If you appreciate board games, you’ve undoubtedly wondered about their history at some point. From the materials people used for really old board games to the way games have evolved over time to how in the world people keep coming up with new ideas, the history of board games is fascinating.
Board games have been around for quite a while, and certainly well before Monopoly, but this post would quickly turn into an epic book if we covered every legendary board game. So we’re starting with Monopoly since it’s a classic that everyone knows and working our way up to modern times, hitting the most popular games along the way.
Ah, Monopoly—the game that’s destroyed families and friendships. Used to illustrate the economic concept of monopolies, Monopoly was first created by American anti-monopolist Elizabeth Magie in 1903, only it went by a different title then: The Landlord’s Game.
The Landlord’s Game initially had two different sets of rules: one set in which taxation was employed and everyone was rewarded when wealth was created, and one set wherein the goal was to create monopolies and be the last (and richest) man standing. The latter is the game we know today. Magie, of course, patented the game, but that didn’t stop Charles Darrow from trying to sell the game as his own under the title we know today: Monopoly.
Parker Brothers bought Monopoly‘s copyrights from Darrow, and when the company later learned that it wasn’t originally Darrow’s idea, bought the rights to Magie’s patent for a whopping $500. From there, Monopoly as we know it today was put on the shelves in 1935.
Since then, as I’m sure you’ve seen, there have been so many different versions of Monopoly. If you have a favorite TV show, movie, video game, or even city, there’s likely a special edition of Monopoly for it. Then, of course, there are also fun versions of Monopoly that are simply variations of the original game, like Longest Game Ever, Cheater’s Edition, and Ultimate Banking.
Different versions of Monopoly have different player requirements; some ask for two to four players while others ask for three to six. Most Monopoly versions are rated for ages eight and up, and depending on how many players you have, your game could last 45 minutes or upwards of two to three hours.
Monopoly is the board game of all board games, and the one that often makes you want to flip the table.
Scrabble is every word-lover’s favorite game. It was originally created in 1938 by an American architect, Alfred Mosher Butts, under the title Criss-Crosswords. It wasn’t renamed Scrabble until 1948 when James Brunot bought the rights to manufacture the game.
This is one of those games that’s super easy to pick up as long as you know how to spell. Everyone takes turns laying down words for various point amounts, and whoever has the most points at the end is declared the winner. Scrabble inspired another huge word game, Words with Friends, which is basically just virtual Scrabble.
Scrabble‘s official age range is eight and up, and the average playtime is 90 minutes. But depending on how smart your friends are, the game could go longer.
Scrabble puts your vocabulary to the test, and is a staple in many modern homes.
Clue is a murder mystery game that inspired a feature film, a mini-series, a musical, and quite a few books. People love whodunnit mysteries, and Clue was one of the first of its kind—well, at least, the first one that majorly took off.
Although Clue was invented in 1943 by Anthony E. Pratt, a British board game designer, it wasn’t formally manufactured until 1949. Also, outside of North America, the game is referred to as Cluedo.
Three to six players can take part in the fun and try to uncover who the murderer is, where the murder occurred, and which weapon was used to commit the crime. Anyone eight and up can play, and each game only takes about 45 minutes.
Like Monopoly and a few other games on this list, Clue was so popular that it inspired multiple special editions. There’s one for the Harry Potter series, Disney Villains, Scooby-Doo!, The Office, and the Star Wars series, to name a few.
If you've always wanted to be a detective, but just for fun, then Clue is the game of your dreams.
Risk is one of the original strategy games that take more than luck to win. The game was invented by Albert Lamorisse, a French filmmaker, and initially released by the title of La Conquête du Monde, which translates to The Conquest of the World. Risk also inspired a few more popular games—do Axis & Allies or Settlers of Catan ring a bell?
Two to six people can play at once, and the goal is to occupy all of the 42 territories on the board until you’re the only player left. You can build alliances with other players throughout the game and later dissolve those alliances if they’re not beneficial to you anymore. You do have to depend on dice rolls for results, but even if those dice rolls don’t always work in your favor, a good strategy can turn the game around.
