“Totally Awesome” Board Games Played in the 80’s

Written by Scott Bogen of The Board Game Show

Eddy GrantWhen not fantasizing about every-other-girl in junior high and high school in the 1980’s — and being too shy to do anything more than that — I was shoveling quarters into hungry arcade games at B.Z. Bonkers in Appleton, WI., riding my bike pretending to be Erik Estrada in CHIPS, using my Pogo stick as a high-powered laser blasting “Green People” (that is to say, birds), and playing board games with my family and friends.

If you’re like me, merely thinking about the games you played in your preteen and teenage years triggers happy waves of nostalgia, like the sweet tunes of a Richard Marx ballad echoing down the hallways into the restroom (because that’s where I was during the slow songs).

Thinking about the games I played in the 80’s made realize that they were as varied as Chevy Chase one-liners in Fletch. “It’s all ball bearings nowadays!” (Note: I said played in the 80’s. I am aware that not all of these games came out in the 80’s, smart ass.)

Let’s begin this trip down memory lane (to the max?) with Gambler.


Gambler Kiddie Cocktail


The Gambler is sort of like the “kiddie cocktail” of board games. It’s the perfect primer for kids to play at being an adult, and for adults to play at having lots of money. I just wish I had thought of mixing the “kiddie cocktail” with Gambler back in the day. Oh, the sweet regrets of youth.

I imagine on warm summer nights on Wayne Street the neighbors could hear the incredibly loud self-enclosed dice shaker (shake up the dice and then knock them down the handle), and our cries of “big money big money” as we laid our betting chips down on this very fun, totally luck-oriented game from Parker Brothers. Backing numbered horses and rolling a die, drawing a random fortune card (win or lose money), and a few things to bet on made this a happy memory in my household for many years. The first person to turn their initial $100 into $1,000 won!


Careers All About Workers, Sans Placement

CareersCareers was all about collecting fame, happiness and fortune that matched the aspirations you set at the start of the game.  You did that by allocating 60 points between Fame, Happiness and Fortune, and the cutting-edge aspect of this — at the time — was that your prediction remained hidden.

In a way, Careers was my first hidden-identity game. If you were going for high fame and high fortune, you were probably on track to spend a lot of time moving your pawn inside the Sports track or possibly the Space Program. It was as if your hidden identity were a star football player or the next astronaut to land on the moon. Only you knew this huge secret. That is until you moved your pawn to the Space Program start space.

If you were all about the money and allocated all of your 60 points to fortune, you needed $60,000 to win! Let’s just say you didn’t spend your time on the Teaching track.

Ironically, there was no worker placement mechanics in Careers even though you were playing at being a worker. You picked up a die and rolled it. Then you moved. Oh, the horror of it all. It was the good old days. If you designed a game today that had you rolling and moving, the self-appointed enlightened half of the board game community would rip you a new face. Think I’m kidding? Join the Kickstarter Advice group on Facebook, and watch people tear apart some young designer’s maiden voyage into game design. You’ll find enough self-aggrandizing advice and criticism to fill a Designer’s Edition box of Ogre.


All Day Talisman


Speaking of picking up a die and rolling, it’s time to set aside 85 hours to play some Talisman! This die-rolling, high adventure role-playing-inspired board game came out in 1983, and by then most of us nerdy kids had already done quite a few reps on the similarly themed Dungeon board game.

The fact is that the basic game play of Dungeon just wasn’t going to cut it anymore as we grew older and wiser, and Talisman held the promise of more varied and unpredictable game play. And by more unpredictable, I mean lots and lot of cards.

Roll the dice, move, fight some monsters (or each other), grab some loot (if you’re lucky), rinse, and repeat. If this sounds like a grind, it is a grind, but it’s also a delightful RPG experience that maintains its momentum for as long as everyone enjoys the comedy in sucking badly. “Ha ha ha, I suck so bad. Yay, this is fun!” See, just like that. Fun.

But with all the plight and plunder in Talisman, eventually someone, somehow makes it into the Valley of Fire, fights Death himself and reaches the legendary Crown of Command. It’s a good time that requires gobs of time and a group of friends who don’t have an aneurysm at the thought of rolling dice to move around a board.


Probe Just like “Wheel”

probeSpeaking of “aneurysm,” that’s a terrific word to use when playing Probe. Yes, that’s the name of board game, and while it was released in the 1960’s, the cool 80’s parents were still dragging it out of the basement decades later.

Do you want to know how Wheel of Fortune was born? Probe. That’s probably not true, but it certainly could be. Probe plays a whole lot like Wheel, which is how chain-smoking, slot-machine addicted people refer to it.

A full game is four players, and each person thinks of a word, and uses letter cards to place them into the flat plastic card holder on top of different point values. The game is all about guessing your opponents’ letters and words for points, but with the added twist of drawing a card before your guess. The cards will do things like force your neighbor to reveal a card, or double the score of your first guess.

If you’re like my friend Chris, you’ll choose obscure nautical words and say, “I thought everyone knew that word.”  If you’re me, you’ll choose the word “Ice,” and use a couple of blanks to make it look longer. Not everyone is so sophisticated.

If that’s not enough Probe action for you, you don’t want to miss Four Times in One Night.


Eddy Grant

And that brings me to my final entry as we rock down to Electric Avenue. And then we’ll take it higher. Workin’ so hard like a soldier. Can’t afford a thing on TV. Deep in my heart I am warrior. Can’t get food for them kid.

Good God.

Eat my shorts.

Categories: Features

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4 replies

  1. When I was a kid in the 80’s, we played games like Survive and Scotland Yard, or less “cool” games like Payday or the Mad Magazine board game. Always fun to go down nostalgia blvd…. or should I say Avenue?

  2. Sitting here in tears. PROBE was one of the only games our mom now passed would play with us. She would destroy us every time as she would read a book a night. We just had a sibling reunion last night and we talked about the great games of PROBE we had had with our mom. All of us were in tears.

    • That’s a really awesome memory, and thanks for sharing it. Games are so much more than cardboard, aren’t they? They are all about the experiences and connections we share with whom we choose to play. Game on!

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