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    

1979 Avalon Hill Frank Herbert's Dune Board Game For Spares OnlyFrank Herbert's Dune Game - Avalon Hill - 1979 - 824Spi "wacht Am Rhein" (monster Game) 1977 (un Punched)Magic Realm Avalon Hill Game 1978 Rare Htf 99.9% Complete Alot Unpunched PiecesNintendo Color Tv Game 15 Ctg-15s 1977 Japan Console W/ Box Manuals & Antena BoxAvalanche, The Salerno Landings, Gdw, 1976, UnpunchedWar In Europe Spi 1976 Unpunched Model 1200Vintage 1972 Sports Illustrated Baseball Game For 1971 Season!!The Wargamer Magazine Issue 6 From 1978 Operation Condor Complete 10162Elves Of Mirkwood Miniature Set (2) 25mm - Heritage Elan Lotr Oop 1978 Item 1845The Longest Day Avalon Hill Game Company 721 Wwii Wargame Board Game 1979Squad Leader: Game Of Infantry Combat In Wwii - Avalon Hill - 1977 - 822Rail Baron Game Of Building Rr Empires Factory Sealed B&o Photos 1977Sports Illustrated Baseball Game 1971 Season Includes All 24 Teams Major LeagueNos The Sinking Of The Titanic Ideal 1976 Board Game 100% Complete Sealed PiecesThe Wargamer Magazine Issue 3 From 1977 Africa Complete 10156Vintage 1978 Speak And Spell Texas InstrumentsVintage 1978 Parker Brothers Merlin Electronic Wizard Game In Box1970 Vintage Parker Brothers Masterpiece Art Auction Board Game, CompleteVintage 1978 Simon By Milton Bradley - Works - Original Box !!Vintage 1973 Coleco Stanley Cup Hockey Game No 53861977-1978 Mah Jongg Complete 156 Tile Set VintageThe Fall Of Bataan, Jagdpanther, 1976, UnpunchedOriginal Vintage 1977 Mattel Electronics Football Game Original Vintage 1977 Mattel Electronics Football Game I Model 2024-0330Vintage1971 Milton Bradley Which Witch? Board Game1975 Mouse Trap Board Game By Ideal. Complete In Box.War In The East - Spi (1976) - Dunnigan Oop Classic!Original Vintage 1977 Mattel Electronics Handheld Football Games I And IiEagles, Gdw, 1974, UnpunchedMasterpiece Board Game 1970 Great Condition All Cards, Tokens, Etc. Plus BonusVintage 1979 Parker Brothers Stop Thief Electronic Game Works CompleteLa Bataille De La Moskowa, Martial Enterprises, 1975, UnpunchedRohirrim Standard Miniature - Der Kriegspielers Heritage Lotr 25mm 1975 1056Winter War -by (spi) Simulations Publications,inc,1972 New York N.y.Rommel : The Campaign For North Africa, Lorren F Sperry,1973, UnpunchedFootball Ii Electronic Game (mattel Electronics, No. 1050, 1978)The Russo-japanese War, Gdw, 1976, Unpunched1974 Milton Bradley King Oil GameAcquire (high Adventure In The World Of High Finance) Avalon Hill Game 1976 Wildfire: The Electronic Pinball Game (parker Bros.,1979)Kharkov The Soviet Spring Offensive SpiFight For Tobruk, Wellington Wargames, 1974Statis Pro Nba Basketball Game With 1977 -1978 Season Player Cards 1974 King Oil Vintage Milton Bradley Board Game With Instruction Booklet1970 Blacks & Whites Board Game - Role Identity & Neighborhood Action GameBoard War Game Ww2 Avalon Hill The Russian Campaign 1977 3rd Ed Rules CompleteMilton Bradley Which Witch Board Game 1970Lot Of 66 Tudor Electric Football Bases From The 1970'sEast Front, 1976, The Control Box Inc, UnpunchedConquest Of North America, Fantasy Games Unlimited, 1978, UnpunchedLam Son, D.h. Casciano, 1978, UnpunchedEagle Day, Histo Games, 1973, , UnpunchedSmess; 1970, Parker Bros.; Vintage; Great Family Game And Collectible44 Haiti Era 1970's Ttc Bases Nfl Tudor Electric Football T4Vintage 1971 Mille Bornes French Card Game Parker Brothers CompleteMattel Electronic Basketball Game ~ 1978 Handheld Pocket Led Vintage!1978 Merlin Parker Brothers Electronic Handheld-workingPig Mania Dice Game 1977Nuclear Destruction, Flying Buffalo,. 1975 , Unpunched