Popular Board Game Origin Stories That Will Blow Your Mind

The mention of a board game comes with a host of warm and fuzzy feelings. This is because at any age, board games have the power to bring anyone and everyone together. What can be easy to forget, however, is that board games weren’t just born in the hallway closet one day. Like most commodities, they have a story of betrayal, loss, ingenuity, and sometimes great triumph. If you think games are brainteasers, just wait until you hear the stories behind these games, some of their origin stories are shocking.

Scrabble Pulled This Man Out Of The Great Depression

Pierre MICHAUD/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Pierre MICHAUD/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Alfred Mosher Butts was, like most people, struggling to find work amid the Great Depression. Then he came up with a game involving making words. After devising a point system for each tiled letter, he decided to randomize them to build the players’ skillset. The chess and crossword lovechild was born.

After selling Scrabble at a lost profit, he was picked up twelve years later by James Brunot. The two worked together to modify the game to what would in 1952 appeal to the president of Macy’s, who happened to be vacationing in Long Island. Butt’s became a millionaire.

Candyland Made This Dark Time A Little Better

Katherine Frey/The Washington Post/Getty Images
Katherine Frey/The Washington Post/Getty Images

The polio outbreak was just beginning to strike when Eleanor Abbott was restrained to a hospital ward with others who had contracted the disease. A retired schoolteacher, Abbott wanted to keep herself and the children entertained while confined to being inside. All it took was some butcher paper and a creative mind.

A thriving economy mixed with polio and the baby boom was the perfect breeding ground for Candyland. After being sold to Milton Bradley, the game took off in every suburb across America, being suitable for children of any age. The sad story was hidden until the game’s 50th anniversary.

If you think this is sad, wait until you hear the next story.

Trivial Pursuit Started With Booze

Photofusion/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Photofusion/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Under the haze of alcohol, Chris Haney and Scott Abbott spent a Saturday night in 1979 concocting a game idea. Over the next two years they would develope thousands of questions, most of which would not even end up in the game itself.

When the game hit in the early 80s, two things held these Canadian mens’ fate: the recession, and Wall Street. Lucky for them, their low profit margin was madeup for by investors, and in 1988 Hasbro bought Trivial Pursuit for $80 million.

Alcohol is a surprising theme for game makers.

Pictionary Made Dictionaries The Cool Kid At Parties

Theo Wargo/NBC/Getty Images for “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon”
Theo Wargo/NBC/Getty Images for “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon”

The 1980s were always a party, but sometimes even the wildest nights can have a lull. That’s why Rob Angel came up with a simple but hilarious game for groups of any size. He would just pick a word out of the dictionary and then draw until his guests could guess it.

Angel discovered that on average only 20,000 words were in a given person’s vocabulary, and even less could be easily drawn. He decided to put the best selection of words onto some cards, add in a game board, and then sell it. By the end of 1987, Pictionary was a bestseller.

Chinese Checkers Has Nothing To Do With China Or Checkers

L. Willinger/FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
L. Willinger/FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Spelled Chinese Chequers in the UK, this game was actually born in Germany under the name Sternhalma, a simplified version of the game Halma. And Halma actually originated in the United States! The initial rendition was created by George Howard Monks, a surgeon at Harvard.

In order to simplify an obviously brilliant man’s game, a board was adapted with a hexagon center surrounded by triangles of varying colors. The star shape denotes the addition “stern” to the name, which means star in German. The modern name was a part of a marketing scheme in the 1920s that originally called the game “Hop Ching Checkers.”

Get ready to meet the oldest game ever.

The Monopoly Creator Was Monopolized


Elizabeth Magie was a homeowner in 1903, single, and a stenographer. Aside from being a feminist’s dream, she also was highly informed about the dangers of monopolies. She created The Landlord’s Game as a teaching device, which spread about the Northeastern United States. Then Charles Darrow stole it.

Though Magie had patented the game, Darrow was the first to sell the popular game. The Parker Brothers bought the idea from Darrow and the rights from Magie. They then renamed it Monopoly to avoid paying Magie’s royalties. A pure monopolist, Charles Darrow became the “creator” leaving Magie a victim of the very foul play she had sought to avoid.

