Sunday, July 5, 2020

Reach for Success Board Games

by Anita Mae Draper

Popular board games of the early 19th century were based on geography and morality and provided more of a few hours education than entertainment. In the latter part of the 1800's however, and spurred on by the industrial revolution, immigration to the new world provided a way for a person to shed his old life and start anew. The reach for success became the goal of life.

The Checkered Game of Life board. Wikipedia, Public Domain

Milton Bradley, a successful Massachusetts lithographer with a strong set of moral values, created the Checkered Game of Life in 1860. As you can see in the above image, the players of the board game started at INFANCY in the bottom left and traveled through life facing many of the challenges people face, such as college, honor, ambition and influence. Sprinkled in the game are pitfalls such as disgrace, poverty, prison, and even suicide. However, the major difference between this game and other board games was that the Checkered Game of Life ended WEALTH as the goal.

Yes, wealth appears to be the goal if one starts at INFANCY and follows the row to the right, then up one row and left, etc. A player received 50 points for landing on HAPPY OLD AGE, followed by MATRIMONY and then WEALTH. 100 total points and you'd win the game. The Checkered Game of Life was commercially successful and appeared in Milton Bradley's 1889-90 catalog of Games, Sectional Pictures, Toys, Puzzles, Blocks and NoveltiesThe Milton Bradley Company was a major game manufacturer well into the 20th century, long after the death of its founder in 1911. 

Milton Bradley Company Game Catalog, 1889-90. Public Domain

In 1960, the Milton Bradley Company created an updated version to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first sale of the Checkered Game of Life. The name was shortened to the Game of Life, grimmer parts like the suicide spot were deleted, and goals reflected 1960 culture. Paper money was added to give a tangible feel of making, losing, and keeping wealth. Instead of a flat board, the updated game was played on a 3D (three dimensional) board that included a built in spinner and plastic playing pieces. A "car" that looked like a open-air bus had 6-8 holes designating seats. A blue or pink peg, depending on the gender of the player, sat in the driver's spot and picked up his "family" as he traveled along the track of life. Many versions followed this 1960 one, modernizing the game with the times which is probably why it is one of the most successful board games of all time. 

The modern Game of Life. Courtesy of New England Historical Society. CC BY-SA 3.0
If you have played the Game of Life, how did it go for you? 

If you don't like any of the current versions of the Game of Life that appear in today's market, there are numerous versions you can print off and tweak to your own heart's content. 

If you like board games, you might like my previous posts on this topic:

May 5, 2020 - Geographical Board Games
Jun 5, 2020 - Virtue Board Games


Anita Mae Draper lives on the Canadian prairies where she uses her experience and love of history to enhance her stories of yesteryear's romance with realism and faith. Readers can enrich their story experience with visual references by checking Anita's Pinterest boards. All links available on her website at


  1. I've enjoyed your game series, and I had no idea the Game of Life has such early origins. Fascinating! We own the game but haven't played in years! Maybe it's time to drag out the box.

    1. Thanks, Linda. The more I research, the more I realize how many modern ideas aren't really original at all. They're only updated versions of yesterday's world. I appreciate you stopping by today. :)

  2. I think I've played a couple of times in my life, but never owned the game. I'm enjoying this series, thanks for posting!

    1. You're very welcome, Connie. I'm glad you're enjoying the series. It seemed an interesting thing to do during this time when we're looking for ideas to interact with loved ones who seem too close these days. Thanks for the visit. :)

  3. This is really interesting, Anita Mae. I've never seen board games this old before.

    1. I know, eh. About the only board game I've heard of being played by pioneers is checkers, yet they could have had one of the ones mentioned in my series so far, or of ones I've yet to mention. I'm enjoying this research into leisure activities of the 19th century.

      Thanks for dropping by, Vickie. :)

  4. We always play the Game of Life at my parents' house, using the board I had as a kid. One time I had eight children. We purchased an updated version that includes pets but it's not nearly as fun.

    Thank you for the post, Anita Mae!

    1. Sounds like fun, Susie. I can picture you all playing. :)
      Funny that sometimes the updated versions don't measure up. Pets are great, but anything new usually means losing something old and familiar.
      We had the same type of experience when we bought the Junior Pictionary as we thought the kids would enjoy it more. Nope. Some topics were too easy and therefore not fun, and others were even harder than the older version. The kids learned more playing the older version as well, which is always a good thing. So is the team spirit part of the game.
      Thanks for the visit. :)