If there’s one thing we’ve learned in our time here, it’s that there’s absolutely no cherished childhood memory that doesn’t have some dark and gritty origin story. But surely our childhood favorite board games sprang fully formed from the land of bunnies and rainbows, right? After all, they’re just a bunch of colorful squares on a board meant to help families kill time in the pre-video game era.
The Game of Life – Suicide, Poverty, and Ruin
The modern version of The Game of Life, the version we all played (or at least heard about) is all about a person’s journey of life, with the main goal of becoming a millionaire and living the American dream. It’s a charming party game that brings together families and friends all around the world, as they experience all the fun a person experiences in every stage of life, from college to retirement, with jobs, marriage, and possibly children along the way.
But it wasn’t always that way. The game is more than 150 years old, and the original is extremely different from the modern version. The goal wasn’t to be a millionaire or to live the American dream, but just simply to have a good life; so the original game was more realistic. It included the risk of suffering some uncommonly depressing events, thing people could possibly confront in life – like “crime”, “ruin”, “poverty” and “suicide”.
The game was originally created in 1860 by Milton Bradley, who was going through a rough time of his life. Bradly was a successful businessman in the printing industry, and he owned one of the only lithography machines in Massachusetts.
However, in 1860 he ran into a disaster that nearly bankrupted him after he printed more than a thousand copies of a portrait of a cleanly shaved Abraham Lincoln for his presidential nomination. Unfortunately, Lincoln grew a beard immediately after the photo, and the portrait failed to sell. After a rough time, and out of alcohol, he started to sketch his first draft of The Game of Life.
Clue – Time killer in the bunker
A famous classic detective game, Clue is another game played when together with friends and families. In the game, players need to find who murdered the game’s perpetual victim and identify the murder weapon and the room it happened in. Some parents think this is a good game for kids to practice deductive reasoning and investigation. Actually, this game has a very dark theme: some of the murder weapons only work by splashing the brain of the victim all over the mansion’s floor.
Unlike other board games, created to play on a sunny day in a good environment, Clue was created to kill time during Nazi bombings. Clue was created in 1944 by Anthony E. Pratt, as a murder/mystery game initially called “Murder”. The game was originally invented as a new game to play during the long stretches of time spent in bunkers while hoping to survive the Blitz in England during World War II.
Monopoly – The Twisted Game
Monopoly is a board game where players roll dice to move around a game board, buying and trading properties which can be developed into houses and hotels. Players earn rent from their opponents whenever they happen to land on their property. The goal is to drive all your opponents into bankruptcy. Monopoly is considered one of the most famous board games of all time.
More than 275 million sets have been sold in 43 languages and 111 countries, with more than a billion players. Monopoly was first published in 1935 by Parker Brothers. The official origin story, according to Hasbro (the American game and toy company who owned it) the game is named after the economic concept of Monopoly – the domination of a market by a single entity. Parker Brothers said that they were approached with this game by an unemployed salesman named Charles Darrow, in 1934.
The suspicious thing about this legend is that it was told by Mr. Monopoly, the mascot of this legendary board game. After years passed, the truth was revealed: Monopoly was first invented under the name ‘The Landlord’s Game’, and was created by Elizabeth Maggie, who sold it to Darrow for $500.
The Landlord’s Game is pretty much the same as Monopoly, except Monopoly does not include a crucial part that was designed to teach how unfair monopolies can be. The original intention of creating this game was to give a lesson about how unfair business can be, and how badly it could affect people’s lives.
Snakes and Ladders – A Snake Ride to Hell
A very popular board game among young children, Snake and Ladders (also known as Chutes and Ladders in the US) is a classic square board game that is a simple race contest based on luck. Snakes and Ladders is billed by Hasbro as a game about rewards and consequences. It was first created in India and was then brought back to England with some adaptations.
Snakes and Ladders originated in India under the name ‘Moksha Patam’. It was associated with the Hindu philosophy contrasting karma and kama, or destiny and desire. The game was used to interpret and teach the effect of good deeds versus bad. The original board was covered with symbolic images of gods, angels, animals, flowers, and people. The ladders represented virtues, such as generosity and faith, while the snakes represented vices, such as lust, anger, murder, and theft. The number of ladders in the ancient version was less than the number of snakes, as a reminder that a path of good is much more difficult to tread than a path of sin. In the ancient version, landing on the head of a snake didn’t just send you back a few squares … you went back to the beginning: for each vice you landed on you died, and had to go through life all over again.