We’re told it’s a Golden Age of Board Games right now, but for those of us that grew up in the late 70s and early 80s, that age felt equally golden for the tabletop, although increasingly challenged by consoles and home computers.

The infamous (then and now) Demogorgon from the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual.

Not only were Milton Bradley and Waddingtons churning out titles fit to bust, but a brand new type of game, invented the previous decade, was just getting into its stride: the role-playing game (RPG).

But barring Dungeons & Dragons (DnD) along with Atari consoles and Pac Man, plus the predictable board game staples like Monopoly, Cluedo and Sorry, what tabletop games might some nerdy kids from the 1980s have played?

Fortunately, I was just such a geeky 11/12 year old in 1983/84 when Stranger Things is set, which was handy for research, but sadly also meant the excellent Cosmic Encounter (1977) didn’t make the cut, as amazingly I was blissfully unaware of its existence until the 1986 Games Workshop 2nd edition.

However, like Cosmic Encounter, it’s testament to the quality of many of the games on this list that most of them are still in print. So, in no particular order, let’s get the nostalgia train rolling…

1. Dune (1979)

In 1984 David Lynch created a piece of 80’s high camp in the guise of a movie, taking Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel Dune and transforming it into what one critic would go on to describe as “a rare form of highly expensive gibberish”.

Avalon Hill version. 1979. That’s what I’m talking about, and not a pop star in sight.

The board-game spin off was actually better quality than the movie, but most folk consider the 1979 Avalon Hill game the superior beast. That said, my 12 year old self may well have chosen the ’84 version as despite the film being often unintelligible to me, I rather enjoyed it. It was obviously no Star Wars though.

The 1984 version for filthy peasant casuals. Or perhaps 11/12 year old kids like me.

Still in print? No, but you can get the rethemed 2012 edition of the Avalon Hill game called Rex: Final Days Of An Empire, or fork out over £100 for a 2nd hand original. Or make your own. Your choice.

2. Buccaneer* (1934)

*a.k.a. ‘Trade Winds’ in the US. Late 70’s Buccaneer box art. About the yarrrest pirates on any game box ever.

When I first researched the date of this one’s original manufacture I didn’t have my glasses on and I thought it was 1984. It appears to have been around slightly longer than that.

I confess: I’ve never actually owned or played this, as I guess my 11/12 year old sensibilities saw it in much the same way as I view very dry Euros today. I do however remember those kickass pirates on the box.

It’s been around for a year or two has Buccaneer…

I now feel the need to seek out a vintage 30s version to wallow in the luxury of a 25×25 square map, rather than sample the, frankly, subsistence living of the 20×20 it was cut down to by the 80s.

Still in print? Yes… ish. Hasbro reprinted it as a Pirates of the Caribbean cash-in version, which itself is over 10 years old. You can still get hold of it but your best bet is 2nd hand, where you can choose from over eight decades of vintage stock. Enjoy.

3. Dark Tower (1981)

“Electronic Wizardry”. Like Elastic Trickery, but better.

These days tabletop folk rail angrily at the intrusion of “electronic wizardry” into their games (in the form of companion apps), but as kids back in the 80s we thought it was bloody awesome, and I was insanely jealous of my mate who owned Dark Tower.

Incredibly, many of the Dark Towers themselves have remained functioning to this day.

To be honest I’m struggling to recall much about the game itself, or whether it deserves its swollen 2nd hand price tag, but I do recall it being a blast at the time — but then again it was the early 80s and I was 11.

If you want an electronically-dictated adventure, the same cash is probably better spent on Mansions of Madness or Descent. But if nostalgia is your thing then you won’t find many better.

Still in print? I’m afraid not. It’ll set you back about £200+ on eBay.

4. Axis & Allies (1981)

Sure, the hex-and-chit beardies can (and probably will) point to numerous WW2 war games that were contemporary or precede Axis & Allies, but none of those became almost a household name.

