Parker Brothers Games on American Wars



While I was at GenCon this year I purchased for a buck a Parker Brothers game published in 1961 called 1863.  The game was a very primitive strategic wargame, no doubt published in an attempt to cash in on the Civil War Centennial.  I hadn’t realized this but Parker Brothers had a long history of publishing games on American Wars, as Susan Asbury noted in a post in 2017:

Recently, as I was conducting dissertation research at The Strong museum on the role of board games in the Victorian parlor, I stumbled across a group of Parker Brothers’ games on the Spanish-American War and the Filipino Insurrection. Reflecting ideas of growth, progress, and material gain, I realized that these games provide perfect illustrations of the ways in which game designers and manufacturers infused their products with the geopolitical conflicts of the day as they fostered new family rituals in the home.  

The Spanish-American War lasted only a few short months in 1898. But newspapers had been reporting on the Cuban insurrection for years beforehand, and Parker Brothers contributed to a  ​ popular understanding of the conflict through games focused on famous battles, military figures, and patriotism. Games such as The War in Cuba (1897) allowed participants to understand the Cuban insurgency against Spain. Once America took up arms against Spain, the company released The Battle of Manila (1898) and The Siege of Havana (1898), both of which recreated famous battle scenes, gave players wooden pieces to use as artillery shells, and allowed players to captain their own American vessels. In each, the winner was the player who inflicted the most damage on the Spanish fleet. Two additional games, The Blockade Runner (1899) and Dewey’s Victory: Never Beaten (1900), again emphasized America’s naval capabilities, with the former game allowing one player to be the blockade runner attempting to reach the port of either Havana or Matanzas with supplies and the latter giving players the opportunity to re-enact the Battle of Manila.

Dewey’s Victory board game

Parker Brothers book-ended the Spanish-American War with The Philippine War: Crushing the Rebellion in Luzon (1900) a game in which each player represented an American general in charge of a regiment. The winner was the first person to capture five towns on the board (a map that included most of the Island of Luzon). Capturing a town meant that players moved game pieces to a city “to crush the rebellion in Luzon by occupying and holding the principal towns throughout the island.” The game represented the company’s shift from supporting a war against Spain to the perspective of supporting American troops against an insurgent population on an island the U.S. had seized as a result of the Spanish-American conflict.

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  1. Don, I’d be interested in your thoughts, but it seems to me the lady doth protest too much, assigning all sorts of deep intentions to a company that, in my uneducated view, was simply trying to cash in on news of the times and sell games. And she seriously was writing a dissertation (or something) on the “role of board games in the Victorian parlor?” Has “publish or perish” come down to this?
    Sorry for being so snarky, but I tend to believe academic types take themselves way too seriously, and have a habit of attempting to make mountains out of molehills. My dearly departed Dad was one of those academic types, but he used to try very hard to avoid that sort of behavior, and routinely made fun of his colleagues for their attitudes of self-importance. I’ve no doubt this has influenced my way of seeing such things.

  2. The article Frank was infected with the usual Leftist interpretation common to academia, but the facts presented were accurate enough. Parker Brothers was indeed merely attempting to sell games. As a collector of war games, I found it fascinating as I was unaware that Parker Brothers had published any games on contemporary conflicts prior to World War 2.

  3. Thanks, Don. I’m not a collector but was once an avid player of war board games, and even owned “1863.” The good folks at Avalon Hill were my chief suppliers. But I also had no idea PB had been so deeply into the wargame business.

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