Celebrating Board Games by Nina Chertoff and Susan Kahn

Artwork from Go to the Head of the Class featuring Sis and Cowboy Joe on cover of Celebrating Board GamesNow out of print, Celebrating Board Games was originally part of a collection by Sterling Publishing that included Celebrating PEZ, Celebrating Snow Globes, and Celebrating Christmas Ornaments. Heavy on full color pictures but light on any substantial text, Celebrating Board Games’ most lengthy passage is the three-page introduction. Otherwise its authors simply present a board game with its name in bold lettering and provide a brief description of the game’s context, content, or advances. These descriptions can be maddeningly vague; the authors write “At right is the Game of Louisa, introduced in 1888 by McLoughlin Bros. It was a variation of Parcheesi. Its artwork is particularly noteworthy.” Why its artwork is just so noteworthy is not a topic that the authors care to discuss.

To me the perfect recipient of Celebrating Board Games would be any nostalgic sort of adult who grew up in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, which is where the bulk of the book’s roughly 105 games are drawn from. If your mouth waters when you see advertisements in old magazines or recorded TV shows and you enjoy flipping through catalogues, then Celebrating Board Games is right for you. It originally retailed for $10, but can be found on the secondary market via resellers like eBay, Amazon, or used book stores.

Celebrating Board Games in the Classroom and as History

Chertoff and Kohn are also quick to point out games that are politically incorrect, such as the 1950s Cherry Ames’ Nursing Game, which is just on the wrong side of political correctness; a game card advises “Dr. Wylie said to Cherry, “Wipe that rouge off your face!” Move back 4 spaces.What Shall I Be? from 1972 is more overt, offering girls only six career outlets it would seem, becoming either a ballerina, an airline hostess, an actresses, a nurse, a teacher, or a model. However it’s just these sorts of games in Celebrating Board Games that make it so worthwhile as a tool to get a glimpse into the past. As the authors write, “Our interests, our imagination, and our values are reflected in those simple boards and the pieces that move across them.” Part of those historical values is the role of race and the book features two racially charged games with the authors describing Little Black Sambo as “not only politically incorrect, but offensive.” The game Snake Eyes is subtler, but Chertoff and Kohn note that it “is another period piece that has racial graphics that are unacceptable today.” Even though there is little text in the book, it still might be helpful to teachers or students wanting to explore the pervasiveness of racism or sexism in the mid-20th century. Middle school and elementary school teachers will have a harder time making use of the book, but it is possible with greater supervision.

Fantasy Gaming History via Celebrating Board Games

While almost every board game could be considered a fantasy game in which one has to use one’s imagination, what really caught my eye in Celebrating Board Games was the emergence of representational military and fantasy games. Milton Bradley’s Siege stands out for its inclusion of a plastic castle out of scale with the game’s nine plastic miniatures: four mounted knights and five footmen. 1977’s Carrier Strike featured aircraft carrier models battling over a hex grid with torpedo dive bombers. From the picture, it looks like the torpedos might detach from the plane carrying them, which would be a neat mechanic. The Lord of the Rings Adventure Game makes use of cardboard playing pieces to represent the Fellowship and the Naz-Gul and represents Rivendell, the Mines of Moria, the Black Gate, and Mt. Doom on its board and takes it artwork from the Ralph Bakshi animated film. John Hill’s Panzerforce makes an appearance with its six HO scale plastic tanks, though the box art’s boast of its “18” x 30″ Full Color Realistic Game Board” seems laughable given how poorly drawn it appears using today’s standards.

If a certain theme begins to emerge in the book, it’s that Milton Bradley sure had a good design team that enjoyed playing with little toy soldiers as 1981’s Dark Tower reveals. It was fairly novel in that it featured electronics with a keypad built into the physical model of the Dark Tower at the center of the game. The game also came with plastic knights, a dragon, and various buildings. Milton Bradley’s contributions to gaming in the book really culminate with Broadsides & Boarding Parties, which the authors note as having a board that “is beautifully designed”, which is almost meaningless to me compared to the glorious shot of the miniature pirate ship with about two dozen sailors on it and something like eight separate cannon as well. It came with two of the awesome ships and was part of the same Gamemaster Series that brought us Shogun, Axis & Allies, and Fortress America.

Tony Elam’s Role on Celebrating Board Games

At the end of the 144 page book, the authors thank Tony Elam for allowing them to photograph his collection of board games and “graciously providing us with so much fascinating information about their history.” At the time of publication in 2006, Elam was the Director of Games in Education for GAMA (Game Manufacturers Association) and the Associate Dean of Engineering at Rice University in Houston. I had more luck in tracking Elam down than I did the book’s authors and asked him if he had any of the interior photographs and whether he could provide any additional information on the book.

