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10 Vintage Games

We chose our childhood favorites. Did yours make the list?

Vintage Games

Illustration by Sean McCabe; Photos courtesy of Tim Walsh

We pay tribute to 10 of our favorite childhood games, from Candy Land to Yahtzee.

Remember playing Clue or Operation as a kid? Or were you a fan of Mystery Date or Twister? Even with the rise of video games in the past few decades, these classics still remain popular today and help make up a $1 billion-a-year industry. "It’s hard to replace the face-to-face quality time you get with these games," says Tim Walsh, inventor of the game Blurt! and author of Timeless Toys. "They’re something you can do with the whole family — and they’re affordable."

See also: Vintage Games Trivia Quiz

Take a look at the fascinating history behind 10 of our favorite games — and watch the television commercials that helped them become bestsellers.

Begin: Life Lessons

Vintage Games Slideshow

Photo courtesy of Tim Walsh

Milton Bradley released a modern version of The Game of Life for its 100th anniversary in 1960.

The Game of Life

Debut: 1860

Inventor: Milton Bradley

Company: Milton Bradley

Object of the game: In the original 1860 game, the goal was to reach a Happy Old Age by earning points for perseverance, honor and other admirable qualities. The goal for players of the redesigned 1960 version — which continues to this day — is to win the most money.

History: In 1860 Milton Bradley, who ran a Massachusetts lithography business, decided to use his idle presses to make games. As board games were still a diversion associated with gambling, Bradley focused on creating an instructional game of morals. He dubbed his invention The Checkered Game of Life and soon sold 40,000 copies.

Updated versions: The original game was updated several times between 1866 and 1911, but its popularity faded as games that promoted fun over morals swept the country. In the 1950s, the Milton Bradley Company hired game inventor Reuben Klamer, who worked with Bill Markham to update the game for the company's 100th anniversary. Klamer added a three-dimensional game board, tinkered with the rules, renamed it The Game of Life and inked a promotional deal with TV personality Art Linkletter. More changes came in the 1990s when the game added tiles that promoted environmentalism, family activities and community service. Now, 150 years after it was first created, fans can play it as a computer game or download it as an app.

Trivia: While the 1860 version penalized a player for gambling, the 1960 version offered winnings from gambling as a reward. Today's version doesn’t mention gambling.

Next: Whodunnit?

Vintage Games Slideshow

Photo courtesy of Tim Walsh

The lighthearted 1963 edition of Clue depicted the six suspects as colorful cartoon characters.


Debut: 1948 (United Kingdom), 1949 (United States)

Inventor: Anthony Pratt

Companies: John Waddington Games Ltd., Waddington’s Games, Parker Brothers

Object of the game: Players try to discover who killed the host, with what instrument and in what room of his stately manor. With six suspects, six weapons and nine rooms, there are 324 possible combinations of the crime.

History: The game's creator, Anthony E. Pratt, was a patent clerk who served as a fire warden during World War II. In 1943, he wanted to make a simpler version of an old parlor game called Murder. Pratt and his wife, Elva, created a board game they eventually named Cluedo. After the couple perfected their idea, Pratt sold Cluedo to Waddington Games in 1947. In 1949 the game was sold to Parker Brothers for the U.S. market and renamed Clue. A 1985 movie version of Clue featured an all-star cast that included Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Martin Mull and Eileen Brennan.

Updated versions: Multiple versions of Clue were published in North America and the United Kingdom after 1949, but most of the changes were slight updates to the appearance of the characters and the mansion. In 2008, Hasbro released a modernized version called Clue: Discover the Secrets. This latest version of Clue is set at a dinner party at a swanky mansion hosted by a millionaire mogul. Just like in the original, it is the player's job to solve the murder, but there are new weapons, such as a barbell and a baseball bat, and a few new rules. Players can also try their hand at an Alfred Hitchcock edition, a Scooby Doo version, several computer editions and an app.

Trivia: In 1999 a bottle of poison was added to the list of possible murder weapons to celebrate Clue's 50th anniversary. The addition was made in honor of Pratt's prototype, which also originally included an ax, a bomb, a hypodermic needle and poison as potential weapons.

Next: A Sweet Treat

Vintage Games Slideshow

Photo courtesy of Tim Walsh

For half the game's history, the cover of the Candy Land box included the lines "a sweet little game... for sweet little folks."

Candy Land

Debut: 1949

Inventor: Eleanor Abbott

Company: Milton Bradley

Object of the game: By matching colors to spaces, players follow a rainbow path through a candy-coated countryside — passing the Peppermint Stick Forest, the Gumdrop Mountains, and the Molasses Swamp — until they reach Home Sweet Home.

