by Bruce Whitehill
This is a piece about games that have been based on books and fairy tales and the like. I guess I could also title this, “Collect games–buy the book.” If you do have a collection of games based on books, adding the actual books to the display can make for an interesting exhibit. And, of course, a little reading couldn’t hurt, either.
Book & Game in One
Another book, Speculation, the Wall Street Game-Book also was an economics book published in 1929 (by Augustus Poole and Walter J. Buckitt, published by Farrar & Rinehart).
Many games are based on characters from a book series. Games have featured the Hardy Boys (by Franklin W. Dixon), Nancy Drew (by Carolyn Keene), and Cherry Ames (by Helen Wells), to name a few. Dixon and Keene, by the way, were pseudonyms of Edward Stratemeyer, an author (and eventually a syndicate) who penned The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series as well as Tom Swift, The Bobsey Twins, and others. THE HARDY BOYS TREASURE GAME, by Parker Brothers, came out in 1957 in two versions: one with the Walt Disney name in the title, the other without. And THE HARDY BOYS SECRET OF THUNDER MOUNTAIN game, issued 21 years later, featured the TV Hardys, Parker Stevenson and Shaun Cassidy. THE NANCY DREW MYSTERY GAME was another 1957 entry from Parker Brothers, followed up some time later with the exact same game sporting a new box cover. CHERRY AMES’ NURSING GAME, Parker’s 1959 continuation of its teen mysteries, was based on the series about a student nurse.
Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne’s series that began in 1926, was transformed into a board game in 1931 by Kerk Guild. The vinyl-coated cloth board came with four metal bears. The cover was a pen and ink drawing of Pooh’s territory, with colored renditions along the lower perimeter of Pooh, Piglet, and others, along with Christopher Robin (Milne’s son); the spelling, however, is a curious “Christophen,” and the pet tiger is spelled “Triggr,” undoubtedly errors missed by a hurried staff. Parker Brothers produced a WINNIE THE POOH game two years later, with a standard cardboard board; young players could move by color, without having to read. The Kerk Guild game had a visually more interesting box, along with metal figural pieces.
Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz series became famous after the classic film. But the first board game, THE WONDERFUL GAME OF OZ, came out in 1921, long before the movie. The edition with the wood playing pieces is getting harder to find, while the much sought after one with the four pewter pieces is becoming rare, and quite valuable—worth well over $1000. There are at least six or more later WIZARD OF OZ games, from a 1939 Whitman game, through a 1974 Cadaco game.
You Can’t Judge a Book By Its Game Cover
It’s a challenge to find games based on specific book titles, not on characters from different series. The most prevalent are those games based on children’s classics. Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, for example, has been transformed into a game by many companies, long after the book’s 1882 release. TREASURE ISLAND, by Gem Publishing, was produced in 1922/23; Stoll & Einson’s 1934 version was nearly an exact replication of Stoll & Edwards’ 1923 game. Milton Bradley’s TREASURE ISLAND, from the 1930s or ‘40s, has the typical cover that shows pirates coming upon an unburied treasure chest. There is a treasure map in the background, and the center of the gameboard is a stylized map of a coastal area and islands, with pirate scenes at each of six locations, and a treasure chest in the middle. Harett-Gilmar, a company noted for its 3-dimensional, pop-up games, did TREASURE ISLAND in the 1950s. I don’t think any of the games gave recognition to author Stevenson.
BLACK BEAUTY, a 1921 game from Stoll & Edwards, is more generous with its credits. In fact, the game comes with a hardcover Black Beauty story book containing many illustrations. This PARCHEESI-style path game, on a one-piece (non folding) board, is based on Anne Sewell’s only book, which was published in 1877.
An even earlier work, Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, published in 1820, became the foundation for George S. Parker’s small card game IVANHOE, in 1886. One of Parker’s favorite games, it was still being sold after the Geo. S. Parker Co. became Parker Bros. in 1888.
Another nineteenth century book, The Little Colonel became a McLoughlin game by the same name around the turn of the century. The 72 cards were beautifully and colorfully illustrated. A later game, published by Selchow & Righter, came out around 1935, before the 1939 Shirley Temple film that made the name a classic. THE LITTLE COLONEL game had eight, colorful, diecut standups, up to 5 1/4 inches tall, including the houses from the book on which the game was based.
Travel and Adventure
Games about travel and geography have been as popular over the years as books on adventure and exotic locales. Kenneth Roberts’ Northwest Passage, a 1937 book, became a game in the 1950s, manufactured by Impact Communications. NORTHWEST PASSAGE is noteworthy also as an advertising piece—it features the adventures of the S.S. Manhattan, an Esso oil freighter.