Elam was able to help with the latter part, since, according to him, he
came up with most of the book’s content
. The authors, Elam says, “tweaked” the introduction he wrote a “little bit” before including it. As for the book’s actual composition, a photographer and a graphic designer came out to his home in Houston and spent three days photographing his collection with great visual results. As each game was covered, Elam was questioned about it and according to him, he even wound up editing and correcting the brief synopses. Elam is “very pleased” though with the end result and I have to agree with him that the book is a “nice little set of photos”. Some of Elam’s personal favorites from his collection now numbering around 7,500 games that didn’t find their way into the book are Hero Quest and Space Crusade. Besides filling his home with his games, he also has two climate-controlled storage units for his hobby. The crown jewel of his collection is a British kriegspiel game from the 1800s, complete with wooden case and ivory or bone measuring instruments. He came across Settlers of Catan fairly early compared to other Americans in 1996 which started him on Euro games. While Elam has since left GAMA, he has close connections to the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, NY, sits on the National Toy Hall of Fame board, and dabbles in games for serious applications like business or medicine with the Houston Serious Games Research Consortium.

Games Photographed in Celebrating Board Games In Order of Appearance:
Grandma’s Game of Riddles, Uncle Wiggily, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, Old Maid, Standard Authors, Logomachy, Komical Konversation Kards, Grandma’s Game of Riddles (again), The Game of Snap, Game of Louisa, Pollyanna, Eddie Cantor’s Game, Clipper Race, Monopoly, Cargoes, Finance, Bulls and Bears, Pirate and Traveler, Parcheesi, The Lone Ranger, Bizerte Gertie, Gusher, Little Black Sambo, Touring, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer (again), Snake Eyes, Calling All Cars, Clue, Cootie, Lobby, Uncle Wiggily (again), Hopalong Cassidy Game, Park and Shop, Police Patrol, Stadium Checkers, Astron, Dunce, Frontierland Game, Merry Milkmen, Prince Valiant, Old Maid (again), Rin-Tin-Tin, Walt Disney’s Tomorrowland Rocket to the Moon Game, Walt Disney’s Fantasyland Game, Trapped!, Around the World in 80 Days, Fearless Fireman, Thrills ‘n’ Spills, Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Game, Star Reporter, Alfred Hitchcock Presents WHY, Casper the Friendly Ghost Game, Have Gun Will Travel, Cherry Ames’ Nursing Game, Risk!, Steve Canyon, Go to the Head of the Class, The Game of Life, Camelot, Tally Ho!, Lucky Loopy, Combat!, Sorry!, Camp Granada, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., chess set featuring Napoleon, Siege, Fu Manchu’s Hidden Hoard, Regatta, Kreskin’s ESP, Dominoes, Masterpiece: The Art Auction Game, The Godfather Game, the Pincchio Game, Ouija, Hare and Tortoise, What Shall I Be?, Checkers, Chinese Checkers, Creature Features, Cracker Jack, Carrier Strike!, The Lord of the Rings Adventure Game, Panzerforce, Winnie the Pooh, The Mad Magazine Game, Candyland, Dark Tower, Broadsides & Boarding Parties, Barnum’s Animal Crackers Game, Looping Louie, Wadjet, Elvis, Nyout, Aeronautika, Mississippi Queen, Dinosaurier, Clue (Simpsons version), TurfMaster, Can’t Stop, Battle Cry, MotorChamp, Hamster Rolle, Monopoly (different versions), Mall of Horror, Niagara, Cash ‘n Guns, Parcheesi (another version), Villa Paletti

Gale Force 9 at Gen Con 2012

Gale Force 9 was exhibiting and selling its flagship line of basing products and gaming accessories at Gen Con, but also showed off several newer ventures, particularly its WotC-licensed Dungeons and Dragons terrain and a board game of Spartacus, based on the popular Starz cable series.

Dungeons and Dragons Caverns of the Underdark and Other GF9 Terrain

One of the most eye-catching tables at Gen Con was definitely Jason Buyaki’s Underdark Cavern board, built with the assistance of sculptress Lizzie Willick. Though Gale Force 9’s website states a month-long construction time for the table, when I spoke with him, Buyaki pegged his and Willick’s time on the board at two weeks. The table also had two denizens on it, a Beholder Eye Tyrant and and a Purple Worm, both of which will be released as part of Gale Force 9’s Dungeons & Dragons Collector’s Series line of premium unpainted resin products. The board separates into two pieces three quarters of the way up from the bottom and will be traveling to Essen later this year to help promote Dungeons & Dragons and Gale Force 9 in Europe.

