Memorial Day weekend is upon us, and what better time to bust out one of those old board games that has been languishing in your closet? We recently asked our readers to do just that, and send us pictures and the stories behind the oldest board games in their collection. We figured that in this game, there could be no losers. We figured right.
We received a surprising variety of submissions, from aging versions of old classics such as Monopoly and Risk!, to long-forgotten cash-ins such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Why. Readers sent pictures of some amazingly preserved vintage board games that they’d managed to preserve down the years. They not only have distinctly historic looks, but many of them serve as cultural time capsules—somewhat uncomfortable societal views and all.
Each one is a fascinating artifact from long before today’s video games could even be imagined. Check out some of our favorite vintage game submissions below!
“I have a wartime Monopoly game that belonged to my mother, I know it is wartime because all of the playing pieces are wooden. When the war was over and the metal restrictions lifted, the original playing pieces: top hat, scotty dog, etc., came back.” —Sarah Marks, Atlanta, Georgia
Mystic Skull: The Game of Voodoo
“I have two games from the mid-1960s (both estate sale finds): Kreskin’s ESP and Mystic Skull: The Game of Voodoo. Amazingly, they each had most of their original parts. They’re definitely conversation starters at dinner parties.” —Celia Cackowski, Richmond, Virginia
“My oldest board game is Careers. I think it’s from the ’50s ,but I think my mum bought our copy in the ’70s. No one ever seems to have heard of it, but it’s amazing. It’s kind of a cross between Monopoly and The Game of Life, where you work your way around the board collecting happiness, fame, and money taking on careers such as uranium prospecting and ‘Hollywood’ and losing money when you have to fork out £100 at an art sale or wind up lost in the Bermuda Triangle, happy but falling into obscurity.” —Natasha Arbia
“We have a 1928 tabletop Escalado game. You attach clamps to one end of a table, line up the heavy lead horses and have someone turning a hand crank at the other end. The vibration makes them move along the table towards the finish line. My dad loves watching live horse racing, so when the horse he’s bet on comes dead last, he can get this game out at home and fix it so he wins (in the game at least)!” —Ainsley Ryan, Melbourne, Australia
“When I first encountered Risk!, an impromptu gang of neighborhood boys gathered in the garage of a friend’s house after school. I guess this was our idea of getting in trouble! He set up the pieces and proceeded to adjudicate a game about submarines and army invasions using the ovoid 10-unit counters as naval vessels. Afterward, when I begged to play again, he admitted he had made it all up. Undaunted, some time later I bought it in his garage sale. My parents contributed the 10 cents, probably having no idea how important board games would become to me.” —Vince Londini, London, Canada
Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Why
“My favorite game growing up in the ’50s was Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Why. The game board is a haunted house, and each player is a detective (Charlie Clam, Shylock Bones, Dick Crazy, Sargent Monday). Your job is to move about the house and find a ghost, a weapon, and a motive, but they are all in pieces, so it takes four cards to make a ghost or weapon.” —Bob Rinker, Lakeland, Florida
The Wonderful Game of Oz
“Most every Sunday my grandmother, Nana, would come from her city residence out to the suburbs via the streetcar to have lunch and spend the afternoon with my family. After our lunch and a short walk around our property, it would then be nap time. Immediately after was game time and this was one of the games we would often play. After rolling the cubes that spell WIZARD, you could advance on the board. If you rolled a ‘W’ you would advance one space, or a ‘WI’ for two spaces and so on. If you did not roll a ‘W’ you got a second chance. If again no ‘W,’ Nana would exclaim “Nuttings and nuttings make nuttings!” and the roll went to the next person.” —Ronald Kreiger, Kirkwood, Missouri
“The oldest game in my collection is called Space Race. It’s a two-player card game from 1952 (the year my father was born, coincidentally). I bought it at a dusty old comic book store in Norfolk, Virginia. It was buried in the back corner of the store, and definitely the only boxed game they had in the whole place.” —Jason Franks, Tokyo, Japan
Mr. Ree, The Fireside Detective
“My oldest board game is easily Mr. Ree, The Fireside Detective. It was the first game I ever bought with my own money. I found it at an estate sale with my mom. We would go every weekend looking for hidden treasures. I was amazed that a game so similar to Clue predated it by 12 years! I wondered why it wasn’t more popular, so I started looking into the differences in the rules. Until that moment I had never considered board games an entertainment industry. They were just something people had lying around their house. That moment really stuck with me.” —Austin Mace, Tulsa, Oklahoma
“Here is a game I dearly loved when I was a little girl. It is called Big Business. Later we had Monopoly and my older sisters preferred that, but I always thought Big Business was fun! ” —Wynette Schwalm, Fort Worth, Texas
Waddington’s Spy Ring
“Players are spies with a ‘Contact Man,’ collecting secrets from the 16 embassies, one of which is Yugoslavia, which doesn’t exist any longer. Great Cold War game! I played it as a kid of 10 and now I play it with my grandchildren!” —Christi Barfield, Central Florida
Pirate and Traveler
“The board is a map of the world, and in the first half of the game you travel to destinations based on the 10 cards you drew. Each card has the name of the city, country, and continent, as well as its main exports, which determine the card’s value. The most coveted card was Pretoria, South Africa, which was worth 100 points because of its diamonds. We were very proud because our town (Portland, Oregon, United States, North America, lumber, salmon, 50 points) was one of only a handful of U.S. cities in the game. Anyway, you traveled to each of your 10 destinations, and along the way, you could land on other players and send them back to ‘home port.’ Once you had traveled to your 10, you then became a pirate and raced to Greenland, capturing other players and their cards along the way. It was great fun, and my sister and I both credit the game with our love of geography and the fact that we each have a world map imprinted in our brains.” —Susan Gilpin, Portland, Oregon
Responses have been edited for length and clarity.