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]

Handhelden.com

Handhelden.com

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 1975 Lakeside 8333 Walt Disney World Haunted Mansion Board Game CompleteTudor Games Nfl Electric Football ~ Bears Vs Vikings ~ Model #635 ~ C1973Vintage 1979 "alien" Board Game By Kenner, Very Good Condition, No Reserve!2 The Fantasy Trip Micro Game 3 Melee & 6 Wizard 1977 Steve Jackson MetagamingPanzer Leader: Warfare On The Western Front New Shrinkwrap Avalon Hill 1974Asl The Longest Day -avalon Hill Advanced Squad Leader Module Unpunched 1979 OopAvalon Hill Dune Rpg Game Bookcase Strategy Sting Movie Ah 1979 War Spice PartsVietnam 1965-1975 (victory Games)Vintage 1970 Milton Bradley Which Witch? Board Game, 99% Complete (except Dice)War In The Pacific Spi Games 1978 Military History Game Hard-to-findTudor Electric Football Browns Vs Bengals All Original 1970-71Vintage 1977 Avalon Hill Victory In The Pacific War Board Game Unpunched Vintage King Maker War Of The Roses Board Game, Unpunched 1976 Avalon HillVintage Abc Talking Monday Night Football Game Complete 1977 Mattel Vintage Toy 1978 Speak And Spell Texas Instruments Works Great! EducationalLtd Toy Stamp & 1976 Donnie & Marie Osmond T.v. Show Set Mint & Action FiguresOriginal Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Printing, Dec 1975-april 1976Heritage Panzertroops 'infantry Assault' Boxed Set--1979--shrinkwrapped1972 Sports Illustrated Baseball GameConflict Magazine Issue 3 With Assassin! Game By Sdc 1972 Unpunched CompleteFour Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Hardcover Books 1970s 1980s Monsters Fiend Etc.Solomons Campaign: Air, Land, Sea Warfare 1942 Game New Shrinkwrap Spi 1973Htf Vintage Kenner 1979 Alien Movie Board Game No. 40460 Complete!Two Games-war At Sea And Victory In The Pacific Avalon Hill 1976 And 1977Vintage 1977 Steven Deluxe Metal Chinese Checkers And Checkers CompleteVintage 1972 Parker Brothers Sorry Board Game Clean & CompleteMattel Electronics Football Auto Race Game Vintage Handheld Portable 1970s GamerVintage 1979 Spi Four Battles Of Army Group South War Game, Many Pieces, 4 MapsDivine Right - 1979 Fantasy Board Game By Tsr, Near Mint-rare, Never PlayedTexas Instruments Original Speak & N Spell With Raised Buttons, 1978, Works! ExChivalry And Sorcery - Warfare And Wizardry In The Feudal Age Vintage 1977 RareSpi - Year Of The Rat: The Communist 1972 Spring Offensive In Vietnam (punched)1973 Negamco's College Basketball Game Card SetVintage 1970s Coleco Telstar Combat Tank 2 Player Game Console System CompleteSuperstar Baseball, Avalon Hill/sports Ill, 1978! All-stars, Ruth, Mantle, Mays!Tudor Electric Football New Orleans Saints Haiti Vintage Unopened 1970'sTomy 7019 Wonderful Waterful Basketball Vintage Game 1977Vtg 1978 Merlin Handheld Electronic Wizard Toy Video Game Parker Brothers WorksPayday 1975 Vintage Board Game -complete,vgc- Where Does The Money GoDungeons & Dragons - Swords & Spells - 1st Edition 5th Printing 1979 Nice!Vintage 1970 Paddle Pool Smashing Action Game Ages 7-adult. For 2-4 Players W@w!Vintage 1974 King Oil Milton Bradley Mb 4410 Board Game Completely OriginalG.e.v. (steve Jackson Games 1978) €Rare "sinking Of The Titanic" Board Game- Ideal 1976Masterpiece The Art Auction Game By Parker Bros-100% Complete-1970 Ed.-excellentVintage 1979 Mego Pulsonic Baseball Ii Hand Held Video Game & Box Works Great!Wooden Ships & Iron Men: Fighting Sail Game Unpunched Avalon Hill 1975Commando: The Combat Adventure Game New Shrinkwrap Spi 19791978 Speak& Spell & 1980 Speak & Math1970 Panzerblitz Game Of Armored Warfare On The Eastern Front, Avalon HillVintage 1970 Aurora The Original Skittle Bowl Ten Pin Action Game!! No. 55011979 The Farming Board Game "the Game Invented On The Seat Of A Tractor"Vintage 1978 Avalon Hill Magic Realm Game, Many Unpunched Pieces, Hardly Played1974 King Oil Board GameVintage Bride Board Game From 1971Vintage Tomy Digital Derby Auto Raceway Video Game 1978 Original Classic TomyVintage Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer Board Game 1977 Cadaco CompleteVintage 1979 Milton Bradley Microvision Video Game Cartridges Set Of 5 Nice!1972 Aurora Monday Night Football Game...complete And Works GreatAvalon Hill Statis Pro Major League Baseball Game - 1978 Season Cards