It must have been a crushing blow. It was 1934, the depths of the Great Depression. Charles Darrow was unemployed. But, he had an idea. Actually, he had a board game. He called the game Monopoly. He liked the board game and felt it was his ticket to financial success and out of the desperation of the depression. Darrow had taken his game to the famous Parker Brothers game company to publish and help him sell.
The Parker Brothers had agreed to look at the board game for Darrow. They were not impressed. Formed in 1883, by 16-year-old George Parker, the game publishing company had been making and selling games and puzzles for 51 years. During that time they had seen success and failure. Parker Brothers knew the game business. They knew what worked and what didn’t. They knew what sold and what didn’t. Representatives of the giant game company found 59 reasons why they did not think Darrow’s game could be successful.
Charles Darrow simply didn’t agree. He believed. He decided to publish Monopoly himself and market it through department stores. He had 5,000 copies of the board game printed.
Hope was scarce during that harsh Christmas of 1934. Money was even scarcer. And, Monopoly was a hit. Nearly all 5,000 copies of the board game sold. Within a year Parker Brothers was publishing the game. It was the best selling game in America by 1936.
Monopoly is now published in 89 languages and over 200 million copies of the board game have been sold. More than 500 million people have played the game. It has also been adapted as an electronic game. Monopoly is firmly entrenched as the best selling board game of all time.
Monopoly is a relative upstart compared to other popular board games.
The oldest known board game is called “The Royal Game of Ur” or the “Game of 20 Squares”. This game was discovered in a 4,500-year-old tomb in southern Iraq. This game was played throughout the Middle East for perhaps 1,000 years or more. In fact, the rules of the game have been found in cuneiform tablets. Game aficionados can play this ancient game yet today, even though it has long ago faded from popularity.
Perhaps the oldest board game still popular today is chess, which first appeared in India by the sixth century A.D. By the year 1,000 it was being played throughout the Middle East and in Europe. The rules and game board design have evolved somewhat over the centuries, but the game is still very much the same as the ancient Indians played it. They could hardly have dreamed, however, of the world-class chess match play or the electronic versions of the game we enjoy today.
Another very old, yet immensely popular board game is checkers, also known as draughts. A form of checkers was being played by the Egyptian Pharaohs as early as 1600 B.C. This game has also evolved over the centuries. By the 12th century the game was adapted to the 64-square chessboard. Four hundred years later the rules involving capture were added, yielding essentially the same game we play today.
There is simply no way to tell how many copies of chess or checkers have been sold or how many people have played these games. If the numbers were known, they would have to be truly staggering.
Popular Board Games Share Common Traits
Other top selling board games include Yahtzee, Scrabble, Mahjong, Trivial Pursuit, Battleship and the Risk game. Most of these games were developed during the 20th century and all are still big sellers and tremendously popular.
These popular board games share some similar traits. Most of them involve specific strategies of play. When these strategies are employed successfully, the games are fun, challenging and intensely rewarding as players attempt to capture portions of the board and/or each other. Another common element in most of these board games is chance, or luck. Luck is introduced usually by drawing cards or rolling dice. The element of chance opens up possibilities for even more strategies of play. A final important trait of these games is that in one way or another they reflect the lessons of life. They teach competition and sportsmanship. They teach strategy and the lesson of never giving up.
Perhaps that is why Charles Darrow was so attracted to Monopoly. He believed that success comes by employing sound strategies to following a dream and never giving up. We are glad that Darrow didn’t give up. We are glad he didn’t throw the board game with 59 things wrong in the trash bin as he left the Parker Brothers plant in 1934.