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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Cult of the Old: Collecting Vintage Games

by | published Wednesday, December 13, 2017

I have always had an affinity to the collection of older things. My Dad is a big collector of a number of different items, including hockey cards, vintage cameras, and model cars. So, it would make sense that a love of acquisition is in my blood. Now collections can take on many different forms, and we took a look at some in the past, but I wanted to write about my love of vintage board games.

I have been collecting games for about 15 years and seriously for 10. As is often the case for board game fans, my collection started with classic titles like Clue, Risk, and Monopoly, then slowly evolved to contain games such as Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, and Puerto Rico. Because I started getting into gaming when the boom had already taken off, I was often hopping back and forth between cult of the new hot games, and filling in my collection with titles that were a few years old, but I still definitely needed to own, like Ra, El Grande, Saint Petersburg, and Princes of Florence.

But, of course good games are not limited to the past 20 or so years. There have been countless fun and influential titles that have appeared over the last 100 years and beyond. I’m not sure what my first vintage game was, but suffice to say, the vintage games in my collection are my pride and joy. New games can usually be attained, but the feeling of coming across a treasure in a thrift shop or flea market can’t be replaced. To me, games don’t have to come from a specific time period or be a certain age to be considered vintage or classic. I consider many different games in that category, and it depends more on a feeling rather than any stat. Many of the vintage games in my collection I love to play, many I just love for the art and components, and some I’m just happy to have for their historical significance.

My vintage collection has steadily grown over the years, and I have three major categories where most of (but not all) those games fall:

3M Bookshelf Games

3M was founded in 1902 in Minnesota as a corundum mining venture. Over the years, the company became profitable with inventions like masking and scotch tape, waterproof sandpaper, and sound-deadening materials for cars. In the 1960 and 70s they (somewhat oddly) started producing a series of board games. The 3M Bookshelf Games series includes some awesome titles such as Acquire, Breakthrough, Sleuth, Twixt, Monad, Oh-Wah-Ree, Jati, and Mad Mate.

Many of the earlier titles were designed by giants of the hobby like Sid Sackson and Alex Randolph.

I got my first four 3M games at an estate sale and they included Twixt, Ploy, Oh-Wah-Ree, and Jumpin. Since that acquisition, I’ve been adding steadily every chance I get. I love this series for the beautiful old school 60s art on the covers and the high-quality production. The boxes are designed with simple sides, so that they will sit on your shelf and look like a collection of beautifully bound books. However, once you pull them down and pull out the actual games you’re transported to another time of shag carpeting, stiff cognac, and swinger parties…where a few board games might be played.

You can often find 3M games in antique stores and flea markets. Definitely snatch them up if you come across them.

Ravensburger Games

Ravenburger is a company even older than 3M. Founded in Germany in 1883, the publishing company made their first board game in 1884, Journey Around the World. They also publish games under the Alea name.

When I was a kid growing up, I had a number of Ravensburger puzzles, so I was very familiar with that iconic blue corner. I was collecting Ravensburger games before I even knew it. The first I picked up was Scotland Yard, one of the favourite games from my youth and 1983 Spiel des Jahres winner. During my days at Snakes and Lattes, we had an archive of games that was filled with parts games, or titles that we didn’t know, or would never make it to the floor. We’d often do purges sending games to thrift stores or if they were unsalvageable, the dump. On one of those purges I managed to grab a copy of Midnight Party. I didn’t know what it was at the time, but I loved the board. There was so much going on in it, it reminded me of the puzzles of my youth. It has since become a family favourite.

From that point on, I was always on the lookout for Ravensburger titles. I’ve been able to pick up classics like Enchanted Forest, Das Erbe des Maloney, Lotus, and Kulhandel.

The art of these games is a big selling point for me. They feel like children’s storybooks, but with a game element to them.

Parker Brothers/Milton Bradley

Milton Bradley was one of the first successful board game designers and manufacturers in North America. In 1861, his game The Checkered Game of Life was a best seller. Over time, it became The Game of LIFE that we know today. For over 130 years, the company Milton Bradley was making games, and I’m guessing a lot of readers of the blog will have played those games as kids.

Parker Brothers was founded in 1883, and their philosophy towards game design differed from the norm of the time. They believed games could be simply created as fun diversions aside from the moral lessons associated with a lot of games in the Victorian era. They were responsible for hugely influential titles like Clue, Monopoly, RISK, and Scrabble.

Both Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers were acquired by Hasbro in the late 90s, but their prolific contributions to the hobby make it easy to find their games at thrift stores, garage sales, and flea markets.

Some gems in my collection include The Nancy Drew Mystery Game, The Hardy Boys Treasure Game, Razzle, Conspiracy, Mind Maze, the James Bond Game, and the MAD Magazine Game.

These games carry a heavy nostalgia factor for me. I loved playing them as kids and watching the classic television commercials. If you were a kid in the 70s and 80s in North America, chances are you played a number of different Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers games.

I am a huge fan of new board games that are coming out and I’m really excited to see the ways in which the hobby is growing and evolving. As much fun as it is to look forward to the future of gaming, I recommend checking out some older titles. We can have a better idea of where we’re going when we understand where we’ve been.


  • Sean J.

    Sean is the Founder and Photographer for the DWP. He has been gaming all his life. From Monopoly and Clue at the cottage to Euchre tournaments with the family, tabletop games have taken up a lot of his free time. In his gaming career he has worked for Snakes & Lattes Board Game Cafe, Asmodee, and CMON. He is a contributor to The Dice Tower Podcast and has written for Games Trade Magazine and Meeple Monthly. He lives and works in Toronto.

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5 thoughts on “Cult of the Old: Collecting Vintage Games

  1. Nancy Jacquemain says:

    Hey Sean! Really enjoyed reading your review of vintage board games. Brought back a lot of memories of games around the dining room table. My favourite was always Clue, maybe because I often won!! I agree that many of the old boards were intricate, detailed and colourful – pieces of art one could hang on the wall. Searching for the oldies is like a treasure hunt and once in awhile, you get lucky!

  2. Steven says:

    Are there a lot of vintage board game collectors? I was cleaning out the garage at my mom’s house and found a number of board games from the 60s when I was growing up. Is there someone I could get in touch with that might want them?

  3. Sarah Nichols says:

    Love this site- Stumbled across while trying to figure out a game that was painted on the back of an old family wodden and tin round Tripoli board- It is round and features 12 clocks with world times and the center is Chicago with two #7. and each world time is not correct- for example New York is 1 pm and Tokyo is the next circle #2 only the time is 3:18- It also features dice 1- 6 and then 2-6. We are going nutty trying to figure it out.

    • says:

      Hmmm…doesn’t sound like anything I’ve heard of…if you want to send some pics to us ( that might help. We don’t want you going nutty!

  4. […] conclusion, the fascination with vintage board game covers, particularly those featuring the “sexy secretary” trope, holds […]

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