Archive for the 'Board Games/Tabletop Games' Category

Mattel’s Dungeons & Dragons Computer Labyrinth Game Ads, 1981/1983

Mattel 1981

Mattel 1983

From 1981 (top) and 1983 editions of Reading, Pennsylvania’s Reading Eagle newspaper. It may seem like a drastic price cut, but that is a lot of longevity for an expensive toy. The game has a 1980 copyright date, but I’m pretty sure it came out in 1981 along with Dark Tower.

1981 Article on Milton Bradley’s Dark Tower

Dark Tower 1981

The money quote, from George Ditomassi, Milton Bradley’s Senior VP for Sales:

We wanted a game that would cater to a market that already existed—Dungeons and Dragons… Dark Tower will not attract the Dungeons and Dragons aficionado. But that’s a small, intense market. We wanted the next level down—people who had heard about D&D but who didn’t want to be Dungeons and Dragons freaks. [Italics mine]

The article is from September 27, 1981. More Dark Tower here.

Star Wars: Escape from Death Star Game Cards (Kenner, 1977)




















I’ve included all of the original illustrations, though obviously not all the cards. Once again you can thank Mikey Walters for the great scans.

The artist is uncredited, but some of the illustrations look like Howard Chaykin’s work. Chaykin penciled the first ten issues of the Marvel comic adaptation and also did some very early character concept sketches, as seen here.

The game tokens are below, via Board Game Geek.

SWG Tokens

Board Games: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Parker Brothers, 1978)

CE 1978-1

CE 1978-2

CE 1978-3

The game doesn’t look terribly different than Avalon Hill’s UFO: Game of Close Encounters from the same year. The first board game named after and featuring UFOs may be Flying Saucers, published in 1968 by Funland.

Centipede Board Game Designer Interviewed at CHEGheads


As some of you will remember, one of my abiding interests is the collision of the board game and video game industries starting in 1980, when Milton Bradley released Pac-Man, “the family version of the arcade game.” I’ve talked about two other MB games, Berserk and Zaxxon, and speculated that board games emulating arcade games were successful in the short-term for a couple of reasons: first, the kids who couldn’t get to the arcades and didn’t have a home console might get a quick fix from a cleverly imitative board game, and second, video games in the golden age were hard as hell, and board games gave players more for their money. Ultimately, both reasons come down to money. No kid with a plentiful supply of quarters would have chosen the dining room table over the arcade.

Shannon Symonds talked to Bruce Whitehill over at the CHEGheads blog about how he designed Milton Bradley’s Centipede (1983), and it’s pretty fascinating. Whitehill couldn’t advance far enough into the arcade game to get a feel for the overall concept, so he fed quarters to a young expert to play and explain what was happening along the way. Whitehill admits that kids would rather have played the video version at the time, and concludes that

Centipede the board game was, I think, more for people like me—those who could never do that well on the arcade game but could hold their own against another player on the dining room table.

The allure of video games in the beginning was that they were video games—the physical world was old hat; we wanted to live out our fantasies on the electronic game grid. The “family version of the arcade game” was a tag marketed to parents who, Milton Bradley hoped, wanted to share in their kids’ arcade experience or, more likely, replace that arcade experience with something less expensive and less troublesome (how many car trips did parents have to make taking kids to and from the arcade?). It’s also worth noting that many arcades were competitive and intimidating, and we often had to play with a slew of other young ruffians breathing down our necks and/or talking trash. A board game at home provided a kinder, more laid back experience.

The bottom line is that tabletop game companies knew they couldn’t overturn the new digital paradigm, and creative designers like Bruce Whitehill kept them in business for a few more years. Today, Whitehill’s version of the game is almost as iconic as Atari’s.

Christmas Morning, 1983: Cabbage Patch Kids, Return of the Jedi, and Inter-Changeables

Christmas 1983

The happy kid has diverse tastes, and a sleeping bag (Cabbage Patch Kids for summer, Return of the Jedi for winter?) for every occasion. I think she’s wearing a Care Bears sweater.

Between ROTJ and the Garfield trash can is the Centipede (1983) board game. In a fascinating, sometimes clever, yet ultimately desperate attempt to compete with the new gaming paradigm, Milton Bradley released a number of board games based on popular (and not so popular) video games well into the ’90s, including Berserk and Zaxxon.

I don’t know what the C.A.R.P. box is. There’s a bird feeder kit in the trash can.

