Larger Households, Wealthier & Younger Americans Play Tabletop Games More Frequently

Only 13% of Americans play card or board games at least once a week, while 43% play such games once a month or more often. Americans go to the movies slightly less often: only 7% go at least once a week, and 39% go once a month or more often.

This is according to a Researchscape online survey of 2,000 U.S. adults aged 18 to 80 years old, quota sampled to reflect the U.S. population by age, gender, region, Hispanicity, and education. The survey was fielded from June 22 to June 24, 2018.

How often do you go to the movies? How often do you play card games or board games? (Not counting apps and video games.)

Frequency of play is driven by formal education and income, by age, household size, and Hispanicity.

The more formal education someone has, the more likely they are to play card and board games, and the more likely they are to play games more often: 72% of those without a high school degree play card and board games and 80% of those with only a high school degree (and no vocational or college attendance) do, compared to 90% of those with a master’s degree. When it comes to frequency, 23% of those without a high-school education play once a week, compared to 46% of those with master’s degrees.

26% of those in households making under $50,000 per year play board games at least a few times a month, compared to 35% of those making between $50,000 and $100,000, 40% of those making between $100,000 and $150,000, and 46% of those making $150,000 or up.

Those in large households play games more often:

  • 54% of those with five or more in their household play games at least a few times a month, compared to 46% of those with four people, 31% with three people, 24% with two or more, and 22% in households of one person.
  • The effect is even more pronounced for households with children: 57% of households with two or more children play games at least a few times a month, vs. 39% with one child, and 22% with no children.
  • 36% of those who are married or living with a partner play games at least a few times a month, compared to 30% of those who are single and 21% of those who are divorced.

44% of Millennials play board or card games at least a few times a month, compared to 34% of Gen Xers, 20% of Baby Boomers, and 17% of the Silent Generation.

41% of Hispanic households play games at least a few times a month, compared to 30% of white households.

Of those who play games once a week or more, the most common answer is 2 hours a week, the median amount of time spent is 5 hours a week, and the average is 7 hours a week. If you play board or card games 10 or more hours a week, you play games more frequently than 99% of Americans.

Hours Response % Cumulative % Inverse % Weekly Response % Weekly Cumulative %
0 87% 87% 13%
1 1% 88% 12% 6% 6%
2 2% 90% 10% 17% 24%
3 2% 92% 8% 13% 36%
4 1% 93% 7% 10% 46%
5 2% 95% 5% 15% 61%
6 – 9 1% 96% 4% 11% 73%
10 – 19 2% 99% 1% 18% 90%
20 – 29 1% 100% 0% 8% 99%
30 – 39 0% 100% 0% 1% 100%

Have a market research question about tabletop games? Please post it below, and I will try and answer it.

The Cult of the Old: Board Game Purchases

Researchscape International conducted an online survey of 2,000 U.S. adults aged 18 to 80 years old, quota sampled to reflect the U.S. population by age, gender, region, Hispanicity, and education. The survey was fielded from June 22 to June 24, 2018.

About one in five U.S. consumers had purchased a video game in the past month, compared to one in ten who had purchased a board game and a similar amount who had purchased a card game.

 Which, if any, of the following have you personally bought in the past 30 days?

The most popular game purchased was Monopoly, bought by 90 out of 2,000 consumers. (Just as it is the last game played for a majority of Americans.) As I wrote for Researchscape:

In 1935, the film Mutiny on the Bounty, starring Clark Gable and Charles Laughton, won the U.S. box office movie of the year, and Parker Brothers introduced Monopoly. In some alternate universe, where people embrace movies the way they embrace board games in our universe, Mutiny on the Bounty still dominates the box office but people play a wide variety of board games.

In our universe, however, Monopoly dominates.

Cards Against Humanity is the only game created in the 21st century to make the top 20 games purchased, bought by 11 of 2,000 consumers. (Respondents could list multiple games that they had purchased in the prior month.)

Rank Game Mentions
#1 Monopoly 90
#2 Uno 55
#3 Sorry 23
#4 Clue 19
#5 Candy Land 15
#5 Life 15
#7 Playing cards 13
#7 Scrabble 13
#9 Chess 12
#10 Cards Against Humanity 11
#11 Risk 10
#12 Phase 10 9
#13 Poker set 8
#13 Trouble 8
#15 Connect 4 7
#15 Skip-Bo 7
#17 Catan 6
#17 Battleship 6
#17 Dominoes 6
#20 Chutes and Ladders 5
#20 Yahtzee 5

Seven out of ten consumers who had purchased a game in the prior month had purchased it for themselves, while three out of ten bought it as a gift for someone else.

Was [prior response] a purchase for yourself or as a gift?

While half of consumers have no preference for playing an old or a new game, more than three times as many consumers would rather play a game they had played before than a new one (39% to 12%).

 Which board game would you prefer to play, one that you had played before or one new to you?

