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    

Vintage 1978 Milton Bradley Simon Game In The Original Box The Game Of Jaws 1975 Made By Ideal (very Nice)Vintage Simon Electronic Game In Box Milton Bradley Works Perfectly 1978Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set With Introductory Module Tsr 2nd Edition 1978Vintage 1978 Simon Memory Game By Milton Bradley Vintage 1972 Tudor Nfl Football Strategy Game # 100 - Mint, Sealed In Box !Which Witch? Game 1970 Milton Bradley Complete Contents Very Good Usa1978 Merlin Game Works Atari Touch Me Mattel Football Yahtzee Hand Held LotWar In The West Spi 1976 - Excellent ConditionExcellent Vintage 1978 Tomy Digital Derby Auto Raceway Handheld Racing GameVintage Spi Game - The Creature That Ate Sheboygan 1979 Boardgame1979 Dungeons & Dragons 1001 Basic Set With Intro ModuleVtg 1978 Red Merlin Handheld Electronic Game Parker Brothers Works Perfectly!Vintage Tunnels And Trolls Lot, 1976-81 Flying Buffalo Rules And ModulesComplete Squad Leader Bookcase Wwii Board Game By Avalon Hill,19771975 Stratego Game - Capture The Flag - Complete And In Excellent Condition1970 Vintage Parker Brothers Masterpiece The Art Auction Board Game Complete 12+Vintage 1978 Simon Says GameVintage Invicta 1972 Original Master Mind Strategy Game Complete W/ Instructions1974 King Oil Board Game Milton Bradley - CompleteSpi Game 1974 - War In East Pre-ownedVintage Game, "war Of The Ring", Spi 1977Tudor Nfl Strategy Game 1979 Football Model 1000 CompleteVintage Board Game Masterpiece Art Auction Game By Parker Brothers 1970 Vintage 1975 Ideal Jaws Movie Shark Game 1975/1980 Risk Parker Brothers World Conquest War Game Good ConditionMb- Stratego Board Game - 1977 - Complete Euc - Box Has Minor Wear See PicturesVintage 1976 Original Mattel Auto Race Electronic Game. Works Great!The Farming Game 1979 George Rohrbacher Complete Used Played A Lot Vintage LookComplete Uncut Arab Israeli Wars Avalon Hill 1977 Rpg Bookcase Game UnpunchedVintage The Magnificent Race Parker Brothers Game 1975Vintage Marx Toys Cats Eye Marble Game 1978 Original BoxAvalon Hill The Russian Campaign 1976 Operation Barbarossa Complete PunchedPassword 17th Edition By Milton Bradley From 1977, Still Sealed In Bottom BoxDungeons & Dragons 1979 Basic Set W/chits D&d Ad&d Role-playing Game Tsr RpgPig Mania - The Pig Dice Game - Complete - 1978Vintage Mille Bornes French Card Game Parker Bros 1971 Excellent ConditionVintage 1970s 1980s Ral Partha Rafm Lead Miniatures D&d Battletech 40+ PiecesGame/vintage Parker Brothers-billionaire-ib-complete 19731978 Avalon Hill Sports Illustrated Si Superstar Baseball GameUncle Wiggly Game Pieces 1971 1967 4 Rabbit Tokens, Red & White CardsNfl All-pro Football Board Game (1970)Marengo: A Napoleon At War Quad Game Unpunched Spi 1975All About Town Waterville Maine Special Edition 1979 Sealed, New In Box!Vintage 1979 Mad Card Game Magazine Parker Brothers CompleteRare Vintage 1978 Match Ii Memory Board Game From Ideal *100% Complete*Vintage Talking Abc Monday Night Football Game 1977 No.3981 The Farming Game 1979 George Rohrbacher Board GameVintage 1971 Mattel Talking FootballSports Illustrated Baseball Game 1971Tudor Nfl Strategy Game 1979 Football Model 1000 CompletePivot Pool - First Edition - Milton Bradley - 1972 - Lucille Ball - CompleteMille Bornes Parker Brothers French Card Game 1971Vintage Original Milton Bradley Password Game 1977 Ages 10-adults Free ShippingVintage Archive Six Low Orcan Archers 525 25mm D&d Middle Earth 1977Avalon Hill The Russian Campaign 1976 Operation Barbarossa1978 Mattel Electronics Baseball Lcd GameThe Russian Campaign 3rd Edition Punched Complete Avalon Hill 1977Vintage 1979 The Farming Game Sealed New In Box George RohrbacherDigital Derby Auto Raceway Vintage Toy Game 1978 Tomy Handheld Tested And Works!