UPDATE: Thank you, Bradley Conrad, who figured out that C.A.R.P. is a Biotron clone (Cosmic Android Robot Probe) from the Inter-Changeables line. The Inter-Changeables were post-Mego and not technically Micronauts, although many of the molds are identical. Innerspace Online has the line being released around 1985, but I’m almost positive the photo above is from 1983. (Box images below are via Hake’s.) The title of this post has been updated to reflect Bradley’s great find.



(First image via eBay)

Christmas Morning, 1980: Star Wars, Star Snoopy, and Mr. Mouth

Chrismas 1980

That’s Darth Vader’s Star Destroyer Playset under the Land of the Jawas Playset. Among the figures you can see the Hoth Stormtrooper, my third favorite ESB figure after the AT-AT Driver and Hoth Han. Hoth Luke is also there.

Two items I’d forgotten about are Star Snoopy Colorforms (1979) and Tomy’s Mr. Mouth (1976).

SS 1979

SS 1979-2

SS 1979-3

Mr. Mouth 1976

There were a couple of different versions of Mr. Mouth, one featuring a green frog as the centerpiece, the other featuring a dopey yellow guy. The dopey yellow guy is the one I remember, but I could only find a commercial for the frog version. The yellow figure was later repurposed as a Pac-Man bank, seen below via the 1982 Tomy catalog. I got Pocket Pac-Man as a stocking stuffer in ’81 or ’82, but I never did get Mr. Mouth.

I also had the Fisher-Price Play Family Fun Jet, seen at the far left of the original photo.

Tomy 1982-4

(Christmas morning photo via the Rebel Scum forums)

Christmas Morning, 1983: Dark Tower and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Toys

Christmas 1983 Dark Tower

Ho ho ho. The first shot of the Christmas season comes from Brett Hudoba via Board Game Geek. The big, beautiful Dark Tower box is unforgettable, thanks to artist Bob Pepper. The game—I probably got it in 1983 as well—anchored a corner of my closet for many years.

The AD&D Sword & Dagger Set! In the wild! There were a few other sets, and you can see them all in the 1984 Placo Toys Catalog.

There are two AD&D LJN action figures in the shot: Northlord is guarding the plant, and Strongheart (above the Garfield plush) awaits release from his packaging.

The shirt appears to be homemade, the illustration taken from the Blue Dragon card in TSR’s Dungeon! board game. Ladies and gentlemen, you have entered the presence of the nerd elite.

Oh, and I had a version of that scratchy old chair.

Board Games: Chess II (Ungame, 1978)

Chess II 1978-1

Chess II 1978-2

Chess II 1978-3

What is Chess II?

You follow the rules of standard chess, devise your strategy, develop your tactics and make your move. But your playing piece attacks like a space craft, changing trajectory as it travels.

Here’s how I think it happened. The president of Ungame Corporation was smoking a joint in “the office” (a beanbag-sized section of his studio apartment demarcated by a bead curtain) and said to himself, “Like, hey man, how can I make some money on Star Wars without actually doing anything? I got no money to spend on development, no money for licenses—wait, man, wait, I’ll just make a kind of trippy chess board, call the pieces spaceships, and give one of my buddies some drugs to paint a far-out chess game in outer space…”

Was there a Checkers II? Not as far as I can tell. But there was a Space Checkers (1965), which was used as a prop in several episodes of the original Star Trek. A Space Chess game followed in 1969, hence the folks at Ungame settling on the decidedly unimaginative name of Chess II. Something wrong with Intergalactic Chess?

Board Games: The Keep (Mayfair Games, 1983)

The Keep 1983-1

The Keep 1983-2

The Keep 1983-3

The Keep 1983-5

The Keep 1983-6

The Keep 1983-4

Another strange licensing choice attached to a very R rated feature that didn’t receive a lot of push from the studio. The Keep was not a “hit Paramount movie” in any sense, but it does have a cult following because of the memorable visuals and Tangerine Dream score. (I reviewed the film here.) What’s cool about the game is that one of the players gets to play the demon Molasar, who eats one of his servants every turn to maintain his infernal energy.

The box cover is a variation of the original movie poster—one of the best of the ’80s, and probably why Mayfair decided to buy the license—with one important difference. On the original, a group of Nazis is seen entering the keep. Here, we’ve got a couple of lovers kissing. It’s a very curious choice. I thought it might have been an alternate poster design, but I can’t find any evidence of that.

There was also an RPG module based on The Keep. I’ll post that later.

(Images via eBay and Board Game Geek)




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