Miniature underground cavern for the Underdark in 28mm at the Gale Force 9 Booth at Gen Con

The Caverns of the Underdark 3D Set on a GF9 Vinyl Mat

While the impressive Underdark Cavern was not for sale at Gen Con, the Caverns of the Underdark 3D Adventure Sets were. Each 8-piece resin stalagmite set comes fully prepainted and is a licensed product from Wizards of the Coast to Gale Force 9. As Jason Buyaki pointed out himself, the stalagmites are also usable for pulp action games or for science fiction cave settings, in addition to concealing the movement of drow, duergar, and driders through your Dungeons & Dragons games. Gale Force 9 also has a variety of crystals that make for colorful additions to a gamer’s dungeon or cavern, as well as a new vinyl playing mat specifically licensed for Dungeons & Dragons use, featuring a 1-inch grid.

Terrain mastermind Jason Buyaki in Spartacus T-shirt Stands Before Huge Cavernous Dungeon at Gen Con

Terrain Mastermind Jason Buyaki Standing Beside One of His Greatest Gaming Boards

Lizzie Willick has also designed a series of re-imagined hills for the Battlefield in a Box line of prepainted terrain. Willick has answered the question “How do you make a hill that’s not a hill?” with five intriguing collapsed urban structures: the Fallen Angel, the Buried Monument, the Collapsed Corner, the Ruined Fountain, and the Blasted Garden. They will look good in most futuristic urban cityscapes and match Gale Force 9’s existing Gothic range, while helping to block line of sight and offering concealment and cover to nearby troops.

Spartacus: A Game of Blood and Treachery

Unpainted plastic generic gladiator pieces on arena game board for Spartacus board game at Gen Con

Spartacus: A Game of Blood and Treachery at Gen Con 2012

Gale Force 9 CEO John Kovaleski explained GF9’s other exciting venture, the Spartacus: A Game of Blood and Treachery board game. GF9 demoed the game throughout Gen Con at four tables. Players use generic gladiator playing pieces, but can play with named characters from the show such as Spartacus himself, Asher, or Animaeus. The game is also rated 17+, so fans of some of the more vulgar and evocative expressions that really characterize the show have some of them to look forward to. Spartacus: A Game of Blood and Treachery will be available in stores in late September or early October with an expansion to follow. From my video with Kovaleski it also seems quite likely that there may be further games in the Spartacus setting released by GF9.

Monopoly: The World’s Most Famous Game & How It Got That Way by Philip E. Orbanes

Book cover to Philip Orbanes Monopoly book with Monopoly-patterned backgroundMonopoly: The World’s Most Famous Game & How it Got That Way is aptly named. Author and Monopolyphile Philip E. Orbanes traces the roots of Monopoly from Elizabeth Magie Phillips’ Landlord Game in 1903, following its course up to 2006 when the book was published by Da Capo Press. Like most middle-class Americans, I’ve played dozens of games of Monopoly in my life and have even won a few. I have to confess that once I became aware of role-playing games and board games like Axis & Allies and Heroquest, I mostly put Monopoly aside and scorned it, but Orbanes’ writing makes me rethink my anti-Monopoly stance and I now want to try playing a few games of it competitively. Other than knowing its playing spaces and basic rules which have become engrained in Western culture (Get Out of Jail Free Card, Do Not Pass Go, Community Chest), I only knew that Parker Brothers was Monopoly’s manufacturer. The last time I “played” Monopoly involved McDonald’s playing pieces for the fast food giant’s annual promotion, so even learning that Monopoly’s playing spaces are named after real streets and neighborhoods in Atlantic City was quite a revelation for me.

Besides learning that basic Monopoly fact, I was also pleasantly surprised to find so much American and world history in the history of a single board game. Orbanes explores the presidential policies and the underlying economies of the years during Monopoly’s development, mostly glossing over the Kennedy-Johnson-Nixon administrations, but otherwise framing Monopoly’s growth with changes in our nation’s leaders. He also ties interest in Monopoly to the real world spread of monopolistic businesses, as well as the resulting antitrust actions, bankruptcies, and the move towards business conglomerates including Parker Brothers’ absorption by General Mills. IBM and AT&T also figure into Orbanes’ narrative. Monopoly’s role in WWII is particularly engrossing. British license-holder John Waddington Ltd., the publisher of card games, theater bills, and Monopoly, mastered the art of silk printing, with silk maps being useful to supply British pilots and ground forces with a stronger, more tear-resistant, lighter-weight map that didn’t rustle when unfolded. But Monopoly had a more direct link to the war effort according to Orbanes.The British intelligence service M19 had copies of the game distributed to Allies serving in Axis P.O.W. camps by the Red Cross. John Waddington Ltd. concealed escape tools like abrasive files and compasses embedded into the boards. Real world currency was hidden in the game’s playing money. Orbanes cites 35,000 Allied POWs who managed to escape Axis camps, but so highly classified was the secret operation that the actual number of POWs aided specifically by Monopoly is unknown.