Those who had purchased a board game or card game in the past 30 days were twice as likely to be interested in playing a game new to them (25% and 27%, respectively) but still preferred to play a game they had played before (32% and 28%, respectively).

While board game enthusiasts often talk about the “cult of the new”, the majority of Americans who purchase games prefer the cult of the old.

Only a Quarter of BGG Users Track Most or All Their Collection

Researchscape conducted an online omnibus survey of 2,339 U.S. respondents, and I snuck in some questions about board games. (The survey was fielded from May 26 to May 28, 2018.)

BoardGameGeek.com allows users to log every tabletop game they own. I’ve always wondered: How comprehensive are these collections?

Not very! Only 9% of BGG users have cataloged all of their games, and only 16% have cataloged most of their games.

None 11%, Some 38%, Half 25%, Most 16%, All 9%

Only 13% of those making under $50,000 had logged most or all of their game collection, compared to 32% of BGG users with higher incomes.

Some other findings:

  • More people have heard of Kickstarter (42%) than crowdfunding in general (35%).
    • Parents with kids at home were less familiar with either, yet paradoxically parents were more likely to have actually backed a tabletop game on Kickstarter than non-parents.
    • A greater proportion of Millennials have supported a game on Kickstarter than any other generation.
    • Respondents in households with annual incomes above $100,000 were more likely to be aware of Kickstarter and crowdfunding and were more likely to have backed a tabletop game on Kickstarter.
    • Both Trump and Clinton supporters had similar levels of supporting a Kickstarter tabletop campaign, while those who didn’t vote in 2016 were half as likely to have supported such a campaign.
  • Not surprisingly, users with BoardGameGeek.com accounts showed similar demographics patterns to those of Kickstarter backers.
    • As with Kickstarter, Millennials were also the most likely to have a BoardGameGeek.com account.
    • The higher the income, the more likely the respondent was to have a BoardGameGeek.com account.

Have research questions about tabletop gaming? Post them below.

Also see my post: The Installed Base of Board Games vs. BGG Ownership.

The Rampage Movie was Inevitable

My 11-year old niece and nephew were in town (twins) and really wanted to see Rampage. While I have no idea why they made a movie about this classic videogame, ironically, the 1986 flyer promoting the game to arcades literally imagined it as a movie:

Rampage arcade flyer

Joshua Rivera has a great history of the making of the video game:

“We had come back from a trade show, and I was like ‘Hey, why can’t I do big stuff?’ Because with my pen-and-ink style, if you’ve seen the Rampage cabinet art, there’s a lot of comedy in there, and I wanted to make bigger characters so I could get that comedy across,” says Colin. “So I thought, hey, I’ll just do big background characters, and they told me no … There were so many things we couldn’t do.”

As an animator, Colin wanted to animate — but the limits of arcade hardware meant there was only so much that could be animated, particularly when it came to everything that wasn’t the player characters. Jeff Nauman summed up the limitations of animating backgrounds succinctly: “It’s gotta be a rectangle.”

Colin then turned to Sharon Perry, another artist on the Bally/Midway team, and said, “Okay, so buildings falling down.”

Now buildings falling down was great fun in the video game, and in Pacific Rim they made sure all the cities were evacuated so that the viewer wouldn’t feel guilty about buildings falling down, but the body count is higher and less comic in the Rampage movie than in the video game. The best thing about the movie for me was simply ending up playing the video game again.

You can play Rampage online here.

The Installed Base of Board Games vs. BGG Ownership

I’ve always been curious about what subset of board game owners log their ownership on BGG (BoardGameGeek). Jamey Stegmaier just shared the installed base of five core products. I cross-referenced that against BGG ownership stats.

Game Installed Base BGG Ownership Ratio
Between Two Cities 36,900 8,264 4.5
Charterstone 56,500 8,606 6.6
Euphoria 31,000 8,787 3.5
Scythe 147,678 34,777 4.2
Viticulture 54,780 7,007 7.8
Average 65,372 13,488 5.3

So sales outnumber logged ownership anywhere from a factor of 3.5 to 7.8, depending on title. This range will widen even further when you factor in games with four-digit sales and mainstream games (beyond the hobbyist games most frequently documented on BGG).

You can add data that you’ve seen to this Google Sheet. (Note: The number of Kickstarter backers, while public information, isn’t the same as installed base, and will vary even more dramatically, as different publishers might have very different print runs for the same number of backers.)

Update: James Mathe, in comments in Tabletop Game Publisher’s Guild, adds the following:

A slight problem with your analysis is that Jamey’s numbers are how many he made and/or sold into distribution. At any given time thousands can be sitting in distribution and warehouses and store shelves. So they are not #’s to customers sold by any means.

When I take an estimate of # of copies in the channel for my games and compare to the people marking them as “owned” on BGG – I get a 30-55% range on the 4 most popular games of ours.

