• Enter the dull world of vintage corporate boardgames

    This game is a bit of Americana, straight from the industrial heartland. Hi-Lo: The Lift Truck Game was created specifically for the Material Handling Division of Allis-Chalmers, a company with Wisconsin roots—and West Allis, the city named after it.

    Published in 1968, the game dates to the period just before the region began its decline into the Rust Belt. (My copy of the game has a notation on the back of the box that states it was from one Len L. Broderick of the plant in Harvey, Illinois. The December 1972 date indicates, perhaps, that it was a lovely Christmas gift, as well as part of a stockpile of games that lasted the company a few years.)

    The game was designed and patented by Alan Charles, president of Games for Industry, Inc. of New York. As the company name implies, this firm created educational, promotional, and training games for organizations and businesses.

    vintage hi-lo allis-chalmers board game box

    Little is really known about Alan Charles and his company, which he formed in 1963. In fact, very few Games for Industry titles are known: Call Kelly, Citibank Worldwide Banking, Fun 'n' Sun Grace Line Cruise Game, and an educational Lawrence Welk "All Star" game for the American Cancer Society called Crusade. Alan Charles himself is likely best known for his TIME trivia game; but he made the most money off creating TV Guide's TV Game for Bob Reiss.

    I am obsessed with finding more information—and more games. Because even if they aren't always fun, I must find that out for myself, as I like to collect vintage games.

    Modern corporate games involve group exercises in trust and team building, and are usually held at camp-like retreats with lots of "high energy." But the games of yesteryear were more focused on the education, performance, and attitudes of individuals, not teams. As such, they were usually played under the supervision of a manager, with all the energy of being called into the principal's office.

    vintage hi-lo fork lift cards

    In Hi-Lo, the emphasis is on educating Allis-Chalmers employees regarding the proper use of forklifts, moving inventory safely, and (of course!) how it all affects the bottom line through inventory shrinkage.

    One sign of its vintage is that while I expected there to be some emphasis on workplace safety—say, penalties for using health insurance—there was not. Nor was there any mention of OSHA. The federal workplace safety regulator wasn't formed until 1971, so I guess that's fair.

    organized hi-lo game

    Per the game's instructions, the object of the game is as to see how much you, a lift truck driver, can save your firm by skillful, and efficient driving.

    Savings accumulate in the following ways: (1) Filling your side of the game board (the Driver's Panel) with cards corresponding to each of the seven categories, trading up cards for the highest dollars. (2) Correctly answering Hi-Lo Questions. (3) Collecting Bonus Cards and Good Driver Tokens. The player with the most dollars saved wins the game.

    Basically, you roll the dice and move about the board collecting cards, tokens, and answering multiple choice or true-false trivia questions about forklifts, their attachments, and loads.

    If this doesn't sound exciting, that's because it isn't. This game is educational.


    Plus, even if you sweat-out the trivia part and collect all the necessary cards and tokens in your Driver Panel, you still may not win. Because it's all about who has the most money at the end, even a player who hasn't filled their Driver's Panel can win. Ah, capitalism!

    Unless you are majorly into industrial manufacturing, forklift trucks or their accessories, this game is dull. And I'm not just saying that because I didn't win. Even those who played with me only enjoyed the game because they beat me at it.

    The game board is bright, as it should be. The artwork and photographs are appropriately industrial-looking. The colorful playing pieces are cool little barrels. (Being from Wisconsin, I'm pretty sure they are beer kegs.) And the game pieces are neatly stored in properly labeled, logo-covered boxes. And yet, fundamentally, this game really only holds joy for the Allis-Chalmers collector.

    Since it was made for the Material Handling Division of the company only, and because there are plenty of Allis-Chalmers collectors out there, this game is pretty darn scarce. Check eBay, check Etsy — and, hey, there's currently a $100 version at Board Game Geek.


  • Kitchen Panic: a retro-game of frantic human gluttony

    Kitchen Panic was made in Japan by Tomy and sold under the Sears name. As such, the game itself is marked Tomy, but the box and instruction sheet only bear the Sears name. There's no date on the game or any of the materials, but it's from the 1970s. (In case you don't believe me or all the orange you see, the Sears logo design also indicates the game was produced between 1969 and 1984.)

    Not to be confused with the later GameBoy, PlayStation, or other video games of the same name, this Kitchen Panic is a brightly colored plastic table top game that looks like a toy but, since it's all about competition, is actually a two-player game.

    If Kommissar was the board game commentary on communism in the 1960s, Kitchen Panic was the tabletop depiction of consumption in the USA in the 1970s. You might think Hungry Hungry Hippos was the ultimate consumption game; but that was hippos, not humans. Kitchen Panic is about people. People playing with, if not actually consuming, food at a "As fast as you can!" pace.