While much of the book is a well-written history of the game, Orbanes also tackles the U.S., Canadian, and World Monopoly Championships, which he played a large part in organizing and judging himself. Orbanes joined Parker Brothers in 1979. At this point in Monopoly: The World’s Most Famous Game & How It Got That Way, his account of Parker Brothers’ practices becomes somewhat weaker rather than stronger. Orbanes provides little in the way of an insider’s insight into Parker Brother’s operations, much less any criticism of his employer. The entire book is similarly free of any criticism or negativity despite Monopoly’s involvement in lawsuits and disputes over who its actual creator was. The most critical reception that Monopoly gets in this history is a banning from the Nazis and other fascist governments and from the Communists during the Cold War. I have to imagine that some grognards or game critics might have taken issue with the company’s publication of Monopoly: The Mega Edition in 2006, in which the game’s spaces are expanded from 40 to 52 and a new movement mechanic is introduced, but Orbanes is silent on such a point. However one of the developments during his tenure that really stood out was the Franklin Mint’s $600 version of the game with over 100,000 copies sold! Do the math.

As for who actually created Monopoly, Orbanes attributes it to Elizabeth Magie Phillips, but the game went through many changes and iterations in between Phillips’ 1903 patent for the Landlord’s Game and its eventual publication in 1935 by Parker Brothers. From Phillips the basics of the game had spread among socialists, academics, and other fellow proponents of the single tax, which had originally been championed by Henry George in his 1879 book Progress and Poverty. As Orbanes narrates the spread of Monopoly through college campuses via handmade versions of Phillips’ game, he notes changes introduced. These are well-illustrated with graphical examples of the design changes over the years, early advertisements, and photo inserts of the game’s contributors, as well as an appendix of rules changes. These changes reached their culmination in the form of the unemployed Charles Darrow who first played the game in 1932 and who had 500 games produced in 1934, eventually selling his “rights” to Monopoly to Parker Brothers in 1935. The rules were then further distilled and formalized and the game of Monopoly was truly born, selling two million copies within two years during the height of the Great Depression.

If you’re looking for an answer on why Monopoly’s play money has its characteristic hues or why particular playing tokens were chosen, you’ll have to find them elsewhere. Orbanes does provide an excellent list of sources to find those answers though and I found his coverage of Monopoly collectors fascinating. Some collectors have over 400 different editions of the game or of the affinity editions, which are the Star Wars or NFL-themed versions replacing the familiar Board Walk and Park Place with each setting’s exclusive property. These collectors trawl eBay regularly looking for rare versions of the game. Orbanes is also no stranger to publishing previous works on Monopoly, having authored The Monopoly Companion (1999) and The Game Makers (2003). He lists the following among resources for fans of the game: World of Monopoly, Hasbro’s own Monopoly site, Tim Walsh’s The Playmakers, and Albert Veldhuis’s research.

I doubt I need to suggest that an existing fan of Monopoly should read Orbanes’ book, but whether you’re a board gamer or a role-player, I do suggest Monopoly: The World’s Most Famous Game & How it Got that Way. For any student who finds 20th century American history dull, especially its economic history, Orbanes’ take on Monopoly may be just the right enlightening avenue of approach.

Book cover copyright Da Capo Press, used with permission.

The Games We Played: The Golden Age of Board & Table Games

Variant cover for Games We Played showing 1800s cartoon characters wrangling over the American eagleAside from a two page foreword by Kenneth T. Jackson, there is little in the way of lengthy text in Margaret K. Hofer’s The Games We Played, other than in her introduction which covers the economic and social factors that led to the Golden Age of board games in the 1880s as well as each chapter introduction. This is not a bad thing. Instead, the reader gets 159 pages of rich illustrations of games like Rival Policemen, Peter Coddle’s Trip to New York, and Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater. Published in 2003 by Princeton Architectural Press, The Games We Played uses the New-York Historical Society’s Liman Collection of games as its basis and indeed resembles a large museum exhibit catalogue. As such, it makes for a great coffee table book, but it would also be a valuable addition to a classroom or school library for a glimpse back into the Gilded Age of America as well as the early Progressive Era with games celebrating American victories in the Spanish-American War.

While Hofer links the 1887 game The World’s Educator to Trivial Pursuit and Monopolist from 1885 to Parker Brothers’ Monopoly, The Games We Played is refreshingly devoid of many other references to “classic” games that most modern board game enthusiasts consider stale or dead. Looking at the Monopolist board or The Checkered Game of Life (1866), it is hard to envision their latter-day descendants. Even Anagrams from Milton Bradley in 1910 does not bear much resemblance to Scrabble, aside from letter blocks. The only game I recognized was Tiddledly Winks, which I played in the 1980s as a child. From Hofer I now know that the game was patented in England in 1889 with the New York-based McLoughlin Brothers patenting Improved Game of Tiddledy Winks in 1890. Parker Brothers had a version copyrighted in 1897 as The Popular Game of Tiddledy Winks.

