You might have noticed that we grouped the 1940s and 1950s together in this list, while giving the 1930s their separate list. That’s because a little thing called World War II occurred during the 1940s. There weren’t that many board games produced during this time frame, and it took a while for folks to want to play games after the war’s conclusion. But the games that did see a publisher during these two decades are among some of the best of all time.
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 have to admit the game is everywhere.
2: Only one game from a franchise makes the list. Sorry, but you won’t see Simpsonopoly.
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) Careers (1955)
Careers may look like a Monopoly derivative, but it’s a lot more than that. Developed by the sociologist James Cooke Brown, Careers uses a secret “Success Formula” that consists of a minimum amount of fame, happiness and money that a player must gain to become fulfilled.
Players set their own victory conditions (split between the aforementioned three areas) before the game begins. You can glean a lot about a person by how they divvy up fame, happiness and money and that’s the point of Careers.
Parker Brothers may have been the first to produce Careers in 1955, but the game has bounced from publisher to publisher in the decades that followed. You don’t see this game in stores as much, but it left a mark in the tabletop game industry as being one of the first games to implement win condition choice.
But as with a lot of games in our series of Best Tabletop games, Stratego as a 1940s game is a bit of a misnomer. It’s based off the traditional Chinese board game “Jungle,” and there’s even a similar European game called L’attaque that cropped up around World War I. It wasn’t until 1947 where the Napoleonic imagery we know today was first deployed.
Stratego caught fire in Europe and sold well for over a decade before it crossed the pond. Milton Bradley first distributed the game in the United States in 1961. The game may have changed through the years that followed – first printed cardboard pieces, then painted wood pieces, and finally the plastic pieces of today – but the core game mechanics have remained.
3) Candy Land (1945)
Eleanor Hallowell Abbott may have been a successful author and frequent contributor to The Ladies’ Home Journal, but perhaps her most enduring work is Candy Land.
She created this simple children’s racing game while recovering from Polio in San Diego. Milton Bradley – why is it always Milton Bradley? – quickly gobbled up the game most likely because of Abbott’s notoriety. I guess it pays to be a well-known author.
The characters and locations have lived in the hearts of children for decades. Who doesn’t know Candy Cane Forest, Gum Drop Mountain, Queen Frostine and Gramma Nutt? And the game’s notoriety earned it the top spot as the American Toy Industry Association’s most popular toy of the 1940s.
On a side note, Candy Land was involved in one of the first disputes over internet domain names. An adult web content provider registered candyland.com, and Hasbro objected. Fortunately, the site’s rights have reverted to Hasbro, so don’t worry if your kids login to see who fell into the Cherry Pitfalls.
2) Risk or La Conquete du Monde (1957)
French film director Albert Lamorisse invented La Conquete du Monde (The Conquest of the World) and originally released it in 1957. Imagine me using my best Troy McClure voice with this next part. “You may remember Albert Lamorisse from such films as Palme d’Or (White Mane) and Le Ballon Rouge (The Red Balloon).” The latter of which earned Lamorisse an Academy Award, and it predated La Conquete du Monde by one year.
So Lamorisse earned an Academy Award and then created a beloved board game in consecutive years. Parker Brothers bought, tweaked and then released La Conquete du Monde as Risk in 1959. The game took off and has grossed more money than you can shake a Rockefeller at.
1) Cluedo or Clue (1944)
Colonel Mustard did it with the candlestick in the dining room. Why do people go to Colonel Mustard and the candlestick first? Cluedo, or Clue to North Americans, was created by Anthony E. Pratt, an English musician.
Originally named Murder!, Cluedo found not one, but two publishers. Waddingtons (now part of Hasbro) first published the game as Cluedo in Europe, while Parker Brothers simultaneously licensed the game in the United States five years later as Clue with some minor changes. Nurse White became Mrs. White and thankfully Colonel Yellow changed colors to Mustard. There were some rooms like the gun room and the cellar that got dumped and the weapons got whittled down. No bomb, syringe, shillelagh, or fireplace poker for North Americans.