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]

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    

Gdw "drang Nach Osten!" 1973 (un Punched) Gdw "operation Crusader" 1978 (un Punched)War In Europe War In The West War In The East Game 1976 SpiGdw "avalanche: The Salerno Landings" 19761978 Mattel Electronics Space Alert Battlestar Galactica Video Game Mint CibGdw "unentschieden" 1973 (un Punched) Vintage 1970 "which Witch" Milton Bradley Board GameVintage Original 1974 Set Of Dungeons And Dragons BooksGdw "burma" 1976 1st Edition (un Punched) Torgau: Seven Years War Battle Punched Complete Gdw 1974Rare Vintage 1975 Creature Castle Board Game Complete Fiendish Fun Look !!!!!!!!Gdw "citadel The Battle Of Dien Bien Phu" 1977 Zip-lock Edition (un Punched) Victory Games Inc. Vietnam 1965-1975Dungeon And Dragons D&d Dnd Miniatures Lot 68 Lead Figures 1979's Ral ParthaGdw "bar-lev" 1977 (un Punched)Vintage Kenner 1977 General Mills Toy Milky The Marvelous Milking Cow Vintage Emergency Tv Show Board Game 1974 Milton Bradley - 100%Panzer Leader Avalon Hill 1974 Ww2 Tank Strategy Game Never UsedVintage Milton Bradley The Addams Family Board Game 1974 Avalon Hill Civilization Bookcase Game #837 Excellent, 1971Vintage 1970's Schaper Super Toe Super Jock Football Game - CompleteThe Arduin Grimoire Volume 1 (hargrave 1977) Old School Fantasy Rpg D&d RipoffVintage 1970 Milton Bradley Official Baseball Card Game Mlb-completeVintage Candyland (1984)& Chutes & Ladders (1979) Board Games1977 Squad Leader Avalon Hill Big Lot Nice ConditionRail Baron 1977 Vintage Avalon Hill Games Bookshelf Boardgame 100% Complete Cib Gdw "chaco" 1973 (partially Punched)Vintage Jaws Game By Ideal Used Orig Box Good Condition 1975 CompleteVintage 1974 Milton Bradley King Oil Board Game 100% Complete Mattel Electronics Football 2024 Origional 1977 Model Tractics By Tsr 2nd Printing With All Inserts Never Used 1975 Rpg MiniaturesMattel Electonics Portable Electronic Football 1977Starfleet Wars - Box Set - Superior Models Inc 1978 - No Miniatures!1971 Sports Illustrated Pro Football Game And College Football Games-complete***Vintage Rare 1978 Texas Instruments Speak & Spell W/box Manual Works Great1975 Lakeside's Superfection #8375 Family Fun Game, Complete & Works GreatGdw "tsushima & Port Arthur" 1975 (2 Games) (un Punched) Vintage 1973 Milton Bradley Scooby Doo Where Are You? Board Game Unused Mb 43181979 Major League Baseball Statis Pro Avalon Hill Sports Illustrated Edition Vintage 1974 100% Complete King Oil Board Game All Original Excellent ConditionVintage King Oil Board Game Milton Bradley 1974 Complete Excellent ConditionCrescendo Of Doom War Board Game Unpunched & Complete Avalon Hill 1979Vintage 1972 Sorry! Board Game From Parker Brothers No. 390 Advanced Dungeons And Dragons 1st Edition Player's Handbook 1978Vintage 1977 Abc Talking Monday Night Football Board Game Mattel Works Mille Bornes Card Game. 1971 Parker BrothersFire & Steel - Complete Box Set Gdw 1978 + System 7 Napoleonics Counters/rulesMint Vintage Unplayed 1970's Milton Bradley Simon Game ElectronicVintage 1976 Schaper Super Toe Super Jock Football GameDungeon Master's Guide Ad&d, By Gary Gaygax 1979 1974 Avalon Hill Chancellorsville Civil War Board GameFootball 1 Vintage Mattel Electronic Games Handheld 1970' 77 SeasonGdw: Battle For Midway, Decision In The Pacific,1942 Usa 1977Merlin The Electronic Wizard Game 1978 Parker Brothers9 Issues Of Battle For Wargamers, War Games Magazine, 1977, 1978, MiniaturesCrisloid Mah Jong Jongg 164 Tile Set W/5 Racks 10 Natural Jokers Red Case 1970sJeu Astrologique Concu Par Madame Soleil, Astro Soleil, Astrology Game, C. 1971Avalon Hill / Sports Illustrated Statis Pro Baseball 1978 Board Game * L@@k * Vintage 1978 Mattel Electronic Baseball Handheld Game W/box Works Great! Ex++!Dungeon Master's Guide - Ad&d 1st Edition - Revised December 1979