Your number above would result in much lower %’s but as I said we don’t know how much is just sitting in channel versus bought. That variance for me is anywhere from 10-35% depending on my current inventory levels.

I guess the point here is that one can assume that even for indie companies who do most of their marketing online and BGG – they still can only expect about 20-40% of their sales to be marked there. Which implies pretty good saturation there as BGG probably reflects less than 10% of overall buyers (not to mention many BGG people don’t actually track stuff with the database).

Civscape Now Available from The Game Crafter

My card game, Civscape, is now available from The Game Crafter!

At this point, I’ve played the game over 250 times (3 times today!) and still look forward to the next match. My friends were hoping that I would run a Kickstarter for the game to get the game more widely known but I decided the on-demand capabilities of The Game Crafter were a better fit. Here’s why I didn’t do a Kickstarter:

  • If I were lucky, I’d sell about 400 copies at a $2 profit ($800). After investing maybe a hundred hours in managing a Kickstarter.
  • I don’t have a following in the game design space that I can leverage for Kickstarter. Crowdfunding is a great way to monetize a following – but it can be a hard way to build a following.
  • The game is an oxymoron. By design. I love the civilization theme and was eager for a take-that game with a strong narrative, such as the shifting fortunes of a Mediterranean city state.  But all the reviewers I sent review copies to were taken aback: with the civilization theme, they expected something strategic.

I heard the latter point from many people, but George Jaros put it best:

As a civilization-building game, though, I felt like Civscape really missed the mark. There is too much take-that to really feel like you are ever building anything. I think the game would work much better as an abstracted take-that card game, maybe with a silly theme. It’d need the card text to be much simpler though. To keep the civilization theme (which I love, just not with these mechanics), the game will need to tone down the amount of card cycling that goes on. Player interaction would still be great, just not in such a hostile way. Civilization building should be about planning, technological synergy, outpowering your opponents, and interactions through trade and combat. Instead, Civscape is all about getting lucky with cards that screw your neighbor while you hope to be the first to draw a winning combination.

Independent card games are a niche market, and the reviewers taught me that Civscape was an even narrow niche.

I play the gamut of games, from tactical to strategic, from 5-minute games to 5-hour games. The inspiration for Civscape came February 23, 2012, when one of my best friends and I played cards with three teenagers. It was the first time we played Star Fluxx, and we ended up playing it seven times that night. In a classic moment, which game reviewers would hate, we dealt my son (who had arrived late) into the middle of a game, and he won on his first turn!

As enjoyable as the evening was, with our filler game never giving way to the real game of the night, my frustrations with Fluxx inspired Civscape:

  • I’d rather have players draw cards at the end of their turn than the beginning, to give them time to read them and plan for their next turn.
  • I wanted a sense of progression. In Civscape, the more cards in front of you, the more you can play and the more you can draw. Instead of rule cards like Draw 5 and Play 2, these powers scale with your city-state. Fluxx Rule cards just fluctuate randomly, and some just make the game drag on (Keeper limits and Hand limits, which end up hurting even the current player once their turn ends).
  • The Goal cards (how you win in Fluxx) are useless in and of themselves and most don’t apply to your current situation. In Civscape, you can always discard a Statue, Wonder, or second-generation Technology (play one and meet its criteria to win) to draw 2 new cards instead. And while the Wonders and Techs are like Fluxx’s Goals, typically requiring a pair of cards to win (Keepers in Fluxx, Buildings or Technologies in Civscape), Civscape has Statues, which let you get 4 of a type of card or other kinds of sets to win (e.g., Hannibal wins with 4 Trade cards, Pericles needs one of each type).
  • I didn’t want the game to outstay its welcome: I recall games of Pirate Fluxx and Oz Fluxx that took so long that people helped others to win, just to end it. Typically multiple people will be able to win in rapid progression, thanks to the Statues.
  • Some of the really negative take-that cards (Burn the Library, Sack the City) get memorialized in your city’s Timeline, part of its history (while increasing the number of Buildings you can maintain by one).

To be clear, I love Star Fluxx, and have now played it nearly 50 times. It’s probably my favorite version of Fluxx. Even its shortcomings were inspirational.

Some testimonials for Civscape:

  • “I personally like the fact there are many victory conditions and paths to follow, much like real civilizations. The fact this is done in a card game that can be played quickly is amazing. An added benefit for me is the historical accuracy of the scenarios and cards—which put you in the time period. Even though the game is quick it had deep enough variations and options for multiple replay options.” – Dave Lyons, playtester
  • “I really like the ebb and flow of my civilization. It grows as I expand, then contracts as I deal with calamities, military setbacks, and coups. Yet even my now suddenly smaller civilization can win, if I play my cards right. Diogenes, FTW!” – Jeff Mine, playtester
  • “So many games are won by narrow victories! It’s pretty common for the next player to show how they could have won on their next turn. Which means you want to play again!” – Brad Patton, playtester

If a take-that civilization game resonates with you, the print-and-play version is still free. Or buy the new Game Crafter edition!