The McLoughlin Brothers company dominates The Games We Played, just as they “dominated the industry with sumptuous eye-catching packaging that was frequently more compelling than the games it contained” in the period between 1858 to 1920 according to Hofer. Milton Bradley went on to purchase the company in 1920. This may also explain why McLoughlin Brothers games are so unfamiliar and seem so novel, as Parker Brothers probably did not continue to produce their older titles. I say probably because readers interested in a detailed account of the Golden Age of board games will be disappointed by Hofer’s lack of a historical narrative with any detailed information on the game manufacturers or designers themselves or their economic battles with each other. For that we do have David Parlett’s The Oxford History of Board Games, which Hofer used in her research.

Hofer’s chapter introductions though do make connections between the board game offerings of the era and the changing social and moral values in America of the time period. Her chapter “Morals to Materialism” ties board games like The New Pilgrim’s Progress (1893) and Game of the District Messenger Boy, or Merit Rewarded (1886) to the nascent idea of the American Dream and self-made men. Hofer sums up the game Cash: Honesty is the Best Policy: “Cash provided those who could afford the simple $1.50 game with the opportunity to climb the ladder from errand boy to millionaire.” As such, games like Cash were echoes of Horatio Alger Jr.’s series of popular “rags to riches” stories prevalent at the time, emphasizing hard work and clean living as the paths to success. On the other hand, of course, many of these games were just plain materialistic and about wish fulfillment, such as the early 1850 game Yankeee Pedlar, or What Do You Buy? from John McLoughlin before starting McLoughlin Brothers. Is Yankee Pedlar really so different than a Barbie game about shopping at a mall? Hofer’s sixth chapter,”The Urban Experience”, details board games specifically about New York, prosperity, and navigating one’s way in increasingly complex cities. To Hofer, “these games betray the sense of dislocation felt by Americans experiencing rapid urban growth and suggest their collective aspirations for worldly urban sophistication.”

Brother and sister play with paper village buildings while mother watches on the cover of the New Pretty Village

The New Pretty Village, 1897

Though the games are presented in the first chapter, “Parlor Amusements”, I think the McLoughlin Brothers games of The Pretty Village in 1890 and 1897’s The New Pretty Village also reflect the materialistic longing of the later chapters, as well as dreams for success. With my fondness for miniature buildings, how could I not be fascinated by the Pretty Village series? Essentially the “games” were packs of card buildings that could be assembled for play. Hofer identifies that the “quaint stuctures in this popular game reflect a new nostalgia for a simple, agrarian past.” I imagine though that the designers chose the village for more practical reasons. Modeling skyscrapers and other “modern” marvels to the scale of cut-out figures or toy soldiers would have been impractical. The boy in the illustration in his cowboy outfit is able to join his younger sister’s genteel play probably because he will have a small army of cowboys and Indians to raid her peaceful village. It is charming to see the forerunners of World Works Games and other paper terrain efforts as early as the 1890s.

Three card village buildings from The Pretty Village published in 1890

Three Card Buildings from The Pretty Village Published in 1890 by McLoughlin Brothers.

War Games

The other particularly captivating section of The Games We Played for me was Hofer’s exceedingly brief fourth chapter, “War Games”. Historical war gamers will find the tiny chapter interesting as it has games covering Napoleon through to the Spanish-American War. Napoleon: The Little Corporal from Parkers Brothers in 1895 traces Napoleon’s life. What fan of Napoleonics doesn’t love the Battle of Wagram in 1809 or the 1805 Campaign at Ulm? This is a board game though, closer to The Game of LIfe than any tactical war game, This is the case for all the games featured in the “War Games” section, though the playing map for Game of War at Sea or “Don’t Give up the Ship” looks promising for chit-based war games. Players must battle in the Atlantic and Carribean for dominance in this Spanish-American war title from 1898. I can’t help thinking though that there is some possibility for Civil War, Mexican-American War, or even earlier conflicts on its playing surface, which features a checkerboard gridded sea and American and Canadian cities. The playing board’s map goes as far west as Austin, Topeka, and Sioux City.Uncle Sam at War with Spain was also released in 1898, the same year of the Spanish-American War. These Golden Age board games were very topical as patriotism soared. The subjects also seemed to be mostly real and historical. Roosevelt at San Juan and Schley at Santiago Bay were two other titles, this time released in 1899 from Chaffee & Selchow. Schley’s name should be famous to students of American naval history for the Sampson-Schley controversy. At the time of the game’s printing though, Winfield Scott Schley was an accomplished naval hero.