If one of your favorite movies or TV shows has a unique world inside it, there might be a version of Risk for it. The Star Wars Edition and Lord of the Rings Edition are the most notable entries here. Anyone ages 10 and up can play, and the games are usually lengthy—we’re talking at least two hours for the quickest games.
One of the most competitive strategy games, Risk makes you take it all to win.
The Game of Life, often referred to simply as Life, was created in 1860 by Milton Bradley. When it was first created, it looked quite different and went by a different name: The Checkered Game of Life.
If you’ve somehow managed to go through life without hearing of the game, it simulates a person going through (you guessed it) life. From college (or work) through retirement, you’ll encounter opportunities for marriage, kids, jobs, and other events along the journey.
Two to six people can play at a time, and it’s a different experience every time. Each playthrough of The Game of Life takes about an hour, and anyone ages eight and up can play. Also, because of how popular Life became in the United States, the original version (The Checkered Game of Life) was added to a collection in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
Life is yet another board game that has grown past its original version, spawning new play methods and specialized pop-culture renditions. A few of my favorites include the Super Mario Edition, the Twists & Turns version, the Despicable Me Edition, and the Disney Parks Exclusive version.
The Game of Life
If you want a more fun playthrough of life than your actual life, try out The Game of Life.
Although previous versions of the game existed prior to the version released by the Milton Bradley Company, the Battleship we know today with plastic boards and pegs was created in 1967. This is one of those games that definitely employs strategy but is often dependent on luck.
There are only two players, and each player arranges their five ships on the lettered and numbered grid in front of them. Then, you take turns guessing where the other player’s ships are, placing a white marker when your guess misses and a red marker when your guess hits.
Each game of Battleship only takes about 30 minutes, so it’s easy to play multiple games. Anyone over the age of seven can play.
Though it is a guessing game at heart, Battleship is a classic that lets you employ at least a little strategy.
If you like breaking codes, Mastermind is right up your alley. Although Mastermind is the game most people are familiar with, the game Bulls and Cows predates it. Bulls and Cows was more of a mind or paper-and-pencil game, whereas Mastermind has a decoding board, code pegs of six different colors, and key pegs that are black or white.
There are two players, one who makes the code and one who tries to break the code. Before you start playing, you agree on the number of games you’ll play, alternating between code maker and codebreaker roles. Whoever has the most points at the end of all the games is the winner.
This type of code-breaking, guessing game might also seem strangely familiar to you if you’ve played Wordle recently. To play, you need to be age eight or older, and each game only takes about 20 to 30 minutes.
Mastermind lets you take turns between creating unique codes and being the person to break them, constantly rotating the fun.
Trivial Pursuit is a favorite among smart people, or those full of useless knowledge and random facts. The game was created toward the end of 1979 by Chris Haney, a photo editor for The Gazette in Montreal, and Scott Abbott, a sports editor for The Canadian Press.
Two to six players can play, in teams if you so please, and there are six main categories that questions stem from Geography, History, Entertainment, Science & Nature, Sports & Leisure, and Arts & Literature. Each category has its own defining color to make things easy to follow.
The overall goal of the game is to fill up your playing circle with each of the six different colored wedges. In other words, you need to answer a question correctly in each of the trivia categories. Once your little pie piece is full of wedges, you work your way to the center, where your opponents get to ask you a question in a category of their choosing. Answer it correctly, and you win!
Trivial Pursuit has inspired so many other versions from people who want to test more niche knowledge sets. There’s a Harry Potter version, a Family Edition, a Friends version, a Horror Movie Edition, and more.
This game has a pretty old age minimum compared to other board games. Trivial Pursuit recommends you be at least 16 years old to play, likely because anyone younger won’t have much of the knowledge you’re being quizzed on in the game. Depending on the number of players, a game of Trivial Pursuit can take between 45 and 90 minutes.
Test out all of the trivial knowledge you've accumulated over the years with Trivial Pursuit.
Invented by Robert Angel and designed by Gary Everson, Pictionary is a popular word-guessing game that combines charades and drawing. Gameplay consists of two teams who each take turns drawing and guessing their team’s words within a certain amount of time. The team that reaches the end of the board first is the winner.
You can play Pictionary at ages eight and up, and each game takes about 30 minutes to finish, which is awesome for replayability.