Duel of the Prestidigitators

For the 2018 Global Game Jam, I designed a print-and-play 27-card microgame:

You are dueling prestidigitators, juggling magical orbs to attack one another. The first to destroy their opponent’s Phylactery wins.

You can download the PDF here. I welcome your feedback and questions.

Our brainstorming group somehow took the theme of “transmission” and went from sonar (shown in the theme video) to the Battle of the Atlantic (U-boat warfare) to Napoleonic warfare to millipedes with combat boots to juggling wizards. (The theme tie-in involves the transmission of energy from orbs to one another for attacks.)

Thanks to everyone from the Sarasota Game Developers group who volunteered for the game jam!

Printouts as Games

As we discussed last time, while BASIC Computer Games became a bestseller because of microcomputers, the games themselves dated back to timesharing systems using teletypewriters. As a result, a few of this first generation of BASIC games produced printed output as the primary purpose or as the game itself.

The most game-like of these was Amazing, which would generate a new, random maze that you could solve on the printout.

AMAZING PROGRAM

CREATIVE COMPUTING  MORRISTOWN, NEW JERSEY

WHAT ARE YOUR WIDTH AND LENGTH? 10
??? 10

.--.--.--.  .--.--.--.--.--.--.
I        I              I     I
:--:--:  :--:--:  :  :  :  :  .
I        I        I  I     I  I
:  :--:--:  :  :--:  :--:--:  .
I  I        I     I  I     I  I
:  :  :--:--:--:--:  :  :  :  .
I  I     I        I  I  I     I
:  :  :--:  :  :  :  :--:  :--.
I  I  I     I  I  I     I     I
:  :  :  :--:  :  :--:  :--:  .
I     I  I     I        I  I  I
:--:--:  :--:--:--:--:  :  :  .
I              I     I  I     I
:  :--:--:  :  :  :  :--:--:--.
I        I  I     I           I
:  :--:  :--:--:--:--:--:--:  .
I     I  I        I        I  I
:--:  :  :  :--:  :  :--:  :  .
I     I  I     I        I     I
:--:--:  :--:--:--:--:--:--:--.

The Banner program would print a headline:

HORIZONTAL? 1
VERTICAL? 1
CENTERED? N
CHARACTER (TYPE 'ALL' IF YOU WANT CHARACTER BEING PRINTED)? ALL
STATEMENT?? BASIC
SET PAGE? 1

BBBBBBBBB
B   B   B
B   B   B
B   B   B
B   B   B
B   B   B
BBB BBB

 

AAAAAA
A  A
A   A
A    A
A   A
A  A
AAAAAA


 
S   S
S   S S
S   S   S
S   S   S
S   S   S
S S   S
S   S

 

I       I
I       I
I       I
IIIIIIIII
I       I
I       I
I       I
 
 

CCCCC
C     C
C       C
C       C
C       C
C     C
C   C

And, finally, Calendar would produce a calendar; hardcoded for 1979.

CALENDAR
CREATIVE COMPUTING  MORRISTOWN, NEW JERSEY
 
** 0  ****************** JANUARY ****************** 365 **
 
S       M       T       W       T       F       S
 
***********************************************************
 

2       3       4       5       6       7       8
 

9       10      11      12      13      14      15
 

16      17      18      19      20      21      22

 
23      24      25      26      27      28      29
 

30      31


** 31 ****************** FEBRUARY****************** 334 **

S       M       T       W       T       F       S

***********************************************************


1       2       3       4       5
 

6       7       8       9       10      11      12


13      14      15      16      17      18      19
 

20      21      22      23      24      25      26
 

27      28

 