It seems crazy (and ageing) to think that back in the early 80s WW2 had only been over 40 years, which probably explains why kids like me were still enthusiastically enjoying games of “war” involving roughly-gun-shaped sticks, pine cones for grenades and not-strictly-politically-correct accents.

Many an 80s kid got their first taste of global WW2 sabre rattling/stabbing from Axis & Allies, which set a few on the rocky path to the arcane, almost indecipherable Advanced Squad Leader.

Still in print? Yes, in many different flavours. Most consider the 2nd edition 1942 version your best bet these days.

5. Battlecars/Battlebikes (1983/84)

Many moons ago, Games Workshop (GW) produced more than just a couple of miniatures war games. Living up to their name, they were churning out lots of popular board game titles, like Battlecars (and a Battlebikes expansion a year later).

At first glance this might seem like a dullard’s version of Steve Jackson’s acclaimed Car Wars, and in many ways it is. There’s no creative car design process, or pouring over charts and tables to achieve the ultimate vehicular boom stick. You just choose which weapons to shoehorn into your weapon pods/turrets and off you go.

Which of course makes it bloody brilliant.

Still in print? Sadly not, but available on eBay for pretty reasonable sums.

6. Judge Dredd (1981)

If our dads in the UK had grown up on a diet of Dan Dare, Dandy and Beano, then 2000AD was definitely the pick of the menu for my generation.

The hard-as-nails lawman Judge Dredd presided over a publication so packed with awesome characters that it’s surprising we haven’t seen more games featuring such ne’er-do-wells as the ABC Warriors and Strontium Dogs.

However, GW once again managed to leave us another non-Warhammer legacy in Judge Dredd: The Board Game, and later in the decade several other 2000AD titles like Rogue Trooper and Block/Mega Mania.

If you can get your mitts on it, the game oozes theme and can provide a light-yet-filling distraction from your modern board gaming shininess.

Still in print? Literally a crime, punk… but no it isn’t. Available on eBay for about £40.

7. Call of Cthulhu (1981)

Left to right: 1981-1985, 1986–1988, 1989–1991, 1992–1998

We might be barring DnD from the equation but it wasn’t the only RPG around in the early 80s, in fact it swam in a populous sea. Whilst I could have chosen my favourite, Star Frontiers (available now for FREE!), its more “serious” sci-fi cousin Traveller, Gangbusters, Boot Hill, Gamma World or the DnD clone Tunnels and Trolls, I feel Call of Cthulhu created the longest-lasting legacy.

If you’re weary of the overabundance of Lovecraftian titles out there, then this is where it started, and creator Sandy Petersen is the man to blame. He pretty much invented the concept of investigators running from cosmic horrors whilst going batshit-insane and/or dying imaginatively.

Fans can be a little… obsessive in their collecting of the various editions/printings. As you can see, GW even got in on the action again.

In an RPG market dominated by player characters with almost superhuman abilities, Call of Cthulhu gave the only superhuman abilities to mindbending horrors the players faced.

Yes, a little bit like the Upside Down in Stranger Things, but much, much, much worse. Perfectly appropriate stuff for an 12 year old then.

Still in print? Yes! 7th edition available in a slipcase direct from Chaosium.

8. Car Wars (1981)

Car Wars (1981), along with expansions Sunday Drivers (1982) and Truck Stop (1983)

Come on, you didn’t think I was going to include Battlecars and not this, did you? Widely considered the premier auto-duelling game from publishing giant Steve Jackson Games (not to be confused with the Steve Jackson of Fighting Fantasy game book fame, which were also a geek staple of the early eighties).

Car Wars and its expansions were budget-priced for cash-strapped 80s youngsters and packaged in small snap-shut “Pocket Box” plastic cases* which kept everything from getting squashed during our gloriously health-and-safety-free lifestyle.

