If there's one thing we've learned in our time here, it's that there's absolutely no cherished childhood memory, from nursery rhymes to candy bars, that doesn't have some dark and gritty origin story. But surely our favorite board games sprang fully formed from the land of bunnies and rainbows, right? After all, they're just a bunch of colorful squares on a board meant to let families kill time in the pre-video game era.
Released way the hell back in 1860, The Game of Life is one of the best-selling board games of all time and the single oldest game in the Milton Bradley library. It's a charming get-together game in which families around the world experience all the fun of paying their insurance, and ultimately, witnessing the miracle of humanity reduced to a dong-shaped plastic peg.
How Milton Bradley views its consumers.
The Disturbing Origins:
The original version of Life was somewhat more pessimistic than the one we play today. Some of the board's original squares included "Disgrace," "Poverty," and "Ruin," as well as "Crime," "Prison," and -- no joke -- "Suicide."
Making a square for "Suicide" is one thing, but landing a job at the "Fat Office" is just plain cruel.
Even though today this would be like having a slot for the Joker's pencil trick in Operation, the original version of Life nevertheless sold like hotcakes.
So who was the psychopath behind this grim game? Milton Bradley himself, who was going through a bit of a rough time when he made it. Bradley was a professional lithographer at the time, and was driven to financial ruin, solely because Abraham Lincoln grew a beard. We're not making this up. Mr. Bradley was making a pretty sweet dime in 1860 selling lithographs of a then-beardless Abraham Lincoln until a little 11-year-old girl named Grace Bedell sent Honest Abe a letter asking him to grow a beard, which he did. This unprecedented presidential fashion statement basically destroyed Bradley's business after all his unsold portraits of clean-shaven Abe were judged "so yesterday."
At the end of his rope and out of alcohol, Mr. Bradley sat down and sketched The Checkered Game of Life, we imagine with a loaded gun on the table.
As a result, for decades children throughout the country actually had fun killing themselves in a board game.
Of course, the grimmest aspect of the game is still present in the version we all know today: After you have had all your children, affairs and midlife crises, win or lose, you die at the end of Life.
"Congratulations! Thanks for playing!"
So right away we see that, like with any form of artistic expression, you learn a lot about the state of mind of the creator from the finished product. This brings us to Clue. It's a dark goddamned subject for a game if you think about it -- some of the murder weapons would only work by splashing the brains of the victim all over the floor of the fancy mansion. So under what circumstances would someone think this was an appropriate game for kids?
"Manning 'em up for the goddamn Marines."
The Disturbing Origins:
The game was released in England in 1949 under the almost intentionally dumb name Cluedo. And, while most board games enjoy the reputation as something you save for a rainy day, the rainy days that brought you Clue were rains of Nazi bombs on British households. Clue is the only board game on this list made possible because of Adolf Hitler.
The original Parker Brothers.
Clue/Cluedo was devised in 1943 by a wartime fire warden named Anthony E. Pratt, who came up with the game while "walking his beat" in between the Nazi firebombings. Withholding any pretense, the game's working title was Murder! Basically, it was Saw II in a box. He quickly sold his idea to a game company.
This is seriously how you played the game.
Waddington Games had to hold off on production for a while, because the game was to include a ton of pieces and materials were still being rationed due to, you know, the world war raging around them.
Also, we should probably mention that this game not only included the classic gun, rope, knife and three makeshift de-brainers, but also an axe, syringe, poison, a bomb and a "shillelagh."
Yeah, we had to Google it too.
That's right, in the original Clue you could totally kill a dude with a bomb. It took a lot to shock that generation, and understandably so.
Released in 1935, Monopoly is the most popular board game in the world behind, well, chess. It has sold more than 275 million copies, been played by more than a billion people and prompted people such as Wall Streeter Derk Solko to describe it as one of the most amoral experiences in the history of entertainment: "Monopoly has you grinding your opponents into dust. It's a very negative experience. It's all about cackling when your opponent lands on your space and you get to take all their money."
The real game involves considerably less dancing with cartoon dollars and considerably more broken relationships with siblings.
The Disturbing Origins:
The official story according to Hasbro is that during "the height of the Great Depression" an unemployed salesman named Charles Darrow proposed Monopoly to Parker Brothers in 1934, was first rejected, but eventually closed the deal. This is the official legend as told by -- no joke -- Mr. Monopoly, the goddamn robber baron on the box.
A face you can trust.
Since anyone should be suspicious of any company that leaves their official truth-telling to their mascots, several people have smelled a rat big enough to investigate the story. It turns out that, in a strangely appropriate revelation, Monopoly was actually pirated wholesale from a board game called The Landlord's Game which was patented in 1904 by a Quaker named Elizabeth Magie.
A Quaker who apparently had something against illustrations.
This game was very much the Monopoly we all know and hate, except it included a crucial second round designed to teach "just how unfair monopolies can be." That's right, Monopoly is actually supposed to be a lesson on unscrupulous business practices comparable to Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, but the monopolistic bastards at Parker Brothers deliberately kept it evil to appeal to the darker angels of our souls.
How did they get away with this? Easy. According to PBS' History Detectives: "a large firm which manufactures games" bought out Ms. Magie's patent for $500.
It was an offer she couldn't refuse.
As for that "legend" on Hasbro's website, that was even easier for Parker Brothers. They just had their fictional spokesperson Mr. Monopoly make it up to better suit their image of a family-friendly monopoly. The fact that they pulled all this off during the Great Depression, seriously, that takes balls.
At long last, Mr. Monopoly shows his true face.