** 59 ******************  MARCH  ****************** 306 **

S       M       T       W       T       F       S

***********************************************************
 

1       2       3       4       5
 

6       7       8       9       10      11      12
 

13     14      15      16      17      18      19
 

20     21      22      23      24      25      26
 

27     28      29      30      31
 

** 90 ******************  APRIL  ****************** 275 **

S       M       T       W       T       F       S

***********************************************************


1       2
 

3       4       5       6       7       8       9
 

10      11      12      13      14      15      16


17      18      19      20      21      22      23
 

24      25      26      27      28      29      30

 
** 120 ******************   MAY   ****************** 245 **

S       M       T       W       T       F       S

***********************************************************
 

1       2       3       4       5       6       7


8       9       10      11      12      13      14
 

15      16      17      18      19      20      21
 

22      23      24      25      26      27      28
 

29      30      31


** 151 ******************   JUNE  ****************** 214 **

S       M       T       W       T       F       S

***********************************************************
 

1       2       3       4
 

5       6       7       8       9       10      11
 

12      13      14      15      16      17      18
 

19      20      21      22      23      24      25
 

26      27      28      29      30


** 181 ******************   JULY  ****************** 184 **

S       M       T       W       T       F       S

***********************************************************


1       2


3       4       5       6       7       8       9
 

10      11      12      13      14      15      16
 

17      18      19      20      21      22      23
 

24      25      26      27      28      29      30
 

31


** 212 ******************  AUGUST ****************** 153 **

S       M       T       W       T       F       S

***********************************************************


1       2       3       4       5       6


7       8       9       10      11      12      13
 

14      15      16      17      18      19      20
 

21      22      23      24      25      26      27
 

28      29      30      31
 

** 243 ******************SEPTEMBER****************** 122 **

S       M       T       W       T       F       S

***********************************************************
 

1       2       3
 

4       5       6       7       8       9       10
 

11      12      13      14      15      16      17
 
18      19      20      21      22      23      24
 

25      26      27      28      29      30
 

** 273 ****************** OCTOBER ****************** 92 **

S       M       T       W       T       F       S

***********************************************************
 

1
 

2       3       4       5       6       7       8
 

9       10      11      12      13      14      15
 

16      17      18      19      20      21      22
 

23      24      25      26      27      28      29
 

30      31
 

** 304 ****************** NOVEMBER****************** 61 **

S       M       T       W       T       F       S

***********************************************************


1       2       3       4       5

 
6       7       8       9       10      11      12


13      14      15      16      17      18      19
 

20      21      22      23      24      25      26
 

27      28      29      30


** 334 ****************** DECEMBER****************** 31 **

S       M       T       W       T       F       S

***********************************************************
 

1       2       3
 

4       5       6       7       8       9       10
 

11      12      13      14      15      16      17
 

18      19      20      21      22      23      24


25      26      27      28      29      30      31


You can give each of these a spin in this BASIC emulator (every program from BASIC Computer Games can be preloaded from the dropdown menu). Next time, we’ll look at the primitive visualization tools that were packaged as “games”.

History of Game Art: Timeshare BASIC Edition

When I first met Rick Dakan, one of the creators of City of Heroes, we talked about a class he’s teaching at Ringling College of Art and Design in the spring, “The History of Game Art.” The class starts with Spacewar! in 1962 but to my surprise doesn’t cover some of the BASIC games of the timeshare era (circa 1964 to 1976). Yes, some have “art” (in fact, some are only art).

BASIC Computer Games, the first computer book to sell a million copies, is thought of as a collection of microcomputer games. And while the games were edited to run in Microsoft Altair 8K BASIC, almost all of the games were ports of games created on timeshare systems. In fact, many of the games were played by teletype and so produced printed output, output that could be preserved, as art. In fact, the output from some of the examples below was too large to even display completely on one screen on a typical 1970s microcomputer, as you’ll find out for yourself in the emulator.

Here are four examples, all of which you can “play” in your browser. Click the Show output button to have a virtual printout. While these are listed as “Computer Games” they aren’t computer games in any modern sense – diversions, maybe.

Bunny provides an image of a rabbit using the text “BUNNY”.

                                BUNNY
              CREATIVE COMPUTING  MORRISTOWN, NEW JERSEY

UN
BUN                                         BUNNYB
BUNNYB                                    NYBUNNYBUN
BUNNYBUN                                UNNYBUNNYBUN
UNNYBUNNY                           NNYBUNNYBUNNYB
 NNYBUNNYBU                        UNNYBUNNYBUNNYB
  NYBUNNYBUNN                    YBUNNYBUNNYBUNNY
   YBUNNYBUNNY                 NNYBUNNYBUNNYBUNN
    BUNNYBUNNYB               UNNYBUNNYBUNNYBUN
     UNNYBUNNYBU             BUNNYBUNNYBUNNYB
      NNYBUNNYBUN           YBUNNYBUNNYBUNNY
       NYBUNNYBUNNY        NYBUNNYBUNNYBUNN
        YBUNNYBUNNYB      NNYBUNNYBUNNYBU
         BUNNYBUNNYBU    UNNYBUNNYBUNNYB
          UNNYBUNNYBUN  BUNNYBUNNYBUNN
           NNYBUNNYBUN YBUNNYBUNNYBU
            NYBUNNYBUNNYBUNNYBUNNY
             YBUNNYBUNNYBUNNYBUNN
              BUNNYBUNNYBUNNYBU
                NNYBUNNYBUNNY
                 NYBUNNYBUN
                  YBUNNYBU
               UNNYBUNNYBUNN
            NYBUNNYBUNNYBUNNYB
          UNNYBUNNYBUNNYBUNNYBU
         BUNNYBUNNYBUNNYBUNNYBUN
       NYBUNNYBUNNYBUNNYBUNNYBUNN
      NNYBUNNYBUNNYBUNNYBUNNYBUNNY
     UNNYBUNN  UNNYBUNNYBUNNYBUNNY
    BUNNYBUN   UNNYBUNNYBUNNYBUNNYB
   YBUNNYBUN   UNNYBUNNYBUNNYBUNNYB
  NYBUNNYBUN  BUNNYBUNNYBUNNYBUNNYB
 NNYBUNNYBUNNYBUNNYBUNNYBUNNYBUNNYB
UNNYBUNNYBUNNYBUNNYBUNNYBUNNYBUNNYB
 NNYBUNNYBUNNYBUNNYBUNNYBUNNYBUNNY
  NYBUNNYBUNNYBUNNYBUNNYBUNNYBUNNY
   YBUNNYBUNNYBUNNYBUNNYBUNNYBUNN
     UNNYBUNNYBUNNYBUNNYBUNNYBUNN
         BUNNYBUNNYBUNNYBUNNYBUN Y
             YBUN YBUNNYB  NYBU   B
              BUNNY   NYBUNNYB     U
             YBUNN  U  YBUNNYB      N
            NYBUNN    NYBUNNY   NYBUNN
           NNYBUNNYBUNNYBUNNY UNN
          UNN   N Y  N YBUNNYBU
         BU     NN   N Y    Y
                     NN  UNNY
                          NNY
                           NY

