We’ve covered the top ancient tabletop games and now we’ve reached tabletop games’ modern era. The 1930s may not have introduced a lot of tabletop games, but the decade did see some tabletop game giants.
Let’s set some ground rules before we get started.
1: Cultural relevance plays as much of a factor as overall quality. A game might make the list that doesn’t hold up to others of its type, but you can’t escape or ignore the game.
2: Only one game from a franchise makes the list. We’ll save our Fifty Shades of Monopoly for another list.
3: Longevity plays a role, too. A game doesn’t have to fly off the shelves today, but it had to have some widespread appeal for a decent time period.
5) Wahoo (1930)
Originating in the Appalachian hills, Wahoo took the cross and circle game mechanics of Pachisi and converted the playing pieces to marbles. While Parker Brothers sold a variant of Wahoo, marketing it for decades as Aggravation, Wahoo maintains a cult following as many people create custom-made boards.
Many of these home-made boards feature a Native-American theme. I don’t know if this is an attempt to give the game American roots, a play on the word Wahoo’s origins, a rebranding of an Indian board game to an American Indian theme, or a mixture of all three. Whatever the reason for this theme Wahoo earns a place on this list as it sees plenty of play.
4) Battleship (Early 1930s)
We had a sneaky addition to the games prior to the 1930s and now we get another sneaky inclusion to this list. Battleship started as a pencil and paper guessing game in the 1930s, but Milton Bradley – they were culprits for The Game of Life’s shifty inclusion in the last list – released the plastic board game we know today in 1967.
Still, the core game mechanics didn’t change much between the 1930s and 1967. Folks have been sinking battleships and referencing the game in movies and TV ever since. Battleship has seen its share of video games, spinoffs, and even its own sci-fi movie in 2012 starring Rihanna.
3) Sorry! (1934)
Sorry! is another board game based on the ancient Indian cross and circle game of Pachisi. But unlike Wahoo – which also made this list – Sorry! trades the roll mechanic for a deck of cards.
The most significant addition to the original Pachisi gameplay is the ability to move backwards on the board. This allows players to move from their starting position and move backwards toward their safe area.
But I have to admit that this one’s a possible sneaky add to this list. The earliest additions of the game Sorry! can be traced back to England in 1929. The product first moved to Canada in 1933, and then Parker Brothers bought the rights, mass-marketing the product to the United States in 1934.
Still, there isn’t much difference between the two dates, and Sorry! gained its popularity in the 30s, a popularity that has continued to this day as Sorry! has seen several incarnations and is one of the bestselling tabletop games of all time.
2) Scrabble (1938)
What’s in a name? Alfred Mosher Butts based Scrabble on a game he created earlier in the 1930s Lexiko. Lexiko didn’t sell well, but Scrabble (originally released in 1938) has dominated all word-based games. On a different note, I wonder if Alfred had the nickname “Big Al,” that way he’d be Big Al Butts.
Anyway, Scrabble – like Lexiko – wasn’t an instant success. It took James Brunot purchasing a copy and then modifying the rules before a board game company would even look at the game. And still no board game company – including the two giants Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers – wanted anything to do with the game. Brunot had to produce the game by himself for years.
Fourteen years after its initial release, Scrabble hit the big time when Jack Straus, the president of Macy’s, played the game on vacation. Straus placed a huge order of the game in early 1952, and Brunot couldn’t meet the production demand.
Brunot had to sell the manufacturing rights to Selchow and Righter – another one of the manufacturers who originally passed on the game – to keep up with the production and to say “I told you so” and “Neener-neener-neener, you should’ve bought my game.”
The rest is history. Numerous game shows, video games, and cultural references have kept Scrabble at the forefront of the American lexicon.
1) Monopoly (1933)
I’m sure most of you saw this one coming. How can we possibly have a list of the best tabletop games of the 1930s and not include the juggernaut that is Monopoly?
Monopoly is based on The Landlord’s Game by Elizabeth (Lizzie) J. Magie Phillips. She self-published her game as a means to illustrate the negative aspects of concentrating land in private monopolies. Her game didn’t sell well, but that wasn’t the point. She wanted folks to see the dangers of land grabbing and showcase its consequences. Though the game has changed immensely, you can see Phillips’ original goal through people going bankrupt and that there can only be one winner.
Getting back to Monopoly as we know it today, Charles Darrow gets credit for creating the game, even though the game’s concepts take more than a little bit from The Landlord’s Game, and players in the Midwest and East Coast during the 1930s and 1940s contributed to the game’s design and evolution. You could say it was a collaborative effort.
Today, Monopoly is everywhere. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for an easy merchandise tie-in, playing the McDonald’s game or a prisoner of war during World War II using the game box to hide maps, compasses, and real money. You can’t escape the pull of the ever present Monopoly. It deserves its place atop our list.