Scrabble

1. Scrabble (1984, 1993)

Though watching people slowly puzzle over possible permutations of tiny tiles is fascinating, NBC decided to go in a different direction with its two separate adaptations of Scrabble, both of which were hosted by Chuck Woolery. With rounds consisting of word puzzles and letter-based time challenges, the show had little to do with the board game it took the name of, save the pink and blue color scheme and a backdrop made up of a bunch of squares. Still, Scrabble the show managed to add an element of heated timeliness and Wheel Of Fortune­­-style guessing to the fairly stoic board game, making it a success. [ME]

Advertisement

2. Boggle (1994)

Technically speaking, Boggle is more of a box game than a board game: It’s a plastic cube filled with dice that have letters on them, and players race to make the longest words out of the letters that come up after the box gets a solid shake. (It’s rather simple.) Boggle: The Interactive Game, hosted by game-show god Wink Martindale for its very short 1994 run, complicates things quite a bit. In fact, Martindale spends a good chunk of the start of the show explaining how to answer questions on simulated “touch-tone telephone” keypads, both for the in-studio contestants and the folks who can play along at home by dialing a 900 number. Instead of looking for any word here, players have to find a specific word based on a clue (“famous drummer Buddy,” etc.). It’s notable perhaps for being the last game show on which the host could thank a contestant for having “such a pretty face.” [JM]

Advertisement

3. The Game Of Life (2011)

The Game Of Life—a.k.a. Life—may be one of the weirdest popular board games out there. It includes promissory notes, insurance policies, and children—all great board-game fare. The TV version lasted a scant one season on Hub Network, which is no surprise considering its silly concept, which started with teams “driving” a little car against a green screen and answering trivia questions by steering it. On the other hand, maybe it’s actually harder than the board game, which is largely moved forward by spinning a clicking wheel and advancing your tiny car toward either financial success or “the poor farm” (a feature sadly eliminated in later versions of the game). [JM]

Advertisement

4. Pictureka! (2010)

The board game Pictureka! (pronounced “picture-eeka,” in a portmanteau of biblically clumsy proportions) is like a multi-player Where’s Waldo? in which you try to point out a particular item before your family beats you to it. On the TV show, a ridiculously intense host helps family teams—mom, dad, kids—do basically the same thing. There’s a bunch of stuff, then they run around and find it. Eventually, things get a little more complicated, with physical stunts and lots of penguins. By that time, adults hoping to stay sane will have tuned out. [JM]

Advertisement

5. Yahtzee (1988)

With its complicated scoring system and series of poker-inspired combinations, Yahtzee wasn’t exactly TV-ready when producers Lou Valenzi and Ernesto Romero brought the game to syndication in 1988. As such, they gussied up the game-cabinet staple with elements of other, more successful game shows: Two Family Feud-style teams (“sales girls,” say, versus “fishermen”) compete for a chance to roll five giant dice by syncing their answers to Match Game-esque questions with those of a celebrity panel laid out almost (but not exactly) like The Hollywood Squares. (Fittingly, the show even borrowed the Squares original host, Peter Marshall.) It’s an awful lot of work to get to the basics of a game that can be played with any handful of six-sided dice—though Yahtzee’s dice were being rolled on location at the most glamorous hotel-casinos in Atlantic City. The show started out its eight-month tenure at what was then known as Trump’s Castle, before moving to the Showboat Hotel & Casino—presumably because Donald Trump couldn’t stand to have his name associated with something as low-rent as a board game. [EA]

Advertisement

6. Pictionary (1989, 1997)

Two years after Win, Lose, Or Draw put viewers in a facsimile of Burt Reynolds’ living room, that show’s at-home predecessor got its own licensed TV adaptation. The 1989 version of Pictionary pitted color-coordinated teams of youngsters against one another, battling to correctly identify more frantic telestrator scribblings than the other guys (or girls). Taking a break from his sitcom studies on Head Of The Class, host Brian Robbins conducted the game—consisting of three rounds of drawing challenges—while “Felicity” (the onscreen alter ego of Julie Friedman) kept score. All responses were subject to the rule of “Judge Mental” (Rick Zumwalt), a hard-nosed magistrate who kept the kids honest while helping Pictionary capitalize on the pro-wrestling craze that then had pop-culture in a figure-four leg lock.