That’s it. The user can’t even change the text. There is literally no interactivity. This isn’t even sophisticated ASCII art, where letters are chosen for gradients or contrasts. It’s just the word “BUNNY” in a “BUNNY” shape. Yet Ahl elected to include this program in both 101 BASIC Computer Games, published in 1975 with games for timeshare systems, and its successor, published in 1978.

Diamonds introduces a sliver of interactivity. You can specify one of nine different widths of diamonds.

                               DIAMOND
              CREATIVE COMPUTING  MORRISTOWN, NEW JERSEY

FOR A PRETTY DIAMOND PATTERN,
TYPE IN AN ODD NUMBER BETWEEN 5 AND 21? 15
      C              C              C              C
     CC!            CC!            CC!            CC!
    CC!!!          CC!!!          CC!!!          CC!!!
   CC!!!!!        CC!!!!!        CC!!!!!        CC!!!!!
  CC!!!!!!!      CC!!!!!!!      CC!!!!!!!      CC!!!!!!!
 CC!!!!!!!!!    CC!!!!!!!!!    CC!!!!!!!!!    CC!!!!!!!!!
CC!!!!!!!!!!!  CC!!!!!!!!!!!  CC!!!!!!!!!!!  CC!!!!!!!!!!!
CC!!!!!!!!!!!!!CC!!!!!!!!!!!!!CC!!!!!!!!!!!!!CC!!!!!!!!!!!!!
CC!!!!!!!!!!!  CC!!!!!!!!!!!  CC!!!!!!!!!!!  CC!!!!!!!!!!!
 CC!!!!!!!!!    CC!!!!!!!!!    CC!!!!!!!!!    CC!!!!!!!!!
  CC!!!!!!!      CC!!!!!!!      CC!!!!!!!      CC!!!!!!!
   CC!!!!!        CC!!!!!        CC!!!!!        CC!!!!!
    CC!!!          CC!!!          CC!!!          CC!!!
     CC!            CC!            CC!            CC!
      C              C              C              C
      C              C              C              C
     CC!            CC!            CC!            CC!
    CC!!!          CC!!!          CC!!!          CC!!!
   CC!!!!!        CC!!!!!        CC!!!!!        CC!!!!!
  CC!!!!!!!      CC!!!!!!!      CC!!!!!!!      CC!!!!!!!
 CC!!!!!!!!!    CC!!!!!!!!!    CC!!!!!!!!!    CC!!!!!!!!!
CC!!!!!!!!!!!  CC!!!!!!!!!!!  CC!!!!!!!!!!!  CC!!!!!!!!!!!
CC!!!!!!!!!!!!!CC!!!!!!!!!!!!!CC!!!!!!!!!!!!!CC!!!!!!!!!!!!!
CC!!!!!!!!!!!  CC!!!!!!!!!!!  CC!!!!!!!!!!!  CC!!!!!!!!!!!
 CC!!!!!!!!!    CC!!!!!!!!!    CC!!!!!!!!!    CC!!!!!!!!!
  CC!!!!!!!      CC!!!!!!!      CC!!!!!!!      CC!!!!!!!
   CC!!!!!        CC!!!!!        CC!!!!!        CC!!!!!
    CC!!!          CC!!!          CC!!!          CC!!!
     CC!            CC!            CC!            CC!
      C              C              C              C
      C              C              C              C
     CC!            CC!            CC!            CC!
    CC!!!          CC!!!          CC!!!          CC!!!
   CC!!!!!        CC!!!!!        CC!!!!!        CC!!!!!
  CC!!!!!!!      CC!!!!!!!      CC!!!!!!!      CC!!!!!!!
 CC!!!!!!!!!    CC!!!!!!!!!    CC!!!!!!!!!    CC!!!!!!!!!
CC!!!!!!!!!!!  CC!!!!!!!!!!!  CC!!!!!!!!!!!  CC!!!!!!!!!!!
CC!!!!!!!!!!!!!CC!!!!!!!!!!!!!CC!!!!!!!!!!!!!CC!!!!!!!!!!!!!
CC!!!!!!!!!!!  CC!!!!!!!!!!!  CC!!!!!!!!!!!  CC!!!!!!!!!!!
 CC!!!!!!!!!    CC!!!!!!!!!    CC!!!!!!!!!    CC!!!!!!!!!
  CC!!!!!!!      CC!!!!!!!      CC!!!!!!!      CC!!!!!!!
   CC!!!!!        CC!!!!!        CC!!!!!        CC!!!!!
    CC!!!          CC!!!          CC!!!          CC!!!
     CC!            CC!            CC!            CC!
      C              C              C              C
      C              C              C              C
     CC!            CC!            CC!            CC!
    CC!!!          CC!!!          CC!!!          CC!!!
   CC!!!!!        CC!!!!!        CC!!!!!        CC!!!!!
  CC!!!!!!!      CC!!!!!!!      CC!!!!!!!      CC!!!!!!!
 CC!!!!!!!!!    CC!!!!!!!!!    CC!!!!!!!!!    CC!!!!!!!!!
CC!!!!!!!!!!!  CC!!!!!!!!!!!  CC!!!!!!!!!!!  CC!!!!!!!!!!!
CC!!!!!!!!!!!!!CC!!!!!!!!!!!!!CC!!!!!!!!!!!!!CC!!!!!!!!!!!!!
CC!!!!!!!!!!!  CC!!!!!!!!!!!  CC!!!!!!!!!!!  CC!!!!!!!!!!!
 CC!!!!!!!!!    CC!!!!!!!!!    CC!!!!!!!!!    CC!!!!!!!!!
  CC!!!!!!!      CC!!!!!!!      CC!!!!!!!      CC!!!!!!!
   CC!!!!!        CC!!!!!        CC!!!!!        CC!!!!!
    CC!!!          CC!!!          CC!!!          CC!!!
     CC!            CC!            CC!            CC!
      C              C              C              C

