Brotherhood of Board Games
Throughout the past century, Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley have infused pop culture with amusements that have defined "leisure activity" for game enthusiasts around the globe. With games like Monopoly, Scrabble and Twister, the board game magnates have developed many of the games that the world has grown up with. Clearly the traditional formats will never disappear from toy store shelves. But recently both companies have put a new spin on some of their treasured favorites, using electronic mediums to recreate simple board games."The key to the popularity of traditional board games is that they provide a really great social interaction that you just don't find in any other entertainment format," says Director of Public Relations of Games Mark Morris of Hasbro -- the mega-toy conglomerate that owns Parker Brothers, Milton Bradley, Tonka, Nerf, Playskool and more.As kids, most of us were treated to our first taste of cutthroat capitalism through Parker Brothers' Monopoly. Created by Charles B. Darrow during the Depression, its premise is simple: Buy out railroads, utilities, streets, houses and hotels -- then, sit and wait for some poor sap to land on one of your holdings so that you can milk them for what they're worth. The Donald Trumpesque kill-or-be-killed feeling that leading an economic assault on friends and loved ones provides is incredibly gratifying. And it's as American as Budweiser and cheeseburgers.Parker Brothers' Electronic Hand-Held Monopoly and Monopoly CD-ROM have begun to revolutionize how this classic is played. Now Monopoly needs only one player, and the CD-ROM allows players to transcend languages, continents and currencies. "If you know someone else who has the CD-ROM, you can hook up via the Internet and play," Morris says. "Let's say I was in London and you were playing here: It would keep track of my score in pounds and yours in dollars."Despite Monopoly's high-tech changes, its original form with dice, shoes and top hats are still as popular as ever. Some have even been individualized for specific tastes, such as Philadelphia, Harley-Davidson and Star Wars Classic Trilogy editions. "You still have to play the board game to get that experience -- the handhelds and CD-ROMs give you a very different experience with a similar theme," Morris says.A Milton Bradley classic, Scrabble, has also seen some changes in the past two years. The game was developed by Alfred Mosher Butts, an out-of-work architect who studied the probability of games, and crunched the numbers from his investigations while tinkering with their dynamics. Combining this data with cryptographic analysis of letter repetition on the pages of The New York Times, Butts synthesized a game that relied on both chance and skill and called it Lexiko. Renamed Scrabble, the game now sells more than 2 million units a year. Introduced last year as a CD-ROM, the virtual version also makes solo play possible and features five levels of difficulty. "The CD-ROM Scrabble is really cool -- it has artificial intelligence and at level 5 plays like a Scrabble champion," Morris says.While the word "scrabble" means "to grope frantically," the Milton Bradley game that offers the best grope potential is Twister. In 1966 Parker Brothers introduced Twister just as the '60s started to swing. It was an instant smash with its Laugh In-like brightly colored dots and quasi-psychedelic graphics. Soon after it hit the market, Johnny Carson got down and twisted with Eva Gabor on The Tonight Show, sending the game's sales through the stratosphere. Parker Brothers hopes the newly re-configured Totally Twister will keep folks playing through the next millennium. "Totally Twister is totally different, because it takes [the game] off the floor -- [players] have to rotate around a cube," Morris says. And with an electronic voice calling all the shots, there's no need to spin that goofy dial."What we try to do when we [make] our games in different formats, is provide a new playing experience," says Morris about the revamped games. But he admits that it's still the original principles behind the games that make them so popular -- in any format. "I think games really have a staying power. As long as people are interested in having a fun social experience, people will be interested in board games. They provide a fun social interaction that you just can't find anywhere else."