History: Retired schoolteacher Eleanor Abbott created Candy Land while she was a patient in a polio ward of a San Diego hospital in 1948. The children in the ward liked the game so much that Abbott decided to submit it to Milton Bradley. Executives at the company were excited by the game, but they never anticipated it would sell more than 40 million copies.

Updated versions: Since the 1950s the game's artwork, characters, and even its game pieces have been updated multiple times. Along with special editions, Hasbro, which took over Milton Bradley in 1984, offers an electronic handheld version and a computer game. For those who want even more Candy Land, there's an app for that.

Trivia: The first Candy Land games were sold for $1 and were advertised as a game to satisfy "the sweet tooth yearning of the younger set without the tummy ache aftereffects."

Next: Shake and score

Vintage Games Slideshow

Photo courtesy of Tim Walsh

The packaging of the original 1956 edition played up the educational value of Yahtzee with lines such as "the fun game that makes thinking... fun!"


Debut: 1956

Inventors: An anonymous Canadian couple; Edwin S. Lowe

Companies: E.S. Lowe, Milton Bradley

Object of the game: Players roll the dice for scoring combinations. The player with the highest score wins.

History: A wealthy Canadian couple invented Yahtzee as a dice game they could play with friends aboard their yacht. Wanting a few samples of their "yacht game" to give as gifts, the couple approached Edwin S. Lowe, a toymaker who had made his fortune selling copies of Bingo in the 1920s. Lowe agreed to make the couple 1,000 copies in exchange for the rights to the game. He changed the name of the game to Yahtzee and began selling it in 1956. It was a complicated game to sell through ads, and sales flopped. Lowe didn't give up; he started throwing Yahtzee parties to get people interested in the game, and its popularity grew through the 1960s and 1970s. Milton Bradley bought Yahtzee from E.S. Lowe in 1973 and has sold more than 50 million copies.

Updated versions: The Yahtzee board game has been slightly updated over the years with new packaging, but it still closely resembles its original version. Yahtzee fans can also play it as a card game, a computer game and an app.

Trivia: Yahtzee was adapted into a short-lived television game show in 1987.

Next: See how they run

Mouse Trap board game

Photo courtesy of Tim Walsh

Mouse Trap revolutionized games with its three-dimensional board and launched Marvin Glass & Associates as a major toy design company.

Mouse Trap


Inventors: Gordon Barlow and Burt Meyer

Companies: Ideal, Milton Bradley

Object of the game: Players move around the board with mouse-shaped pieces. The spaces they land on include instructions they must follow to build a three-dimensional mouse trap. Once the trap is completed, players try to capture their opponents' mice. The game's catchphrase sums it up: "It's fun to build this comical wonder, but woe to the mouse who gets caught under."

History: Cartoonist Rube Goldberg became famous in the 1920s for his humorous drawings that depicted overly complex devices performing the simplest tasks. In the early 1960s, game creator Marvin Glass decided to create a Rube Goldberg–inspired game. His company Marvin Glass & Associates came up with Mouse Trap, one of the first three-dimensional board games. They took their new game to Milton Bradley, but the company didn’t want it. Rival game company Ideal quickly bought it and debuted it at the 1963 Toy Fair. By the end of the first year, the company reportedly had sold 1.2 million copies.

Updated versions: A modified version in 1984 allowed players to strategically trap their opponents rather than rely on luck. The game was briefly adapted into a United Kingdom game show in the 1980s, and today it can also be played as a video game.

Trivia: Marvin Glass refused to pay 80-year-old Rube Goldberg royalties for the game even though some of the pieces were identical in style to Goldberg's cartoons. Goldberg subsequently licensed his cartoons to a model company called Multiple Products, Inc.

Next: Finding Mr. Right

Mystery Date board game

Photo courtesy of Tim Walsh

The most exciting moment of Mystery Date is when players turn the doorknob to find out which bachelor has called.

Mystery Date

Debut: 1965

Inventors: Marvin Glass and Henry Stan

Company: Milton Bradley

Object of the game: Players get ready for a date by acquiring three matching color-coded cards to assemble an outfit, which must then match the outfit of the date at the "mystery door." The original version featured the formal dance date, the bowling date, the beach date, the skiing date and the dud.

History: Game and toy designers Marvin Glass and Henry Stan combined the allure of Barbie with the fun of 1965's biggest game show, Let's Make a Deal, to create Mystery Date.

Updated versions: The game was slightly updated in 1972 but was discontinued in the late 1970s. In 2000, Milton Bradley reissued the game for its 35th anniversary calling it a "classic mystery game." This modern version features an electronic toy phone, three types of mysteries and 24 different bachelors giving clues. Fans can also find a 40th anniversary edition and a High School Musical 3 edition.

Trivia: Mystery Date is a must-have game for many collectors. An original copy from the 1960s can sell for $150-$200.