Love is the most artistic selection of these programs.

                                LOVE
              CREATIVE COMPUTING  MORRISTOWN, NEW JERSEY



A TRIBUTE TO THE GREAT AMERICAN ARTIST, ROBERT INDIANA.
HIS GREATEST WORK WILL BE REPRODUCED WITH A MESSAGE OF
YOUR CHOICE UP TO 60 CHARACTERS.  IF YOU CAN'T THINK OF
A MESSAGE, SIMPLE TYPE THE WORD 'LOVE'

YOUR MESSAGE, PLEASE? LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED











LOVE IS ALL YOU NEEDLOVE IS ALL YOU NEEDLOVE IS ALL YOU NEED
L            OU NEEDLOVE IS ALL YOU NEE         ALL YOU NEED
LOV         YOU NEEDLOVE IS ALL YOU                 YOU NEED
LOVE      L YOU NEEDLOVE IS ALL Y                     U NEED
LOVE      L YOU NEEDLOVE IS ALL              IS A       NEED
LOVE      L YOU NEEDLOVE IS ALL           VE IS AL      NEED
LOVE      L YOU NEEDLOVE IS ALL          OVE IS ALL     NEED
LOVE      L YOU NEEDLOVE IS ALL         LOVE IS ALL     NEED
LOVE      L YOU NEEDLOVE IS ALL        DLOVE IS AL      NEED
LOVE      L YOU NEEDLOVE IS ALL       EDLOVE IS A       NEED
LOVE      L YOU NEEDLOVE IS ALL      EEDLOVE IS         NEED
LOVE      L YOU NEEDLOVE IS A L     NEEDLOVE IS         NEED
LOVE      L YOU NEEDLOVE IS A L     NEEDLOVE I          NEED
LOVE      L YOU NEEDLOVE IS   L      EEDLOVE            NEED
LOVE      L YOU NEEDLOVE IS   L       EDLOV             NEED
LOVE      L YOU NEEDLOVE      L                         NEED
L                             L YOU                 YOU NEED
L                             L YOU NEE         ALL YOU NEED
L             U NEE                                        D
L             U NEE                                        D
LOVE      L YOU NEEDLOV   S ALL YOU       VE IS ALL YO     D
LOVE        YOU NEEDLO   IS ALL YOU       VE IS ALL YOU    D
LOVE        YOU NEEDLO   IS ALL YOU       VE IS ALL YOU N  D
LOVE I      YOU NEEDL    IS ALL YOU       VE IS ALL YOU NE D
LOVE I      YOU NEEDL    IS ALL YOU       VE IS A L YOU NEED
LOVE IS      OU NEED   E IS ALL YOU       VE IS   L YOU NEED
LOVE IS      OU NEED   E IS ALL YOU               L YOU NEED
LOVE IS       U NEE   VE IS ALL YOU       VE IS   L YOU NEED
LOVE IS       U NEE   VE IS ALL YOU       VE IS A L YOU NEED
LOVE IS A       NE   OVE IS ALL YOU       VE IS ALL YOU NE D
LOVE IS A       NE   OVE IS ALL YOU       VE IS ALL YOU N  D
LOVE IS AL      N   LOVE IS ALL YOU       VE IS ALL YOU    D
LOVE IS AL          LOVE IS ALL YOU       VE IS ALL YO     D
LOVE IS ALL        DLOVE IS ALL                            D
LOVE IS ALL        DLOVE IS ALL                            D
LOVE IS ALL YOU NEEDLOVE IS ALL YOU NEEDLOVE IS ALL YOU NEED

