The Game of Life is one of the most popular board games on the market today. But this classic game has a surprisingly long — and dark — history.
The Checkered Game Of Life
The first version of the game, called The Checkered Game of Life, was created by Milton Bradley himself in 1860. This was Bradley’s first-ever game, and it was an immediate hit, selling 45,000 copies by 1861. The modern version of The Game of Life is an adaptation of the original 1860 version. But there are some major differences between the two iterations.
The Checkered Game of Life board consisted of a checkerboard pattern of 64 red and white squares. Play started on a square labeled Infancy, illustrated with a wicker cradle. The goal of the game was to finish on the Happy Old Age square at the upper-right corner of the board. However, some much darker outcomes were possible.
One square on the original board was labeled Suicide, and landing on this space would eliminate a player from the game. There were a number of other negative squares on the board as well, including Poverty, Idleness, and Disgrace. In the original rules, Bradley explained, “The game represents, as indicated by the name, the checkered journey of life.”
Major Life Changes
The Checkered Game of Life probably sounds pretty different from the game most of us are familiar with. This is largely thanks to a major redesign that the Milton Bradley Company commissioned in honor of the game’s 100th anniversary in 1960. The company tasked independent game designer Reuben Klamer with updating Life for modern audiences to mark the milestone.
Klamer kept the “Life” name from the original game but introduced a number of huge changes to modernize it. These updates included a three-dimensional board and the iconic plastic spinner players use to advance their game pieces. Instead of spaces focused on encouraging morality, The Game of Life was designed with more escapism and fun in mind.
To promote the game, the Milton Bradley Company hired popular radio and television personality Art Linkletter for his endorsement. Linkletter promoted The Game of Life on-air and even appeared on the boxes with the quote, “I heartily endorse this family game.”
Since the big changes to The Game of Life in 1960, it has gone on to sell over 50 million copies. As one of the most popular board games of all time, it has received a number of adaptations over the years. It was even adapted into a TV game show, called “The Game of Life,” in 2011. On the show, teams would compete in a range of activities from Trivia to cooking burgers on a barbecue.
As with other popular board games, there are also plenty of themed versions of The Game of Life available for players looking for a twist on the classic. Themed games that have been released include The Wizard of Oz Edition, TripAdvisor Edition, and Indiana Jones Edition, to name just a few.
Fittingly, for a game based on the many possibilities and journeys one might encounter, The Game of Life has come a long way in its 160+ year history. Its far-reaching popularity even earned it a spot in the Smithsonian Institution’s permanent collection in the National Museum of American History.
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