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
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.
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)
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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)
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.
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
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…