Finally, Bug is an implementation of The Game of Cootie. And is as little a game as its inspiration: the computer rolls for you, and if you get a new body part of the bug, adds it to your bug, otherwise nothing happens on your turn. You race the computer. All you can do is type “Y” or “N” to decide whether you want to see the illustrations as you go. Here’s an example of the end game:

I ROLLED A 6 
6=LEGS
I NOW HAVE 6 LEGS.
MY BUG IS FINISHED.
DO YOU WANT THE PICTURES?? Y
*****YOUR BUG*****


         A A 
         A A 
         A A 
         A A 
        HHHHHHH
        H     H
        H O O H
        H     H
        H  V  H
        HHHHHHH
          N N
          N N
     BBBBBBBBBBBB
     B          B
     B          B
TTTTTB          B
     BBBBBBBBBBBB
     L L L L L
     L L L L L




*****MY BUG*****



         F F 
         F F 
         F F 
         F F 
        HHHHHHH
        H     H
        H O O H
        H     H
        H  V  H
        HHHHHHH
          N N
          N N
     BBBBBBBBBBBB
     B          B
     B          B
TTTTTB          B
     BBBBBBBBBBBB
     L L L L L L
     L L L L L L
I HOPE YOU ENJOYED THE GAME, PLAY IT AGAIN SOON!!

Arguably the most famous BASIC game of the timeshare era is Star Trek. It starts with an illustration:

                                    ,------*------,
                    ,-------------   '---  ------'
                     '-------- --'      / /
                         ,---' '-------/ /--,
                          '----------------'

                    THE USS ENTERPRISE --- NCC-1701

One program Ahl did omit from the revised edition was the misogynistic UGLY (page 228): “This program draws on the terminal the profile of a woman. It gives you an opportunity to specify the ‘dimensions’ of your woman (termed SPECIAL) or take your chances (CHANCE). The computer draws your figure and then makes a determination whether or not to call your woman ugly or just leave it up to your own judgement.” A wise omission.

Another omission from the original wasn’t even a program. It was simply ASCII art:

(I have fond memories of visiting my dad at work in the 1970s and seeing the mainframe room. One of the techs gave me an ASCII-art Snoopy calendar.)

Clearly art in computer games has come a long way from these modest beginnings. But since I’m mainly interested in the history of BASIC, in future posts, I’ll look at more practical printed output from these “games” and then separately at some of the primitive visualization tools that were included.

Play BASIC Computer Games Online

I was surprised that there was no easy way to play David Ahl’s classic book, BASIC Computer Games, in your browser. You can now play them here:

Play BASIC Computer Games in Your Browser

BASIC Computer Games sold over a million copies as microcomputer users in the 1970s and early 1980s typed its programs into their Commodore PETs, Apple IIs, and TRS-80s (among many other machines). I smashed up Ahl’s listings with Joshua Bell’s Applesoft BASIC emulator to make it easy for you to select any of these programs and run them. (When I reached out to Ahl for permission, he let me know that he had placed all of these in the public domain after selling Creative Computing, and Joshua Bell’s emulator is available under an open-source license.)

While Bell was looking for fidelity to the Apple II, I was looking for fidelity to Microsoft 8K BASIC (the back cover proclaims, “All programs run on Microsoft 8K Basic, Rev. 4.0. Basic conversion table included”). I made a few minor edits to the emulator to turn it into what I’ll call the Banana Jr. 80:

  1. The system now defaults to hi-res mode (80 lines) rather than 40 lines, as most of the games evolved from timeshared machines accessed by teletype. But click the Show output button to see a printout of a program run.
  2. The pseudorandom number generator now has a random seed; no RANDOMIZE command is necessary.
  3. PRINTing numbers now pads them with a space to either side.
  4. TAB(0) had to be changed to not indent 10 spaces.
  5. INPUT now appends “? ” to the prompt.

I will make other tweaks as I test more of the games. If you notice anything else than seems off, please comment here.