There are a few exceptions to the historical battles and figures covered such as the generic Mimic War which contained 30 paper stand-up soldiers, which Hofer explains were for children “to act out their favorite war battles”. “Advance and Retreat also seems to be a non-specific game of battle. Earlier in the book, Hofer includes Chivalry from Parker Brothers in 1888, which “had complex rules and demanded strategic skill to win”. Unfortunately one of Hofer’s other notes is frustratingly not illustrated by her choice of images; she captions the innocuous cover for Game of The Little Volunteer with the note that, “Grisly images showing bloodshed were apparently not troubling to children and parents of the 1890s.” On the game’s cover, a child beats a drum, a cute dog stands with a rifle in paw and a party hat on its head, and there is a mounted cavalry officer with his sword at his side diagonally opposite the angelic pair. I would like to see the “grisly” depictions to which Hofer alludes. This may be possible, because in her Selected Bibliography she references the actual catalogue of the Liman Collection from Marisa Kayyem and Paul Sternberger, Victorian Pleasures: Nineteenth-Century American Board and Table Games from the Liman Collection.

For Game Designers

I think any game designer might enjoy at least thumbing through The Games We Played just for examples of past game mechanics that can be gleaned from studying the boards. Again, Hofer does not explain how each particular game was played. Also half of the illustrations at least are merely cover art. However for those more interested in the visual side of game design then, a perusal of Hofer’s book might be of value. Moving back to game mechanics, while a few games resemble Candyland such as Little Red Riding Hood and Jack the Giant Killer, Bulls and Bears: The Great Wall St. Game (a precursor to Monopoly) has a bit more to it. The Yacht Game Race and The Post Office Game both have New York as their setting and could be used to learn its geography, but a designer could extrapolate their game boards to fantasy and science fiction settings. Looking at the two boards for the New York games, I think something interesting could be done with a Minas Tirith or King’s Landing board game. Mystery at Hogwarts and Hogwarts: House Cup Challenge don’t begin to scratch the surface of what could be possible with a strong Hogwarts-based game.

In the Classroom

Lastly as a former long-term substitute teacher married to a teacher, I think The Games We Played has a place in a teacher’s library in any school setting. I see it as more of a topical temporary addition in an elementary school classroom with a teacher showing a few relevant pages to address a student’s question or accompany an area of study, though social studies is woefully inadequately taught at the elementary level. Older students will obviously get more out of the book. A middle school social studies teacher I once studied under was fond of using political cartoons to frame her students’ study of American history. Board games and their history could likewise frame a study of the post-Reconstruction period.

The only really questionable content in The Games We Played is on page 20 in the introduction with the cover of Jim Crow Ten Pins or possibly depictions of Native Americans. Of course, there is also the sexism of some of the games, but these are all approachable in their own right as topics of history handled by a veteran teacher. Most students however, encountering the picture of Jim Crow Ten Pins, will react to it and want to share it with their neighbors.

All images copyright Princeton Architecture Press, used with permission.

Arel and Ro-El Cordero Talk Yards: The Game of Inches at the GAMA Trade Show

I am not a football fan by any stretch of the imagination. I enjoyed going to Cal games when I lived in Berkeley. I also enjoyed playing Yards: The Game of Inches at the GAMA Trade Show after meeting brothers Arel and Ro-El Cordero. Arel got his PhD at UC Berkeley, while Ro-el went to arch-rival (and inferior) Stanford for his undergrad. I very much enjoyed trouncing Ro-el the evening after the interview in his first miniature war game ever, Dark Age. We also all played Jabba Dabba Du from Sirius Games that night, but the Bay Area residents had a lot to say about their own game, Yards. They had to actually tell me that football is referred to as “the game of inches”, because I was puzzled by the fact that their prototype board wasn’t based on inches. The game is played on a gridded board with formation cards with 8 wooden pieces a side. Each turn the player can always move a playing piece one square OR make use of the game-changing formation cards to move one or more player pieces multiple squares. There aren’t really any downs per se, but possession changes when the ball carrier is tackled. Unlike actual football, the winner of the game is the first to score a touchdown, field goal, or safety. Craven Games will be following the Corderos’ progress on Yards as they turn their game design into reality.

Overview of Yards and Its Creation, Response to Yards

Cover image of football board game Yards

Yards box art courtesy Arel Cordero

CG: So I’m here with Arel and Ro-el Cordero, two brothers with their game Yards: The Game of Inches. We just played a demo of the game, it probably took about an hour, is that usual?
Ro-el: It was a little long, but we also had a lot of chit-chatting and-
Arel: Yeah, the game is so designed so that it should be around half an hour once you know the rules.
CG: Sometimes half an hour, but you guys have also played for half a day?
Arel: That was before we introduced the field goal mechanic. That was partly the reason-, in fact, the only reason that we introduced that mechanic was to make the game end.
Ro-el: Yeah, there was that one day that we played on and off for the entire day.
Arell: Yeah.