    The food in Kitchen Panic isn't shoved into an orifice but is instead delivered – presumably to a bunch of hungry, hungry humans. Or, maybe more accurately in a world of fast food gluttony, this game is about providing a lot of food for people who aren't even all that hungry.

    Game play is pretty straight-forward. Each player is a rather stereotypical looking chef who has to pick up round entrees, or balls, from the "dressing table" and safely deliver them to the blue pan in the center. This is done by turning a crank to move the chef and his tray around the track. The player who makes all his deliveries first wins the game. (Note: In a complete Kitchen Panic game there are 10 balls, five for each player; my game only has four each.)


    While Hungry Hungry Hippos relies on speedy hand and eye coordination, Kitchen Panic is a more a game of speedy dexterity. This is because the track has some rise-and-fall ridges, presumably to be the difficult steps the chef takes as well as to "toss" the balls into the pan. These ridges in the track make the game play similar to the old egg and spoon race you might play at a picnic or summer camp. Admittedly a less messy, indoor version of the egg and spoon race; but similar in the fact that some caution must be taken lest your speed should come at the expense of what you carry.

    Go too fast, and that ball will roll off the chef's serving tray and bounce to the floor. You are allowed to fetch it and return to the game, but obviously this is a time delay your opponent can capitalize upon – especially if you have pets in the house who find the dropped ball before you do.


    Kitchen Panic is suggested for ages five and up and it truly is a game for little kids. But, like Hungry Hungry Hippos, it doesn't mean adults won't enjoy it. Especially if the grown-ups recall the game from their own childhood. However, I doubt that there are as many who recall Sears' Kitchen Panic as there are those who get nostalgic over Hasbro's Hungry Hungry Hippos. Kitchen Panic was made in much smaller numbers for a much shorter period of time. Less children who had the Kitchen Panic game means less adults who remember it now. Which might just be a good thing as this game is a rare find. Check eBay; check Etsy.

  • Review: Kommissar, the cold war board game

    Kommissar is a vintage board game by Selchow & Righter, produced in 1966. A Cold War era game, Kommissar is based on the economics of USSR — or at least how Americans imagined the economics of communist commerce worked. The goal of the game is to flee the country, but getting to the People's Airport is not enough. You must also have collected enough Rubles (500) in order to get on the plane to "retire in a warmer climate," if not a democratic or capitalistic place.

    So how do you get Rubles in the USSR back in the 1960s? Why by collecting forbidden American or Western items (such as cowboy boots, Bermuda shorts, and nylon stockings) and then selling them for cash at the People's Hock-Shop, of course! You can make a lot of money that way — so long as the Kommissar doesn't catch you, that is.

    siberia kommissar board game

    This is a game for two to four players, however there are five pawns; the black one is for the Kommissar. (More on him in a bit.) In order show how "backward" communism is, movement on the game board is counter-clockwise, as opposed the traditional clockwise. And, when your turn is over, it's the player on your right's turn. When it is your turn, you roll the dice and follow the directions on the game board spaces. This often means drawing cards from one of the two decks. The brown deck is the People's deck, and it contains all the forbidden contraband as well as Party Cards — as in Communist Party Cards, which can be used to protect yourself later. The red deck is the Kommissar deck. This one is full of bad things, such as being sent to Siberia and the People's Jail, but it also contains Party Cards.


    Other spaces on the board include donating and collecting Rubles, paying tax, and riding the Trans Siberia Railroad to Siberia. There are also the Nishegorodskaia Boulevard and Nazdorovie Avenue spaces which offer the player the option of gambling via the forbidden game of People's Roulette. Here you can win draws from the People's Deck. Get too greedy, and you can lose all the cards drawn and one half of your Rubles.

    Some say this game is a lot like Monopoly; I disagree. While there are plenty of ways to get set-back in Monopoly, those are mostly the luck of the draw. In Kommissar, however, you (and your game-playing opponents) have plenty of chances to go on the offensive and "challenge" another player. Game challenges are chances to not only rid your opponent of their forbidden items and send them to Siberia via the Trans-Siberia Railroad (far, far away from the airport), but get some Rubles yourself.

    You may challenge a player one of two ways.

    Selchow & Righter kommissar game

    The first is by sicking the Kommissar on him. This is only possible in a limited area of the game board as the Kommissar covers a very small area. He can move from Red Square (in the center of the board) to the People's Hock-Shop (top left corner), and back. Or he can move from Red Square to the People's Airport (top right corner), and back. That's it. The Kommissar is moved only when a player rolls a six on one of the dice and the player opts to use that six to move the Kommissar. (A player may decide to move his own piece that six spaces, plus whatever number is on the other die, especially if no other player is on the either of the two paths that the Kommissar can take.)