Even if you're not that good at drawing (actually, especially if you're not good at drawing), Pictionary is such a fun party game.
While Risk certainly inspired Catan (previously known as The Settlers of Catan) in some aspects, it’s a unique enough game to stand on its own. The game was designed by Klaus Teuber, a former dental technician, and was originally published in Germany as Die Siedler von Catan.
Every game of Catan is different because you randomly lay out hexagonal tiles—each with a different land type—that make up the island of Catan. Throughout the game, you build settlements, cities, and connecting roads by collecting and spending the resources—wool, grain, lumber, brick, and ore–you earn each turn, depending on where your settlements and cities are placed.
Just like Risk, Catan is not a short game; you can expect to play for anywhere between one to two hours, maybe longer if you have additional players (ages 10 and up). With a standard game, three to four players can play, but that number increases to 5-6 players if you buy the expansion. Other themed expansions are just as fun to play, like Explorers & Pirates, Traders & Barbarians, and Seafarers.
With Catan, you can build your own settlement up the way you want to while spending resources wisely.
Ticket to Ride is another conquest-style board game, but it’s railway-themed and focuses more on building tracks and completing routes than it does on conquering the whole board. Designed by Alan R. Moon, Ticket to Ride’s board depicts a map of the United States and southern Canada, with major cities as stops along the railroad.
Two to five people can play (ages eight and up), with each person taking one of the train colors (blue, green, red, yellow, or black). Players are tasked with building routes between two destinations on the map, like Chicago to Los Angeles. Throughout the game, players primarily earn points by completing routes and building tracks, though extra points are awarded to the player with the longest continuous track.
As Ticket to Ride increased in popularity, special versions popped up with new maps and cities. There’s Ticket to Ride Europe, Ticket to Ride Japan, Ticket to Ride London, and many, many more. You can even play Ticket to Ride on your smartphone or online with other players from around the world. On average, each playthrough of Ticket to Ride takes about 30 to 60 minutes.
Ticket to Ride
Ticket to Ride runs off of a few simple board game concepts, but makes for an incredibly fun game, especially with more people.
Designed by Richard Garfield, King of Tokyo gives a nod to many classic monsters from history. There can be two to six players, each of whom chooses a monster to play as from choices like Alienoid, Cyber Bunny, Gigazaur (based on Godzilla), The King (based on King Kong), Kraken (based on Cthulhu), or Meka Dragon.
Players take turns rolling six custom dice, opting to reroll some of them if they want to, much like in the game Yahtzee. You earn victory points throughout the game from actions like a dice roll or starting your turn in Tokyo. The first player to reach 20 victory points is the winner.
Each game of King of Tokyo takes about 30 minutes to complete, and anyone ages eight and up can play. If you feel like playing with different monsters in a new city, we also recommend checking out King of New York.
King of Tokyo
In King of Tokyo, you're slightly at the mercy of your dice roll, but the game seems to balance luck and skill quite nicely.
If you’ve ever been interested in Dungeons & Dragons but always felt intimidated by how much there is to learn and follow, check out Gloomhaven. Designed by Isaac Childres, Gloomhaven is a tactical dungeon crawler game for one to four players with a branching narrative campaign.
There are 95 unique playable scenarios, 17 playable classes, and over 1,500 cards in the box. It’s a heavy-duty game, to say the least. What’s unique about it, compared to others in its genre, is that the actions you take are determined by card draws instead of dice rolls.
Gloomhaven, by nature, is a pretty long game. For each player you have (ages 14 and up), you can expect around 30 minutes of game time. So if you had six players, you could expect the game to last around three hours.
Here’s another trend that’s fun to see blooming off of the success of Gloomhaven. It didn’t pioneer the cooperative board game style, but it certainly made it more popular, pushing games like Pandemic, Flash Point, and Forbidden Island to the top of people’s lists.
Although Gloomhaven is relatively new, it’s a living board game, so there’s already an expansion you can purchase if you want more content. Or, there’s a shortened standalone game for people who don’t have as much time, titled Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion.
Gloomhaven is the perfect board game for anyone who loves cooperative style gameplay and Dungeons & Dragons, fantasy-themed games.