Travel writer Hendrik Van Loon has produced some wonderful books on geography, earth, and life. His 1921 The Story of Mankind and the 1932 Van Loon’s Geography, are packed with information about the world, and filled with Van Loon’s wonderful illustrations (with hand lettering). Two Parker Brothers games, the scarce THE STORY OF MANKIND, and the oversize and popular HENDRIK VAN LOON’S WIDE WORLD GAME (1933) mimic the illustrations and sentiment of the books; the later game provides diecast metal planes & ships. If you’re looking for the geography book, make sure you get one with a dust jacket–it doubles in size when opened and turns into a beautiful map of the world, showing populations and capitals.
The Lighter Side
Other artists and authors have translated their literary talents onto gameboards and cards. John McCutcheon, a noted illustrator around the turn of the century, put his bird cartoons in a book in 1904, creating Bird Center Cartoons. The Home Game Company published BIRD CENTER ETIQUETTE that same year, which contained 48 cartoon cards.
The work behind the lesser-known name of Theodore Geisel is easily recognizable, without even looking at the pseudonym signature, “Dr. Seuss.” His Yertl the Turtle and Other Stories, published in 1958 after a series of other successful books, was turned into a game by Revell in 1960. Revell was known primarily for its models, and they produced few games. THE GAME OF YERTL THE TURTLE is marvelous, as it is a plastic balancing game using a brood of Dr. Seuss turtles.
The heavier side of this “lighter side” section is ELMER WHEELER’S FAT BOY game, a 1951 entry from Parker Brothers. This might be the only board game based on a diet book! The Fat Boy’s Book—How Elmer Lost 40 Pounds in 80 Days was published in 1950. The pawns in the game are twice as wide as normal.
THE EGG AND I seems to be a strange name for a game, until you realize it’s based on the title of a book by Betty Macdonald, published in 1946. The book was turned into a cute movie in 1947 staring Fred McMurray and Claudette Colbert. Colorful Creations produced the game in the same year. Wooden houses, an egg spinner, and a one-piece bird helps set this game apart from others.
Another movie turned into a game but actually based on a book was “Dune.” The book was by Frank Herbert, and the game by Avalon Hill game Company. The 1984 film flopped, but players have praised the 1979 game.
Fairy tales and fables have always been a good source of games; among them are the morality stories aimed at children.
One of the games that is known as much for its wonderful implements as well as its historic source is THE LION AND THE MOUSE, a 1946 game (Game Creations, New York). It is based on the Aesop fable of the same name. With the idea that little creatures may do great deeds, the story is based on a mouse captured by a lion after awakening; the lion lets him go, amused that the small mouse has promised to repay the favor in the future. That time comes when the mouse is able to help the lion by gnawing through ropes hunters have used to tie him up.
A Sense of Mystery
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, and Sax Rohmer are four of the top writers in mystery detective fiction. What a wonderful move it was when Ideal Toy Corp., in 1967 and ‘68, produced a series of four games, one from each of these top notch writers. Each cover uses scenes and characters from the respective book in a college.
MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS has a gameboard with a floor layout of a train car, with a large dial affixed, designating the train’s trip from Paris to Istanbul. The printed buildup has line drawings of Holmes and Watson, but the game was incorrectly attributed to Conan Doyle when the title was really an Agatha Christie mystery!
Ellery Queen’s THE CASE OF THE ELUSIVE ASSASSIN has figural pieces—detectives in different poses and colors. There are 72 cards along with a board—a 6” x 6’ grid with a lake, mountain, factory, and forest icons, and a maze of lines interconnecting them.
FU MANCHU’S HIDDEN HOARD, based on Sax Rohmer’s book, features a cover showing an Asian with an axe choking a Caucasian in front of a statue of Buddha, with a woman tied to a buzz saw, and Fu Manchu holding a pile of gold coins. This game was designed by noted inventor Sid Sackson, and became the basis for his later card game, SLEUTH.
AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (from the Christie book title also known as “Ten Little Indians”) was the last in the series, and the only one dated 1968. The cover shows an assailant shooting point blank at a well-dressed man, with statues of Indians on a table—one of them tipped over. The board is a painting of the plan of a house and grounds with furnishings–and nine dead persons scattered throughout; the cards have paintings of the nine suspects; the game comes with four figural pieces.
There are so many more games out there based on books, but let me stop here. I think I’ll just make myself comfy on the couch and curl up with a good game.