Eight years later, Pictionary was revived, ditching the kids, the pro-wrestling angle, and picking up another family-friendly sitcom as host: Growing Pains’ Alan Thicke. With teams of celebrities lending a hand to the competitors, the second Pictionary was basically Win, Lose, Or Draw—though the living-room conceit was dropped for a backdrop that looked like it could’ve just as easily hosted the latest Jerry Springer or Maury Povich shouting match. [EA]

Advertisement

7. Family Game Night (2010)

Not so much a game show based on a board game as a game show based on a whole corporate line of board games, Family Game Night is one big celebration of the Hasbro company. With rounds celebrating Bop It, Boggle, Cranium, Operation, Trouble, Simon, Guess Who, and Guesstures, among others, the show twists the actual games into quasi-physical challenges, with Connect 4 Basketball, for instance, challenging the two family teams to not only summon up the mental agility necessary to connect four circular things, but also to be at least somewhat good at basketball. Families are rewarded “Monopoly Crazy Cash Cards” for each win, which they cash in at the end of the show via a giant, money-spitting ATM. Much like the show itself, it’s a ridiculous spectacle of conspicuous consumption, but it’s also fun. Just like the Hasbro corporation that controls his likeness, Mr. Monopoly would certainly approve. [ME]

Advertisement

8. Monopoly (1990)

The original Monopoly is dull enough to play, let alone to watch, so Merv Griffin’s production team had a lot of streamlining to do when Griffin adapted the game for TV. Yes, while Mike And Molly’s Billy Gardell is slated to host a Monopoly lottery game show next year, Parker Brothers’ real estate trading game has been brought to TV once before, as part of ABC’s summer 1990 prime-time lineup. On the surface, the producers preserved the soul of Monopoly: In the first round of the show, contestants compete for control of properties on the board, and in the second round, they leverage those monopolies to their advantage. That’s the idea, at least, but the property-trading bits were mainly window-dressing for a straightforward question-and-answer quiz show with a clunker of a bonus round. (For the endgame, contestants rolled dice to make one circuit around the Monopoly board without landing in jail.) The show is memorable mostly for its hilariously overproduced theme song, a jaunty salute to the spelling of the word “monopoly.” [JT]

Advertisement

9. Scattergories (1993)

While Scrabble and Monopoly had to be dramatically overhauled for television, Scattergories made it through the transition to the screen relatively unscathed. Dick Clark guides two teams of contestants on Scattergories as they try to come up with words that fit a category and begin with a given letter, e.g., “words a man might use to describe his mistress, beginning with the letter ‘V.’” After giving their responses, the contestants have to hope that a panel of pre-taped celebrities didn’t duplicate their answers, like a reverse Match Game. While the game is interesting enough, Scattergories was bogged down by the sheer number of people required to play it: Between the eight contestants, the five celebrities, and the five-person “jury” that ruled on borderline answers, it took 18 players to get this supposedly casual party game underway. The fact that every celebrity answer had to be cued up on tape also sapped Scattergories’ rhythm, and the show never hit its stride, going off the air in June 1993 just five months after its premiere. [JT]

Advertisement

10. Trivial Pursuit (1993)

Trivial Pursuit followed the simplest recipe for transforming a cardboard game into a TV game: Just add Wink Martindale. The grinning, smooth-talking archetypal host presided over this standard-issue quiz show, which added few accoutrements to Trivial Pursuit’s basic question-and-answer play. Contestants compete in the main game to answer two questions in each category, and then in the bonus round, the winner tries to quickly answer one question in each category. So the format isn’t terribly innovative, but Martindale’s Trivial Pursuit was kept simple in part because play-along value was paramount: In its original airings on The Family Channel, the show was accompanied by an interactive home game that invited viewers to call a 900 number—for $4.98 per call—and answer questions themselves. Although Martindale’s version stopped airing new episodes late in 1994, Trivial Pursuit has returned to American TV twice since then, as ESPN Trivial Pursuit in 2004 and again in 2008 as Trivial Pursuit: America Plays. [JT]

Advertisement