Checkers Is Older Than You Probably Think

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Checkers is so old that its story can’t even be traced to a definitive origin. An archaeological dig in Iraq suggests some version of the game was played in 3000 B.C. Then in 1400 B.C. the Egyptians adapted the game so that it involved a board and was named Alquerque.

Fast forward to 1100 A.D. France, and you have the same game, but with its modern rules. From there, the game was brought to Great Britain and called “Draughts” and books were written on it in Spain around 1500, and by 1847 a world championship game ensued.

Trouble has an Indian grandfather and an English father

Alexandra Beier/Getty Images
Alexandra Beier/Getty Images

Trouble is like the grandchild of Pachisi, which is known as the “national game of India.” The Pachisi game board is shaped like a symmetrical cross and consists of 16 pieces divided into groups of four by color. The object is to get all of the pieces of your color to the finish first. Sound familiar?

Trouble launched in the United States in 1965. The Kohner Brothers developed it from the English game Ludo, a simpler version of Pachisi that surfaced in 1896.

Chess Might Be More Complex Than You Think

GettyImages-103660991 (1)
Archive Photos/Getty Images
Archive Photos/Getty Images

Chess‘s complexity is a testament to its years of evolving concepts and rules. So far we know that the game began in Northern India around 500 A.D. From there it traveled to Asia and then Europe, changing its rules as it went until the 1880s. The first Champion of Chess was in 1886, and that time period essentially locked in the rule book.

Perhaps because of its complexities, many legends have surfaced regarding its true origin. In one such tale, a wise man creates the game in order to convince a tyrannical king not to underestimate any piece of his kingdom.

Chutes And Ladders Started With A Much Scarier Name

Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post/Getty Images
Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Chutes and Ladders sounds charming to kids, but it actually is based on the Indian game Snakes and Ladders, which was all about karma. In this version, climbing ladders representing rebirth into higher forms, while falling down snakes symbolized rebirth into lower forms. The spinner conveyed to children the concept of fate, while the snakes and ladders conveyed desire (to do good or evil).

Milton Bradley adapted the game in 1943 to be a game more recognizable in today’s kid culture. Pictures show children near ladders doing things like potting flowers, and near slides doing something like sitting in time out.

Backgammon Was A Favorite For Many Historical Figures

GettyImages-635929241 (1)
Photo by David Turnley/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images
Photo by David Turnley/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

Like Chess and Checkers, Backgammon is too old to designate a single inventor of the game; it dates back about 5,000 years. Its popularity grew in England throughout the 2nd millennial, and was initially called “Tables.” The name “Backgammon” was officially coined by 1645 in H.J.R. Murray’s book A History of Board Games Other Than Chess.

It is thought that he chose the name as a phonetic spelling of “bach cammaun,” which translates to “small battle” in Welsh. Whatever the name, backgammon was one of the Elizabethans favorite “sports” during their reign.

‘Settlers Of Catan’ Helped Its Creator Leave The Industry He Hated

Roland Weihrauch/picture alliance via Getty Images
Roland Weihrauch/picture alliance via Getty Images

Klaus Tuber, photographed above, is still happier choosing the life of board games over the dental lab he left in the 1990s. Tuber won three awards for games he created while still working in the dental industry before finding the idea that would change his future forever.

Settlers of Catan was an idea that finally came to fruition once Tuber discovered that using a hexagon instead of a square would allow for the necessary board space. The game has only increased in popularity since being a best seller in Germany in 1995.

Cranium Was Built To Fill A Void In Other Games

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Microsoft employee Richard Tait was in the midst of a couple’s weekend when he had an epiphany. Many of the board games he and his wife had been playing seemed to focus on just one skill set. He proposed the idea to his coworker Whit Alexander that they come up with something a little more inclusive.

The gentlemen came up with Cranium and through their networking skills, landed their game in 1,500 Starbucks. The sales skyrocketed, making Tait and Alexander the most successful board game creators since the 1980s. Cranium sold to Hasbro in 2008 for $77 million.

