grail game: Broadsides and Boarding Parties. This game pits two players against each other in a high seas, high stakes  ship duel. You navigate your ship through programmed movement. You attempt to maneuver your ship so your broadside is facing your opponent’s aft or bow–that way all your guns fire while only a few of theirs fire.

Broadsides and Boarding Parties ad
Broadsides and Boarding Parties ad

The game comes with two large Spanish galleons along with their crews and cannons. The ads I saw of this game in Witmark’s catalogs made my wish I could afford it.

It wasn’t until around 1989 when I was able to actually play the game. And it wasn’t until 2014 when I finally owned a copy.

Status: Holy Grail

 

 

 

3. Voice of the Mummy

Voice of the Mummy from Milton Bradley
Voice of the Mummy from Milton Bradley

In 1971 Milton Bradley the first VHS/DVD type game: Voice of the Mummy. Voice of the Mummy had a built record player. The record gave instructions to the players as they looted gems from the triple leveled sarcophagus. The game was a race against the record while trying to collect the most gems.

Finding a complete and working copy of Voice of the Mummy has proven difficult. Finding one for less than $200 is all but impossible.

Status: Holy Grail

 

 

4. Dark Tower

Milton Bradley's Dark Tower is a Holy Grail game in Muskegon
Milton Bradley’s Dark Tower

Milton Bradley never shied away from the occult. In simpler times like 1981, game publishers would often lead good Christian children to satanic themes with their super fun games. Dark Tower was one of those.

Players fight hoards of minions in an effort to collect keys and enter the forbidden tower. The tower was a revolutionary design with a high powered computer (by 1981’s standards). This computer would dictate several game outcomes.

Finding a copy of Dark tower that is complete with a working tower is quite the undertaking. I cannot find a copy under $150. This one will have to wait, I guess.

Status: Holy Grail

 

5. Heroquest

Classic gaming in Muskegon: Milton Bradley's Heroquest
Milton Bradley’s Heroquest

Heroquest was to kids of the 90’s what Dark Tower was to me: fantasy adventure with amazing bits.

The game pitted one player against the rest of the group. The group would try to sack the dungeon while the one player tried to stop them by hurling every monster at his disposal at them.

I found a used copy of this at the Goodwill on Henry and Norton last year. It was missing a few pieces. But my good friend Jon has a parts copy and he squared me away.

Status: Holy Grail

 

6. Fireball Island

Fireball Island from Milton Bradley
Fireball Island from Milton Bradley

Fireball Island came out when I was 14. By then I was already into Dungeons and Dragons and more serious games. Fireball Island seemed liked a child’s game.

Now I’m 43 and I want to slap the shit out of that 14 year old dolt. Of course Fireball Island is a child’s game. That’s its whole appeal.

The game has a plastic tiki idol that is placed in the raised middle of a molded, 3d board, where it can rotate freely. Players move their explorer pawns up the sides of the mountain along paths and through caves, trying to reach the top of the mountain, retrieve the idol’s giant ruby, and take it down the other side to the waiting boat. However, both the idol and volcanic vents throughout the board periodically spit out “fireball” marbles, which physically roll down the mountain, either plowing through explorer pawns in their path, or toppling triggered bridges as they pass under them.

Complete copies of this game are hard to come by. And when you find one, the box is all beat to hell. And when the box isn’t beat to hell, the game goes for $300.

Status: Holy Grail

 

7. Séance

Milton Bradley's Séance
Milton Bradley’s Séance

Milton Bradley didn’t just delve into occult themes; they peddled them into digestable board games for 7 year olds. Séance is an example.

Milton Bradley’s Séance was released in 1972. It is the spiritual (get it?!) to Voice of the Mummy. Like its predecessor, Séance had a record player.

The Players are the nieces and nephews of old Uncle Everett who has passed on and left a most peculiar will.  For old Uncle Everett was a spiritualist… that is, he believed his spirit would come back and guide the distribution of his wealth.  In his will, he requested his nieces and nephews to come back to a Seance in his old Victorian mansion.  He left each one $20,000 and a chance to make more — or lose some.  Uncle Everett’s “Voice From The Great Beyond” will be conjured up in the Seance.  Everytime the hidden switch is pressed, his voice will be heard. 

As you can probably guess, a working record player on a 1972 board game is nigh impossible to find.

Status: Holy Grail