By the middle of the 20th century, the ancient tradition of playing board games had managed to survive the inventions of film, radio, and television. In fact, in the 1950s, many of the most popular board games of the day, even those tied to TV shows, movies, and comic strips, were still based on the same two-dimensional 63-tile track used in the Italian game of Goose, which was invented in the 1500s.

In the 1970s, though, board games faced an entirely new threat to their existence: The video game. When the first coin-operated arcade games were introduced in 1971 (the failed Computer Space) and 1972 (a sensation called Pong), toy and game designers had to consider how to keep consumers interested in the tradition of family game night.

Fortunately, board games had been evolving throughout the 1960s, thanks to the radical innovations of Marvin Glass and the Ideal Toy Corporation. Together, they introduced a series of board games that involved 3D plastic devices that used gravity, balance, and spring action—the 1963 Rube Goldberg-like Mouse Trap is easily the most famous of these. In 1966, Milton Bradley followed up with Twister, the first-ever board game to use the human body as the player’s pieces.

While Glass’ quirky creations—like the 1970 haunted house game Which Witch?, with its fun “whammy ball” action—were still popular as the decade dawned, game makers soon had to consider how to incorporate new electronic technology into their products to make board games even more enticing. One of the earliest electronic board games was Voice of the Mummy, which required players to race around a Mummy’s sarcophagus. If a player landed on a “Mummy’s-voice” space, a recorder hidden inside the game’s plastic tomb would drone a message of doom. The sequel, Séance, featuring “The Voice From the Great Beyond,” debuted in 1972.

Mattel, too, got in on the electronic-game action in 1972, with the release of its Talking Football game. It required players to manipulate 13 tiny plastic records, each the size of a cookie, that ran through football plays like a long pass or off-tackle run on the A side, and then six possible defenses on the B side, all of which would be acted out by players on the board. Dick Enberg, then the radio announcer for the Los Angeles Rams, narrated the action, shouting “Great play!” as a recorded crowd cheered. By 1977, Mattel’s Football game had become a handheld electronic device.

That same year, Atari debuted its wildly popular 2600 home video-game console and Apple released its user-friendly home computer, the Apple II. Against this backdrop, Milton Bradley finally unveiled Simon, its first all-electronic game. Simon, which could fit in one player’s lap and also be played by four people sitting around a card table, was inspired by the old parlor game Simon Says. This version of Simon Says required players to copy a pattern of electronic tones and lights generated by the device.

Simon was an instant hit. No wonder, then, that Milton Bradley immediately followed Simon with 1977’s Brain Waves, a “light-up fake-out strategy game,” and 1978’s Laser Attack, w...

Naturally, other companies wanted a piece of the electronic action. Ideal imitated Simon with its 1979 game Maniac, while Parker Brothers introduced Electronic Cops and Robbers with an “electronic crime scanner” that same year. Ideal’s Electronic Detective, which looked sort of like a vintage electronic adding machine, billed itself as a “computerized who-done-it game,” programmed with 130,000 different murder mysteries. It even came with a 45 RPM record that explained how to play.

Milton Bradley’s Dark Tower, released in 1981, is now coveted by electronic-board-game fanatics. This medieval fantasy game featured a traditional board and tokens, but the dark tower of its title had a tiny computer that ran the game play, conducting the battles and keeping track of how much food the players had. At the time, this was an impressive technological feat.

Not all 1970s board games were preoccupied with electronics. In fact, one of the most popular games of the decade was Boggle, which appealed to the traditional word-puzzle-solving crowd that had made Scrabble such a hit in 1953. Instead of relying on newfangled technology, Alan Turoff came up with the “random walk” principle of the game. Perhaps not surprisingly given the competition, the game failed when it was first introduced in 1972. However, fan mail convinced Parker Brothers to relaunch Boggle in 1976 with a clever new letter-shaking device, and Big Boggle, introduced in 1979, upgraded the board from a 4x4 grid to a more challenging 5x5 layout.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Museum of Talking Boards

Museum of Talking Boards

Prepare to enter the strange world of Ouija, the Wonderful Talking Board game, which captured imaginations en masse… [read review or visit site]

Elliot Avedon Games Museum

Elliot Avedon Games Museum

This in-depth University of Waterloo virtual exhibit showcases vintage games in a variety of categories, from class… [read review or visit site]

Electronic Plastic

Electronic Plastic

From Tomy to Coleco to Mattel and Nintendo, check out this collection of over 660 handheld and tabletop videogames … [read review or visit site]

Pong Story

Pong Story

David Winter's tribute to early video games, and to Ralph H. Baer, 'inventor of the video game.' Offers a detailed … [read review or visit site]



Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

The Game Of Jaws 1975 Made By Ideal (very Nice)Simon Game 1978 Vintage Milton Bradley Mpn4850 Works!Vintage 1978 Milton Bradley Simon Game In The Original Box 1975 Vintage Payday Board Game Parker Brothers-euc-completeDungeons & Dragons Basic Set With Introductory Module Tsr 2nd Edition 1978Vintage 1972 Tudor Nfl Football Strategy Game # 100 - Mint, Sealed In Box !Which Witch? Game 1970 Milton Bradley Complete Contents Very Good UsaWar In The West Spi 1976 - Excellent ConditionVntg 1970's Tudor Nfl Electric Football Game Dallas Cowboys Vs Los Angeles RamsVintage Tunnels And Trolls Lot, 1976-81 Flying Buffalo Rules And Modules1979 Dungeons & Dragons 1001 Basic Set With Intro Module1978 Merlin Game Works Atari Touch Me Mattel Football Yahtzee Hand Held LotSimon Game Mb 1979 Vintage Milton Bradley 4850 Electronic Memory Says ElectronicVintage 1976 Super Touch Game Super Jock Basketball By SchaperVintage Stratego Battlefield Strategy Board Game 1977 Complete Vintage Mbradley1977 Perfection Game Lakeside1970 Vintage Parker Brothers Masterpiece The Art Auction Board Game Complete 12+Excellent Vintage 1978 Tomy Digital Derby Auto Raceway Handheld Racing GameVintage Spi Game - The Creature That Ate Sheboygan 1979 BoardgameVintage Invicta 1972 Original Master Mind Strategy Game Complete W/ InstructionsVintage 1978 Simon Says Game1974 King Oil Board Game Milton Bradley - CompleteVintage Milton Bradley 1984 Candyland And 1979 Chutes And Ladders CompleteSpi Game 1974 - War In East Pre-ownedTudor Nfl Strategy Game 1979 Football Model 1000 CompleteAd&d 1st Edition Dungeon Masters Guide (6th Alpha Printing 1979) - Ex ConditionVintage 1975 Ideal Jaws Movie Shark Game Vintage Board Game Masterpiece Art Auction Game By Parker Brothers 1970 Vintage Family Fun Game Rummy Royal 1973 & Plastic Sheet Whitman Nice!!Custer's Last Stand (battleline1976) Little Big Horn Missing 1 Blank CounterVintage Game, "war Of The Ring", Spi 19771978 Simon Electronic Game Milton Bradley Set 1The Farming Game 1979 George Rohrbacher Complete Used Played A Lot Vintage LookVintage Lakeside's Challenge Perfection Board Game Complete #8374 1978Vintage Rail Baron 1977 Avalon Hill Railroad GameVintage Mouse Trap Game Ideal 1975: Complete! Very Good Condition! Must See!Vtg 1978 Red Merlin Handheld Electronic Game Parker Brothers Works Perfectly!Vintage Lay An Egg Game By Tomy Complete Rare Working 1970's-80's Ldr 73Vintage 1976 Original Mattel Auto Race Electronic Game. Works Great!Dungeons & Dragons 1979 Basic Set W/chits D&d Ad&d Role-playing Game Tsr RpgVintage 4p. Lot 1970s Psychology Society Today Blacks & Whites Shelf Board GamesPig Mania - The Pig Dice Game - Complete - 1978Mille Bornes Parker Brothers French Card Game 1971Rare Curling Board Game Sweep! James M. Hatten 1971 Complete Excellent Condition1978 Avalon Hill Sports Illustrated Si Superstar Baseball GameComplete Squad Leader Bookcase Wwii Board Game By Avalon Hill,1977Complete Uncut Arab Israeli Wars Avalon Hill 1977 Rpg Bookcase Game UnpunchedThe Farming Game 1979 George Rohrbacher Board GameVintage 1978 "simon" Retro Game By Milton Bradley #4850 W/box €Vintage 1976 Mr. Mouth Board Game, Works And CompleteMr. Mouth Game, Tomy 1976, Battery Operated, Working, CompleteSports Illustrated Baseball Game 1971Tudor Nfl Strategy Game 1979 Football Model 1000 CompleteThe Emergency! Tv Show Game Milton Bradley Complete 1974Vtg 1972 Airways Parker Board Game Air Traffic Control Pan Am Qantas SwissairThe Original 1970 Aggravation Board Game Set By Lakeside CompleteAvalon Hill The Russian Campaign 1976 Operation Barbarossa Complete PunchedPivot Pool - First Edition - Milton Bradley - 1972 - Lucille Ball - CompleteVintage Mille Bornes French Card Game Parker Bros 1971 Excellent ConditionEuropa Iii Marita-merkur, Campaigns In The Balkans 1979