CG: What was the genesis of the game?
Arel: So I actually had the idea for the mechanic sort of spontaneously on a flight, the idea of using patterns on a grid. Ro-el and I had been, before that, playing a bunch of games like Stratego was one that we’ve always played together over the holidays. I liked the idea of a grid. I wanted a sports analogy. I’d been thinking of like maybe hockey or something else, soccer, and I had some ideas for a mechanic, but nothing really seemed to work, and then it just kind of came to me to do this and I went through lots of iterations.
CG: And how do you as brothers split the design or duties or what you’ve done with it, as far as the game goes?
Arel: It’s been very organic. It’s basically been a labor of love. I was doing this through graduate school and trying to graduate at the same time, so over the years, we’ve basically played a lot together and that’s how it has been evolving is through playtesting and playing it with other people.

CG: So part of the reason you’ve come to the GAMA Trade Show is to solicit interest in it or see what options are available to you, right?
Ro-el: Yeah, I think to solicit interest, but also really since we’re-, we just kind of came out to Orccon a few weeks ago and that’s when we first got exposure to people and started hearing about, you know, what the process is to get the game manufactured and published and distributed and in stores and retail, so we really, on the other side, came here to get information, to learn, to meet distributors, to talk to other game manufacturers, and find out, you know, how did they go through the process, and also to look for retailers and see what their reaction’s going to be like, whether they think it’s something that they would want to carry, so we can start kind of planning.
CG: What has the response been to the game in general?
Ro-el: So far the response, in terms of game play has been very good. I know at Orccon we got a lot of really good feedback, a lot of positive comments and liking it, and then, obviously it was a very strategy-heavy crowd, definitely a gamer crowd. We got a lot of very nice, very fine-tuned suggestions, but on the whole, I think I was pleasantly surprised at the feedback we were getting were all small variations or additions or things we could do as an expansion, but everyone kind of seemed to be pretty positive on just how the pace of the game, the kind of asbtractness of it. We got some people who didn’t like football who played the game and liked it, said that it didn’t have to be so footballish. And we got some people who were more into the football and not so much into the game who happened to walk by who also said, you know, well you know, “I can like this”.
Arel: It’s abstract enough that it can hopefully appeal to people just on the gameplay.

The GAMA Trade Show for New Game Designers

CG: You guys now are Contributing Members to GAMA, to the organization, so how did you guys make that decision that you thought that GAMA was going to be worth it? Did someone recommend GAMA?
Arel: Actually, yeah, someone did recommend it. We were at the Strategicon event-
CG: Just weeks ago?
Arel: Just a few weeks ago, yeah, and this was our-, my first game con and also the first time showing Yards to an event like that, in the public. We’d shown it to game testers, but not really the public. But there I met up with other designers, other people in the industry, who really gave us a ton of really good feedback and spent the time with us and GAMA was one of the things that we were strongly recommended to attend, just because it’s so informative, a lot of great people here.
CG: So you guys have found it to be informative then?
Both:: Yeah.
Arel: Absolutely.
Ro-el: It’s been a good contrast, I think, to Orccon, where Orccon was players, right? Really people who would be playing and buying the game for themselves, consumers, which was really good for us to get to play, the playtesting people, that kind of feedback, whereas here, it’s really more about going to the workshops and learning about the business side of the process and kind of end to end, how do you get your games into the hands those consumers that we were playing with at Orccon.
CG: Has there been a particular seminar so far that’s been valuable to you guys?
Ro-el: Yeah… The intellectual property one was very…
CG: With, I think, Greg Silberman.
Ro-el: Yes! Yeah, that was really interesting.
CG: Are you more inclined now to possibly look for a patent? Is that what seemed applicable to you guys?
Arel: Like it really depends. We’ll talk it over on the specifics. I mean, actually one of us, it’s an investment that you have to weigh out to see whether it’s worth it. We’ll have to talk it over.
CG: On the other hand, you summarized the game as what? Grid movement?
Arel: Yeah.
CG: So it’s grid movement. Is that something that you can really protect?
Arel: Depends, yeah. The feedback I think I’ve gotten the most of, which I’m kind of glad for, is that there is a novelty to the game, the mechanic, I think it appears to some extent in a few other games, but the use of these patterns, and the ability to chain and rotate them, is kind of a novelty.

More Game Design Aspects to Yards

Overhead image of Yards game board, wooden pieces, and game cards

Yards board and card images courtesy Arel Cordero

CG: What do you guys think of as a price point for the game?
Ro-el: Well, we’ve been kind of thinking somewhere like in the 25ish.
Arel: Yeah, 20 ideally, and depending on the cost of manufacturing, 25 that would be the ballpark, that we’d want to aim for.
CG: Which seems reasonable.
Ro-el: Yeah.
CG: It’s very generic, it’s not themed.
Ro-el: Yeah, there aren’t so many pieces that it’d make sense to charge 80 bucks or something for it. There’s kind of enough to it that 5 or 10 dollars would be invested to manufacture it.
CG: Who did you guys turn to for prototyping?
Both:: Oh, we did!
Arel: We did the prototyping actually.
CG: Even these? [The playing cards, I think]
Ro-el: We bought the wooden pieces online and painted them ourselves.
CG: Ok. What about the boards?
Arel: We made them ourselves.
Ro-el: Yeah, we basically cut the board, got the board at an art store, cut it, taped it ourselves, printed it.
CG: So the artwork right now, is this just clip art, or is this-
Arel: No, no, I commisioned art. I have a license for the artwork, but, yeah, this was-, I have the rest of the box art as well. That’s … I’m happy with.
CG: Have you guys started thinking of what age will your suggested age range?
Arel: So we’ve labeled it for 10 and up, in terms of game play. One thing that we learned here is like we’ll have to consider other types-, like choking hazards, et cetera, to decide what the actual age.
CG: They pointed that out?
Ro-el: Yeah, two people. Someone else came up a few minutes ago while you were playtesting. You have to put basically 13 up, otherwise you have to go through an extra set of testing that can be a couple more thousand dollars potentially. So it’s possible right now, we have it 10 up, it’s possible we might actually print it with a different age.
Arel: Or have bigger pieces.
Ro-el: Yeah, or have bigger pieces, yeah.
CG: I also imagine that one of the distributors or at least a publishing company, they could make that decision, for you guys.
Ro-el: Yeah.
CG: So at this point, you’re not thinking of manufacturing, distributing by yourselves, right? You are looking for someone to partner with?
Both:: Yeah.
Ro-el: It seems to be what we’re looking for, it seems that the most direct path to consumers is really to find a distributor who has access to al lot of different places, or several distributors.
Arel: Plus these prototypes take a ridiculously long time to make. In terms of cutting the cards, and painting the pieces, which could be expedited, but we’d really like to partner with someone to be the manufacturer.

More About the GAMA Trade Show

CG: At this point it’s still Tuesday night at the show, so is there anything else that you’re looking forward to at the GAMA Trade Show 2012?
Ro-el: Yeah, there’s a Domestic Manufacturing talk, I think, tomorrow. I forget what the title of it is.
Arel: 101 and 102.
CG: I think you’ll get 102, because I went to 101.
Ro-el: Yeah, it sounds like they switched it, yeah. Yeah, I think it’s actually where we met [laughs].
CG: You will get, there’s also international on Thursday maybe.
Arel: So that’s one thing we’re really looking forward to.
Ro-el: Yeah. So I think the next step for us really, I think, is once we kind of can figure out what it’s going to cost, we’re probably looking at doing something either with Kickstarter or, at least if we know how much it’s going to cost, then we know how much we need to invest in it, if we’re going to do it ourselves or get it Kickstarted, give us more or a better idea of what we need to aim for in terms of raising money.
Arel: And also for me, the expo, I’m really looking forward to see.
CG: The exhibitors’ hall? And then which one of you usually wins? [Both: laugh]
Ro-el: We could flip a coin and answer that, I think.
Arel: We could determine that in a tournament. I think it goes back and forth a lot, which is my way of saying that he has been winning lately. No, I sometimes win.
CG: I don’t know if you guys have heard this, but besides maybe a lot of buzz about Kickstarter, in a lot of different seminars we’ve been to, there’s also a lot of talk about Organized Play, so it sounds like you’re almost-, you mentioned tournaments, is that something you’re already thinking of, like this would help the game?
Ro-el: Yeah.
Arel: Yeah, absolutely. That’s one thing I want to find out more about, how people are organizing Organized Play here, but it’s a football game, so I think it really lends itself well to tournaments, because those already exist in many different forms in football. It’s something I’ve wanted for a long time to be able to have a tournament and actually be able to compete with other people. I might be at an unfair advantage having created it, but I still would want to participate.
Ro-el: Something that I think we’ve thought about and we’ve actually done this at a smaller level, is taking it and playing it at bars. It’d be great to have it at a game night at a bar, a local bar, and bring 10 copies, and have a little mini-tournament there or just have people play.
Arel: It’s a good game for beer. Two people over a beer, that kind of thing, I think. Actually the first time it was playtested by two other people was at a bar and it was a lot of fun to watch, because people were kind of crowding around and it was kind of like watching a game.
CG: It’s also a good game where maybe your opponent’s drunk, you can maybe take advantage of that.
Arel: That’s actually one of the benefits, yeah.
Ro-el: Or you could take a shot every time you get tackled, there’s also that potential.
CG: Well, I’m going to leave that in, but I think you will probably leave that out of the game rules. Thank you guys.
Arel: Thank you very much.