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Before the Internet: Board Games

“On April 30, 1993, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) put the web into the public domain a decision that has fundamentally altered the past quarter-century.” -GROSSMAN
Although plenty of our pastime activities included electronic entertainment and movies, the 1980s offered kids a multitude of recreational distractions that may be less relatable to today’s youth. Whether timeless or lost to time, this ongoing series is dedicated to the many 1980s activities in which we engaged.

Of the many “Before the Internet” topics I’ve written about over the past year, board games may be one the most obvious selections, certainly more than “Street Games,” “Exploring,” and “Cassette Tape Radio Stations.” And as prevalent as movies and video games were, I’d argue board games were even more pervasive, lurking in the closet, toy chest, attic, basement, or playroom of nearly every family. Even if you weren’t particularly interested in board games, they had a way of appearing mysteriously, then embedding themselves into your life with an iron grip, relentlessly hanging on to your shirtsleeve even as game pieces went missing and the boards grew creased and cracked. One day I’d like to run a scientific study to determine how many families have unplayable games still sitting under an inch-deep layer of dust in some forgotten corner of their storage space.

Clearly, we have a strong connection to board games, no matter if we played them as a last resort on a rainy day when the electricity went out, or if we set up a weekly game nights with friends and family. The games were always waiting patiently, never imposing themselves on us, biding their time until the planets aligned and someone said, “Hey…I’m kinda in the mood for a game of Monopoly.”

Monopoly certainly wasn’t the first board game I owned as a kid, but it stands out in my memory as one of the most often played. Though the game can be traced as far back as 1903, it was first published by parker Brothers in 1935. I wouldn’t be surprised if my parents had already owned a copy before I was born; it feels like the game has been omnipresent throughout my life (much like Chess and Checkers). Though we played it often, (I was always the shoe), it was far from my favorite.

Before I was old enough to play Monopoly, my favorite game was Candy Land. Some boxes even say “A child’s first game!” right on it. And to be sure, this is an incredibly simple game, but as a kid there was something thrilling about traversing Candy Land and meeting all the fantastical characters along the way. A close second for me was Chutes and Ladders, which had similar play mechanics but was perhaps just a tad more advanced.

Of course board games didn’t always mean a game played on a board, and back in the ‘80s, those were always the most exciting. There were so many offerings that had interactive elements, plastic toy add-ons, and VCR elements, they sometimes rivaled video games.

One of the first of these interactive style games I owned was Connect Four, and boy did I love it. It’s described as a “vertical game of checkers,” though it certainly has elements of tic-tac-toe in it too. Others that stand out in my memory are Hungry Hungry Hippos, Mouse Trap, Talking Battleship, Dizzy Dizzy Dinosaur, Operation, and Perfection. I didn’t own all of those, but much like video games, I usually had an opportunity to play them at friends' houses. Certainly we can slot Dungeons and Dragons somewhere in the mix, though admittedly I’ve never had the opportunity to play, and it’s a sad fact I have to live with every day.

Then there were the games I’ve only discovered as an adult, having had no idea of their existence in the ‘80s. Specifically, VCR games (though popular at the time) had never found their way into my small Brooklyn apartment. I’m thinking of ones like Doorways to Horror and Clue VCR Mystery Game. I can’t imagine how it is I was not aware of games like these. How did none of my friends own them? How had I not seen television commercials? I guess it’s possible I just don’t remember, but that’s somehow even worse.

Another genre of board games I never owned were the licensed ones like ET, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Pizza Power, and Pac-Man. I have found most of these at yard sales in the past decade, but I was sadly unaware of them as a kid, back when I might have actually enjoyed playing them.

For one reason or another, board games, as pervasive as they were and are, don’t tickle the same nostalgia nerves for me as movies, video games, and magazines. That might be partly due to the way the best of these games tends to stick around from decade to decade (albeit in updated packaging and design). After all, you can still walk into a Walmart of Target and buy a copy of Clue. Then again, there are those games which are discontinued, and I can vouch for the sometimes insistent pull these particular games have. It’s not an ‘80s game, but I’ve written many times about my own personal search and eventual acquirement of The Omega Virus. Like all things nostalgia, I suppose it comes down to personal memories and subjectivity.

Still…I don’t know about you, but I’m kinda in the mood for a game of Monopoly.


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