    When the black Kommissar piece occupies the same space as a player, the player is challenged and must produce a Party Card. If he does, the player just continues his game play. But if he does not have a Party Card, the challenged player must turn over one forbidden item and pay that item's value as a fine to the People's Bank. (I was rather disappointed that there was no kick-back for players who helped the Kommissar catch citizens with contraband. Like Monopoly, you may want to make your own House Rules.) After making his payment, the player then has to go to the railroad station to take the train to Siberia.

    The other way to challenge is at the start of your turn. In order to do this, you must have a Party Card. If so, you display your Party Card and announce which player you are challenging. Similar to the challenge with the Kommissar piece, if the player has a Party Card he must produce it. If not, the player must turn in his forbidden item card and, before he goes to the train station for a ride to Siberia, he must pay the player who challenged him the number of Rubles the item was worth. The other difference with this sort of challenge is that if the challenged player does produce a Party Card, the challenger may continue to challenge him so long as the challenger has Party Cards of his own. Man-o-man, you can really whip through Party Cards this way.


    So it's easy to see how this game can be far more vindictive than Monopoly.

    Also unlike Monopoly, there's no houses and hotels to set up, and there's no $200 for passing "Go." However, if at any time a player runs out of money, the communist state directs the People's Bank to dole out another 300 Rubles to that player. Collectively, this means less time is spent on the mathiness of mortgages as well as buying (and/or selling back to the bank) houses and hotels. But you can more than make up for that with some relentless challenges!

    If you love the kitschy graphics of the 1960s, and I do, you'll really appreciate the game. The contraband cards, while not colorful, are full of amazing 60s-style pop culture graphics. Some of my favorites include the "Hero Man" comic book, the bongo drums, and the "Modern Jazz People's Red Band" jazz record.

    Kommissar remains one of my favorite games. I love it as much for its kitschy graphics and time-capsule politics as I do for the fun of playing it.

  • The Who Framed Roger Rabbit? board game reviewed

    Based on the movie of the same name, the Who Framed Roger Rabbit? board game was produced by Milton Bradley in 1987. According to the manufacturer, the game is for two to four players, ages 10 and up.

    At the start of the game, each player is dealt an Identity Card. The four Identity Card options are Roger Rabbit, Jessica Rabbit, Eddie Valiant, and Delores. But don't squeal if you get your favorite character! You must keep your identity a secret. For in this game, like Clue, you have to figure out identities — only instead of who did it, where, and with what, you have to figure out which character each of the other players are. That's step one.

    who framed roger rabbit board game

    Once you've done that, you have to find the Will and then escape back to your home space — while managing to avoid the other players, the weasels, and The Dip. Then you are the winner who has saved Toontown!

    Movement around the board is based on the roll of dice. There are a total of six dice in the game, which can make it pretty intimidating when you open the game box. In reality, however, it's pretty easy to play. You roll both the white and the die for general movement around the board, with the number on the black die being optional. For faster travel, you can take the Trolley (which has its own track and die) — or, if you land on a Benny Space, you can roll the Benny die and move extra spaces. Both the Trolley and Benny die have stop signs on them, and you can roll until you get the sign to stop — an actual stop sign.

    milton bradley roger rabbit game dice

    The remaining two dice are only used when you wish to steal the Will from another player. One is the die for the Dip Cannon, a moving wheel in the center of the game board armed by the dreaded Judge Doom. The Dip Cannon can only be used when players' pawns are located in the ring around the cannon. The Weasel die is used when you send a weasel out to steal the Will. The weasel token starts from the same space on the board as your game pawn, and moves the number of spaces shown on the die. The weasel moves this way until the weasel lands on the space where the opponent with the Will is standing (and you've successfully weaseled the Will away!) or until you roll the "bonked weasel", in which case the weasel is removed from the board and your turn is over.

    The best thing about this game, obviously, is the fact that it is based on the movie, giving you plenty of opportunities to quote from the film and regale (or annoy) other players by saying "P-p-please!" and "Oh, my God! It's DIP!" Therefore, it is highly recommended that any children you play this game with have seen the movie. (Tip: Hours of any rainy day can be filled by watching the film and then playing the game.)

    rodger rabbit game and score pad

    The worst thing about the game, however, is wide variation in how long it takes to play. Despite the three steps required to win the game, the multiple means of stealing the Will, and the plethora of ways to move around the board, the game can be over in a flash. Or it can last quite a bit of time. Frankly, how long the game lasts is really dependent upon your piece's proximity to its home space once you've got the Will and just how close the other players are to you. Since you don't know if the game play will last 15 minutes or an hour, it often makes it difficult to fit a game into your family's busy schedule.

    Overall, fans of the film will love the Who Framed Roger Rabbit? game just because it is connected to the film. Collectors will covet its rarity. But, length of the game aside, game players may find it only about average in terms of its game playing appeal.