The Full History of Board Games – Part 2

The Landlord’s Game (1903)

What? You’ve never heard of The Landlord’s Game? It was invented by Lizzie Magie, one of America’s very first board game designers. The game board consisted of a square track, with a row of properties around the outside that players could buy. The game board had four railroads, two utilities, a jail, and a corner named “Labor Upon Mother Earth Produces Wages,” which earned players $100 each time they passed it… Sound familiar?

Magie had invented and patented The Landlord’s Game in 1904 and designed the game to be a practical demonstration of land grabbing with all its usual outcomes and consequences. She based the game on the economic principles of Georgism, a system proposed by Henry George, with the object of demonstrating how rents enrich property owners and impoverish tenants.

She knew some people could find it hard to understand why this happened and what might be done about it, and thought if Georgist ideas were put into the concrete form of a game, they might be easier to demonstrate. Magie also hoped that when played by children the game would provoke their natural suspicion of unfairness, and that they might carry this awareness into adulthood.

In 1935 Magie sold her patent for The Landlords Game to Parker Brothers, which is now what we know as Monopoly. This game, which launched Parker Brothers into a massive success, was originally rejected by them.

After their success with Monopoly, They went on to produce Risk, Sorry, Trivial Pursuit, and more.

Lizzie Magie sold her original patent of the original game for $500.

 The Oscars of Board Games (1978)

The Spiel des Jahres is a German title that simply translates to “Game of the Year”. It’s considered the most prestigious award for board and card games and is awarded annually by a jury of German game critics.


The Spiel des Jahres has the stated purpose of rewarding excellence in game design and promoting top-quality games in the German market. It is thought the existence and popularity of the award is one of the major drivers of the quality of games coming out of Germany.

A Spiel des Jahres nomination can increase the typical sales of a game from 500–3,000 copies to around 10,000; and the winner can usually expect to sell 300,000 to 500,000 copies.

The criteria on which games are evaluated are:

Game concept: originality, playability, game value
Rule structure: composition, clearness, comprehensibility
Layout: box, board, rules
Design: functionality, workmanship

Spiel des Jahres Winners: 1979 – 2017. Source: Wikipedia

The Spield Des Jahres has been responsible for the popularity and growth of games like Settlers of Catan, Dominion, Hanabi, and Dixit. It’s also considered one of the main drivers for the popularity of the EuroGames genre.

Euro Games are a class of tabletop game that generally downplay luck, have indirect player interaction, and focus on economics and strategy.

 Catan’s Influence in The States (1995)

The Settlers of Catan was one of the first Eurogames to achieve popularity outside of Europe. Over 24 million games in the Catan series have been sold and the game has been translated into over 30 languages.

Catan’s popularity in the United States has gotten it dubbed “The board game of our time” by The Washington Post. It’s also featured in the 2012 American documentary film titled Going Cardboard, which details the game’s impact on American gaming communities.

The game was created by Klaus Teuber, who was working as a dental technician outside the industrial city of Darmstadt, Germany in the 1980s. Teuber was designing elaborate board games in his basement on his free time. He stated that he used this as an escape from work.

Now 62, Teuber is still somewhat baffled by the popularity of his creation. He never expected it would be so successful.

Almost all board-game designers, even the most successful ones, work full time in other professions; Teuber is one of a tiny handful who makes a living from games.

When he appears at major gaming conventions, Teuber is greeted like a rock star.

For a lot of gamers, myself included, Catan was a gateway into the world of Eurogames. Before Catan, talking about board games usually meant you were referring to titles like Sorry, Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit, and Battleship — games that never excited anyone.

Settlers of Catan was a primary catalyst for the sudden popularity of board games in the United States. It made people hunger for more games that, at the time, had a very different set of rules and mechanics.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, laying on a deserted island, which resides in a hidden cave on another planet, Kickstarter is a global crowdfunding platform that helps bring creative projects to life.

Originally intended for music and film, it has backed over 200,000 projects such as music, shows, comics, digital products, and of course, board games. Kickstarter has raised more than $1.5 billion towards their projects and backers are offered tangible rewards in exchange for their pledge.

Kickstarter has been revolutionary to the board game market, as it gives avid gamers a chance to put their ideas out in front of other like-minded people. It gave the tabletop community a way to bring silent ideas to life. You wouldn’t believe how much some of these games have actually raised.

The Conan Board game Kickstarter campaign launched on January 12th, 2015 with a hefty goal of $80,000. It received full funding within 5 minutes and 37 seconds. Not only that, it went on to raise a total of $3,327,757.

And it’s not just board games. Dwarven forge raised a total of $2,140,851 and only makes physical terrain tile pieces for role-playing games.

As of Septermber 30,2017 there was 264 tabletop related projects you can fund on Kickstarter. That’s a great display of how far the board game community has come.

Board Gaming Becomes a Yearly World Wide Event (2013)

We finally circle back around to one of the biggest catalysts for the recent explosion in board gaming popularity, TableTop. TableTop is a web series about board games and was created by Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day. In each episode, Wil Wheaton plays board games with popular TV and web personalities.

TableTop started out as a show on the Geek & Sundry Youtube Channel and quickly became its most popular series. The original concept for Tabletop was that Wil Wheaton (who’s an avid board gamer) would review board games. However, Wil Wheaton proposed that the best way to show how great games are is to play them. And, based on their success, they nailed it.

Tabletop had grown to such a point that by the third season, they put up a crowdfunding campaign in an effort to become independent. Their target was $500,000 and they raised nearly triple that. They recently announced they would use the extra proceeds to launch a similar web series titled “Titan’s Grave: The Ashes of Valcana”.

Titan’s Grave will be a multi-episode show focused on a single role-playing board game. Geek & Sundry has teamed up with Green Ronin Publishing (creators of several RPG titles, including Dragon Age) to create a new game engine that they will be using to power their RPG game.

TableTop has become a resonating force in the gaming community. They focus on introducing gaming to new people that still have a misguided view of board gaming. A lot of people still think of Monopoly and Risk when they think of board games. TableTop’s popularity has started to shift this. The show has gotten so popular that board games featured on the show see skyrocketing sales. When Tsuro was featured on the show, demand was so high the publisher exhausted all stock reserves. For a time, the game was unavailable in Europe, as production tried to cope with US demand. Game manufacturers have dubbed this “The Wheaton Effect”.

So what does a popular Youtube channel have to do with a yearly worldwide event? In 2013 Wil and Felicia held International Tabletop Day, where they played several games live with folks from previous episodes. The next year, the event had spiraled into a worldwide celebration with events in over 80 countries. The next Tabletop Day will be held on Saturday, April 7, 2018 and game stores from all over the world are announcing various events and promotions for their participation. Board gaming has officially become a worldwide holiday.

 What’s in Store for the Future?

Everyone’s built a friendly community both online and off where people share reviews, strategies, thoughts, and even painting techniques for board gaming. Though the community continues to grow at a radical pace, it’s still in its infancy. Keep holding board game nights and events to introduce new people to the fun of tabletop. There’s still so much more to come!

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