The history of electronic board games: Part 2

Benj Edwards
24 February, 2013
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Back to the future

The advent of the microprocessor in the 1970s stimulated drastic changes across many industries, from automobiles to consumer appliances.Even the humble board game couldn’t avoid its reach, receiving an electronic computerized upgrade courtesy of inexpensive microcontrollers like the Texas Instruments TMS1000, which first appeared in 1975.

Over the next 36 years, but peaking in the early to mid-1980s, toy companies experimented with hundreds of different electronically assisted board games. By the late 1980s, however, video games began to whisk players away to virtual realms and away from physical reality.In Part 1, we looked at seven classic electronic board games, starting in the 1970s, here in Part 2 we check out seven more.

Bear in mind that to qualify as “electronic,” the games had to contain active electronic components. In fact, every one of these games uses digital technology of some sort.

Electronic Mall Madness (1990)

As every girl knows, nothing is more exciting than going to the mall and racking up a lifetime of indebtedness (insert sarcasm here). So Milton Bradley – which had demonstrated its genius for creating gender-stereotype-reinforcing games with 1965′s incomparable (but regrettably non-electronic) Mystery Date– decided to turn that insight into a very pink board game.

In Electronic Mall Madness, players pushed a button on a centre console to hear where the latest sales were occurring at the mall, and then race to reach them first.To buy items, players inserted a faux credit card into the battery-operated electronic centrepiece. Whoever bought six strategic items and returned to the mall parking lot first won the game (but lost their soul).

Electronic Dream Phone (1991)

One year after Mall Madness, Milton Bradley was at it again with another electronic pink girl game.Electronic Dream Phonecame with a set of cards bearing photos of dreamy boys (no duds this time!) and their phone numbers.

Players would call up the dreamy number on a dreamy card and gather dreamy clues about their secret admirer’s clothes, shoes, sports, or hangouts.By trial and error, players would determine who the secret admirer was – and marry him forever! Electronically, of course.

The Ωmega Virus (1992)

Girls may like phones and malls, but boys like gruesome anthropomorphic alien viruses that threaten them with disembowelment.In The Ωmega Virus, players used an electronic computer at the centre of the game board to hunt down the game’s titular villain. Along the way, they picked up weapons and keycards to aid them in their quest.

Meantime, the Virus taunted players mercilessly via a disembodied digitised voice emanating from a plastic speaker box.Not only was The Ωmega Virus produced by Milton Bradley, but according to Wikipedia it was designed by the same guy responsible for Mall Madness and Dream Phone. Just think: If the Virus had been a Dream Phone option, MB might have had a crossover hit!

Lego Treasure Quest (1998)

Electronic board games suffered during the mid- to late 1990s at the hands of video games, which easily won children’s affection thanks to ever-increasing realism and complexity.

As a result, it’s hard to find an electronic board game that typified the era.Lego Treasure Questby Roseart didn’t typify anything, but it did provide a family treasure-hunting experience that incorporated a treasure chest capable of optically reading stripes printed on keycards. The result was an interactive game that few people played.

Clue FX (2003)

Clue FXelectronified/electronisized/ electrocuted Parker Brothers’ legendary 1949 board game Clue by adding electronic sound effects and speech that tied into the classic whodunit gameplay (with a candlestick in the library). The game still doesn’t allow an outcome of “The butler did it,” but now at least you can declare that “The butler narrated it.”Unlike the original game, Clue FX takes place outside a mansion. The weaponry is somewhat more exotic, too: In place of the old standby knife, rope, lead pipe, wrench, etc., the murderer has access to garden shears, a hammer, a horseshoe, a tennis racket, a water bucket and (most temptingly) a lawn gnome. Also unlike the original: Clue FX can run out of batteries.

Whoowasit? (2007)

Even in recent times, board game companies have continued to create electronically complemented experiences for players of all ages. The recent popularity of German-style board gameshas buoyed this trend.In Ravensburger’s Whoowasit?, players attempt to find a magical ring that an evil wizard has hidden in a large mansion. Along the way, various woodland creatures provide clues to the players through a talking electronic treasure chest.

Monopoly Zapped Edition (2012)

Just last year – 35 years after the emergence of the first electronic board games – Hasbro pushed the medium forward (or sideways) by integrating a traditional game board with the Apple iPad.

Among the games that use the iPad in this fashion are Monopoly Zapped Edition (far left) and Life Zapped Edition(upper right).Interestingly, in the Monopoly game, players use an app running on the iPad to perform functions very similar to the previously mentioned Monopoly Playmasteraccessory, bringing electronic board games full circle. 

By Benj Edwards, TechHive.

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