*Also seen containing other Steve Jackson Games favourites of the period, like Ogre (1977) and Illuminati(1982), only ommitted from this list due to space constraints! Both are still in print.)

Whilst there were miniatures produced, most folk stick to the counters that come with the game. (Image: GeekDad)

This was almost the car equivalent of DnD — half the fun was spending hours creating your perfect car before taking it out on an automotive adventure. Well, adventure might too much for what’s essentially a slug-fest, but if you really wanted to there were campaigns to be had with the drivers themselves taking centre-stage.

Still in print? Yes, although if you want the deluxe boxed set or the petrol-heads expansion Dueltrack, it’s back to the 80s and off to eBay with you! You can still get pretty much the entire catalogue as PDFs direct from Steve Jackson games.

9. Survive! Escape From Atlantis (1982)

The 1980s box art depicts a genuinely terrifying scenario depicted in a 1970s children’s storybook art style. Hilariously, appallingly awesome.

This game has been entertaining us for over 30 years now and deserves a place on every family’s shelves, because nothing brings loved ones together like trying to escape a sinking island through shark-infested waters, laden down with booty, and fighting over a limited amount of boats.

Okay, so it’s not a game to play with relatives prone to flipping boards of Monopoly or Risk, but there’s a reason this game has been around so long: even by today’s standards it’s really rather good.

The 1990s almost killed the game with plastic tackiness, and what’s with the dudes striding purposefully about whilst the ladies just scream, clutch their heads and crumple ineffectually to their knees? Classy.

It’s a more refined-looking meeple game these days as it was in the 80s, but feel free to seek out an 90s version if tasteless plastic is your thing and you fancy it looking like it was crossed with Mouse Trap.

Still in print? Yes. There’s even a sci-fi version called Survive! Space Attack!

10. Talisman (1983)

For many of us, this game set us down a path leading to absurdly game-packed Ikea Kallax shelves. Thanks Talisman!

To be honest the 2nd edition (colour cards! Woot!) that resides on my current shelves is probably only there for nostalgia, as its hours-of-roll-and-move doesn’t really flick my switches any more, and if I want to play a swords-and-sorcery adventure game, there’s a wealth of better titles to choose from.

You’d have to wait until 1985 for the luxury of colour cards in this second edition.

That said, Talisman will always occupy a place of affection in my heart, and thus a place on my shelves… just without the ludicrous baggage of expansions that go with it.

Still in print? Still available, despite the GW split from long-time collaborators Fantasy Flight Games. Talisman looked doomed for a while after almost three and a half decades in print, but GW would be insane to let this old dog die.

11. Warhammer (1983)

There’s a few GW offerings in this list, but Warhammer was the one that put the company on the map (albeit as a Citadel offering until the companies merged in the early 80s). Initially labelled a “mass battle roleplaying game” it quickly sheared off the RPG bit to become the war game we know and love today.

Young uns now don’t know how good they have it with their starter sets and army boxes. Back in the day there were no slotta bases and due to cost a kid would be lucky to field more than a couple of units of rather poisonous lead-and-antimony minis.

Warhammer quickly built an enthusiastic community and filled a GW/Citadel studio with genius sculptors and rulesmongers who all seemed like hairy, beer-swilling/smelling, mullet-wearing older brother figures.

…also by 1983 Managing Director and later sole owner of Games Worskhop and Citadel Miniatures

Of course that couldn’t last forever, and GW went on to become the thoroughly less personable global monster that it is today. But if it hadn’t, perhaps Warhammer and it’s sci-fi sibling 40K might not have survived and that would be a damn shame.

Still in print? Are you kidding? Of course! The Warhammer world also spawned a popular RPG and examples of every conceivable board and card game imaginable.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip down memory lane with me, or for the younger generation a fascinating look at a world verging on the medieval.

Lastly, just to round things off in the spirit of the 1980s… this!

Missed out any of your favourites? Give your 80s pick a shout out in the comments!

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons