MonopolyThey are responsible for bringing families together, rescuing Thanksgiving and Christmas get-togethers and making their creators millions or in some cases nothing at all. No, we’re not talking about Resident Evil movies (although they have rescued many a boring family event). We’re talking about those board games that you and your siblings squabbled over for hours on end. But did you know that not all of them were born in a gaming company meeting room? Here are some of the strange but true origins of some of the world’s most popular board games. You’ll never look at Snakes and Ladders the same again!

Back in 1943, Anthony E. Pratt, a British army veteran, came up with an idea for a game which he called Murder. The idea was to bring something back to the social lives of locals who were understandably going through a hard time due to rationing and the tensions of the time. Why he thought Murder was a good idea is anyone’s guess. He brought the idea to Waddington’s, but they weren’t in a position to produce until 1949. When it came out, it had the name Cluedo, but it wasn’t well-received. Pratt sold his royalty for a reasonable sum, but in the following years, the game exploded in popularity, becoming one of the most played board games in the world. Unfortunately, while others made their millions, Pratt had to make do with the small amount for which he sold his royalties.

For many people, the Monopoly strategy to buy everything in sight hints at capitalism and greed, and its actual history proves this to be true. The official story goes that Charles Darrow created the game produced by the Parker Brothers. The truth, though, is that the game Monopoly was a complete copy of another game called The Landlord’s Game. Elizabeth Magie created and patented The Landlord’s Game in 1904, which was by all accounts, the exact same game as the Monopoly we know today. However, Magie’s was a little different in that it contained a second round that taught players about the evils of capitalism. Parker Brothers bought the rights to The Landlord’s Game when they realized Monopoly was a copy, but then dumped it in favor of the new version. Magie never received the recognition she deserved while Charles Darrow, who copied her game, became a millionaire.

Trivial Pursuit
It was the board game that dominated family evenings for much of the 80s and 90s, but during this time, it had become embroiled in plagiarism claims. You see, when the game came out, it quickly became clear that the makers had, in fact, copied a large portion of the questions word-for-word from a well-known quiz book. And how it came to light is quite interesting.
The writer of the quiz book, Fred L. Worth, had intentionally put a mistake in his book so that he could detect plagiarizers. The mistake was that he gave TV detective Columbo’s first name as Philip instead of Frank. The error popped up in Trivial Pursuit, and sure enough, Worth found that most of his questions appeared in the game. He sued but unfortunately for him, the courts deemed that facts were not property, and although he compiled the questions and answers, the game’s creators did nothing wrong by copying his work.

Snakes and ladders

Snakes and Ladders

More commonly known as Chutes and Ladders in the U.S., Snakes and Ladders has a deep meaning for something that we all consider a simple family game. You see, as the British Empire stretched all across the known world, local games were often picked up and adapted for the home nation. One such game was an Indian game called Vaikuntapali. Vaikuntapali has been around since the 16th century and is pretty much the same thing as Snakes and Ladders. However, the Indian version is virtually impossible to complete without landing on a snake. The snakes represent temptations in life that could lead you to hell. And the whole premise behind the game is the fact that one silly mistake can tear your life apart and send you back to square one or even to hell. It sounds quite grim when you put it like that, right?

So, the next time you’re ready to rescue that family evening from your dear old aunt’s out-of-tune piano recital, remember that your favorite board game may have a rather sinister past. Was it a lesson in how to avoid hell or did its creators steal the concept from a poor and miserable soul? Whatever its origins, now you can impress (or disgust) your friends and family with tales of its past.


Filed under Neglected History


  1. Post Alley Crackpot

    I prefer to bring my friends together for a light game of global diplomacy and terrorism.

    It is quite likely the only board game to have been seized by the police for risks of inciting public violence. Sadly, it is no longer available, no longer being made, and people want it now because it’s an amusing prop in “The IT Crowd”.

    If you happened to be in the right place at the right time, you were handed one of these entirely for free, paid for as a result of the board game maker being extraordinarily nice in front of a location of the shifty high street merchants (no longer in business) who tried to shaft them on a bulk order.

    We here now have rules about the use of the “Evil Balaclava”, BTW.

    It is not meant to be worn, but instead should be put in front of the player.

    The damned thing started out as too big for some of our heads, and after a few hand washings, it started to shrink.

    I have also not heard of any criminal activity being attributed to someone wearing the “Evil Balaclava”, but there’s always a first time. 🙂

  2. Have you ever thought about creating an e-book or guest authoring on other blogs? I have a blog based upon on the same ideas you discuss and would love to have you share some stories/information. I know my subscribers would value your work. If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to send me an email.

  3. Iesha

    These really were strange.

  4. Drebbin

    These weren’t really all that strange.

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