Mousetrap’s Creator Didn’t Like Kids…Or Royalties

H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images
H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images

Harvey Kramer has said to have not enjoyed children, which may explain why he had to drink so much while working as a toy designer. Inebriation may be the culprit that describes how he transformed a Rube Goldberg drawing into a family-friendly game called Mouse Trap.

Unfortunately, the folks at Marvin Glass and Associates refused to pay Goldberg any money when the game became a success. Several redesigners resulted from the various mergers and acquisitions acquired by this game. Though hardly recognizable today, Mouse Trap is still well endeared, even if the creators aren’t so much.

Yahtzee’s Name Comes From Its Birthplac


Rich people and yachts go together like peas and carrots. Hence, the wealthy Canadian couple who created “The Yacht Game” while basking on their, you guessed it, yacht. Popular amongst their friends, the game had an economic incentive. So, on April 19, 1956, the pair took it to Edwin S. Lowe, an entrepreneur who also introduced Bingo to the US market.

Lowe adjusted the name to Yahtzee, and the sales skyrocketed. Today Hasbro owns the game and estimates that 50 million sets are sold every year around the world.

The most modern game yet had a unique start.

Cards Against Humanity Gained Funding In A Unique Way

Seth McConnell/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Seth McConnell/The Denver Post via Getty Images

When a group of boys gets together, you can often expect things to get dirty. That’s exactly what happened when a group of Highland Park High School alumni created this game. Initially, the goal was simply to write down the most outlandish response to the topic possible. After attaining their funding from Kickstarter, the group was able to publish the pre-written cards we know the game as today.

While Cards Against Humanity is often referred to as being most similar to Apples to Apples, co-creator Ben Hantoot chalks up the game as being directly influenced by Mad Libs.

Mancala: So Simple A Caveman Can Do It?

Jeff Gritchen/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images
Photo by Kari Rene Hall/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Mancala could potentially have been around as long as dirt and seeds existed as equipment. While that version of the game would be impossible to prove, archeologists have found carved versions of the game board in Ethiopia that date back to around 600 A.D.

Various versions of the game were played by African tribes under names like Awari and Wouri. As such, the slave trade brought the game over to America where enslaved individuals carried on a game that we all get to enjoy today as Mancala.

Risk’s Creator Coincidentally Died While Taking A Risk

Amsterdam_ Risk_players_-_1136_(cropped)
Jorge Royan/ wikimedia
Jorge Royan/ wikimedia

Frenchman Albert Lamorisse was a renowned, award-winning film director when the idea came to him. Vacationing in Holland with his family, Lamorisse took the idea of chess and stretched it to be even more complicated, expansive, and ultimately time-consuming.

The first games were published in 1957 under a French company, but the game was later published by Parker Brothers who gave it a simple English name: Risk. Thirteen years later, Lamorisse died in a helicopter accident during a film shoot. Who said flying isn’t risky?

Clue Had Everything To Do With WWII

Nick Watts/ Flickr
Nick Watts/ Flickr

Anthony Pratt noticed that during the Nazi bombings of England people were, not surprisingly, afraid to go outside. To assuage this tension, he created a game called Murder! The war clearly influenced itsgrim objective, but it also had limitedmaterials so the game couldn’t be released until 1949.

When it was released, the bomb, syringe, and Dr. Black were all removed and the name was changed to Cluedo. Milton Bradley brought it over to the US under the name Clue and everyone made lots of money on it, aside from Pratt who sold his royalties long before it would become the world’s second bestselling game of all time.

Keep that Milton Bradley in mind. He’s kind of a big deal.

The Game of Life Was Inspired By Abraham Lincoln And An 11-Year-Old

Paul Fisher/ Flickr
Paul Fisher/ Flickr

Milton Bradley was what we today would call college-aged when his lithograph studio got into trouble. The cause? An eleven-year-old who wrote to Lincoln that she thinks he should grow a beard. Lincoln, being the old teddy bear that he was, agreed to do so, changing the face of one of America’s most adored Presidents.

The bad news for Bradley was that he now had to issue refunds for a lithograph that had presented Lincoln barefaced. So, he invented a game that depicted the ebb and flow of life and started Milton Bradley and Company, one of the most famous board game companies in history.