Next: It takes a steady hand

Vintage Games Slideshow

Photo courtesy of Tim Walsh

Operation's designers added Cavity Sam's light-up nose and humorous body parts to help offset the solemn surgery theme.


Debut: 1965

Inventor: John Spinello

Company: Milton Bradley

Object of the game: Players compete to collect the most money by successfully removing parts of Cavity Sam — including his funny bone, his broken heart and the butterflies in his stomach — without letting the tweezers touch the metal edge of the opening.

History: As an industrial design student at the University of Illinois, John Spinello created a toy in which players tried to insert a metal probe into an electrified box without touching the sides. If a player failed, a bell went off. Spinello’s godfather worked for Marvin Glass & Associates and asked Spinello to present his idea to the company. Glass loved the game, gave the young Spinello $500 and added his name to the patent. Glass sold it to the Milton Bradley Company, which then decided to incorporate a surgical theme.

Updated versions: Over the years Milton Bradley has released multiple special editions of Operation, including Spiderman and Simpsons versions. The company also created a handheld version of the game as well as a computer game.

Trivia: The current game box hasn't changed much since its original release, except for one small tweak: The surgeon no longer holds a cigarette between his teeth as he operates on his patient.

Next: Duke it out

Vintage Games Slideshow

Photo courtesy of Tim Walsh

The goal of Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots is for a player to keep pounding his opponent's robot until he "knocks his block off."

Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots

Debut: 1965

Inventors: Burt Meyer, Harry Disko, Judd Reed

Companies: Marx, Mattel

Object of the game:
Two players using controllers at the base of the platform compete to force the spring-loaded head of the opponent's robot to pop up.

History: Marvin Glass & Associates wanted to invent a game with two boxers, but they abandoned the idea when boxer Davey Moore died fighting for the world title in Los Angeles on March 21, 1963. The designers also had trouble figuring out the engineering that would allow the boxers to fall over. Ultimately the company decided to change the boxers into robots with heads that pop up.

Updated versions:
A new version of the game in 1977 featured cosmic robots, which was likely inspired by the popularity of sci-fi movies. In the mid-1990s, the robots' colors were slightly altered, and in 2000 Mattel remade the game in a smaller version. Today, there's an action figure line, bobblehead dolls, computer games and an app.

The robots' names are Red Rocker and Blue Bomber.

Next: No shoes required

Vintage Games Slideshow

Photo courtesy of Tim Walsh

Milton Bradley executives wanted to call the game Pretzel, but the name was already trademarked.


Debut: 1966

Neil Rabens, Chuck Foley, Reyn Guyer

Company: Milton Bradley

Object of the game: "The game that ties you up in knots" requires players to move their hands or feet to various spots on the mat, as determined by the Twister spinner. The last player to stay upright on the mat wins.

History: Reyn Guyer was working for his dad’s design company when he came up with a back-to-school promotion for a brand of shoe polish. The promotion became a game called King Footsie, which used the players as game pieces. He took it to 3M, but the company rejected the game. Reyn and his father stuck with the idea and brought in game developers Chuck Foley and Neil Rabens who refined King Footsie into what ultimately became Twister. Milton Bradley bought it with high expectations but had trouble selling it. The company decided to discontinue it, but no one told its PR company, which had pitched the idea to The Tonight Show. Johnny Carson played the game on air with guest Eva Gabor on May 3, 1966, making it an instant hit. 

Updated versions: Twister has been released in several special editions, including a Hannah Montana version and a Girl Talk version. 

Trivia: Originally rejected by the public, Twister's sales have now topped 70 million.

Next: Tic Tac Toss

Vintage Games Slideshow

Photo courtesy of Tim Walsh

Ideal touted its new game Toss Across in its 1967 catalog: "Everybody loves it — ...young and old, at parties, on the beach, anywhere!"

Toss Across

Debut: 1969

Inventors: Norman McFarland, Burt Meyer

Companies: Ideal, Tyco, Mattel

Object of the game: Like its predecessor tic-tac-toe, the object of Toss Across is to be the first player or team to line up three matching symbols in a row. This version of the game, however, requires players to toss beanbags in hopes of spinning the targets to either an X or an O.

History: Marvin Glass & Associates worked with Norman McFarland, a professor of design at the University of Illinois, to create this updated version of tic-tac-toe, which involves a combination of skill and luck. To avoid the dreaded deadlock that often occurs with the original game, the company made its version three-dimensional and allowed a player to erase the X his opponent just won or turn it into the O he needs to win. Marvin Glass & Associates sold it to the now defunct Ideal Toy Company.

Updated version: An electronic version of Toss Across includes lights and sounds.

Trivia: The Ideal Toy Company got its start in 1903 and was the first teddy bear manufacturing company in the United States.

Back to the start: 10 Vintage Games