The board games of our childhood

In most parts of Australia, school holidays are about to begin. In my home state of Victoria, they’re just ending. While school holidays don’t have much relevance to me these days (my kids are grown up and there are no grandkids at this stage), they certainly did when I was a kid. Occupying ourselves during those weeks off was rarely a problem, except maybe if the weather was bad. And that’s when the board games would come out. 

I was born in the mid-’60s, which to me, in hindsight, seems to have been smack bang in the middle of the golden age of board games. I was the youngest of six kids in my house, so by the time I was old enough to play them, there was no shortage of them to choose from.

And more board games arrived each Christmas and birthday as I made my way through my primary school years. Of course we had the old favourites, Scrabble, Trouble and Monopoly (did anyone not have Monopoly?) and some lesser-known ones, too.

An alternative to Monopoly

One board game we played for days on end during school holidays was the Stock Market Game. It was exactly what you’d expect, a game in which you bought and sold shares in stocks. The board came with a plastic strip upon which a sliding piece would move up and down. Some shares rose as others fell, just like in the real world, and bankruptcy was always a possibility, just like in the real world. 

Although it was an American game, Stock Market was customised for Australia, so the shares we were buying and selling had familiar names, such as BHP, Alcoa, Coles and the Bank of New South Wales. Hours, even days, of fun – unless you were losing!

Columbo and other TV show-based board games

By the mid-’60s, the whole concept of merchandise for TV shows was well entrenched. Toys and trading cards abounded, and board game manufacturers were not going to miss out.

Some shows spawned multiple board games. Take Happy Days for instance. Of course, it had its own board game, but that was followed by a game for one of its main characters, Arthur Fonzarelli, aka ‘Fonzie’, aka ‘the Fonz’. In 1976, The Fonz: Hanging Out at Arnold’s was released.

But it didn’t stop there. Happy Days had a number of spin-off shows. And at least two of them, Laverne and Shirley and Mork and Mindy, earned their own board games. 

My favourite TV-themed board game was Columbo, based on the long-running detective series. I loved that show growing up in the 1970s and when I received the Columbo game on my 11th birthday I was ecstatic.

The game featured some awful graphics, including a picture of only the back of the head of someone who might have been Lieutenant Columbo (presumably something to do with copyright). It was, however, not a bad game strategically, and it is one that still gets a run when I have a games night with kids (who are now also adults).

Pretty much every US television show you can remember watching had its own board game. The Beverly Hillbillies? Yes. Get Smart? Yep. Family Ties? You bet. And the British cashed in too. I didn’t have it as a kid but I found On The Buses in an op shop in the late ’90s. I bought it and it became a family favourite.

Not quite PC

My On the Buses op shop purchase inspired me to look out for other old board games. Many of the old ones were easy to spot, because they bore the distinctive John Sands logo. The greeting card company was the Australian distributor for Milton Bradley, and they adopted the same logo, replacing the MB with JS.

Some of the board games of yesteryear simply wouldn’t fly today. At least not without a change. One that springs to mind is from the 1950s called Park and Shop.  This game surprise, surprise – requires you to take a drive and complete some shopping chores. 

The game itself is fine, but not all of its elements are. Take, for instance, one particular card you might be unlucky enough to pick up when landing on a certain square. The card reads: “There’s a woman driver in front of you. Lose one turn.”

Happily society’s attitude towards women has changed at least a bit in the past 70 years!

Board games galore

I’ve barely scratched the board game surface here. I haven’t even mentioned Ker-Plunk, Hang on Harvey or Operation, which were staples in many family homes. Or the Aussie favourite Squatter. 

Board games are still very popular and evolving. One of my adult sons loves playing Catan, which comes in various editions. I’m sure it’s great but the old ones from my childhood still have a special place in my heart. Occasionally, too, they still get a place on the dining table.

Did you have any of these board games? What others can you remember? Let us know via the comments section below.

Also read: Can playing Wordle boost your brain?

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.
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