Another Peg in the Car

Our daughter gave birth to her firstborn this week, a precious little bundle with rosy cheeks and strawberry blonde hair. For her and her husband, life has changed forever. And for our granddaughter, barely two days old now, every sight and sound will be a complete and utter mystery. In other words, her game of life has only just begun.

The 1960s edition

I was only nine or ten myself when I started playing at life.  Not real life, of course, but the board game in a box by Milton Bradley . “Life” (as we simply called it back then) was a significant rung up on the board game ladder. Once discovered, “Don’t Break the Ice”, “Hi Ho! Cherry O”, “Chutes and Ladders”, and the well-worn “Candy Land“stayed on the shelf forever.  Win or lose, “Life” was a ton of fun pretending to be an adult.  After all, we kids had no idea what we were doing.

The original board

The genius of “Life”, like “Monopoly”, is that its players are too young to understand what they’re playing at.  In Monopoly, you buy and sell real estate, mortgage properties, and pay income tax, and somehow all of this is “fun” (especially when you win and become the one and only landlord in town).

In “Life”, you’re making decisions ten or fifteen years ahead of your time.  I find it ironic “Life” is a game for kids yet it skips the entire chapter of childhood.  The first move is to “Start a Career” or “Start College” (you choose).  If you start college you “Borrow $100,000 from the bank”, so you’re already saddled with debt.  You pay taxes or get a refund.  You earn raises or sometimes lose your job.  Wait, this is fun?  You bet it is.  You’re a kid and you don’t know the meaning of “responsibilities”.

Eventually,  the colorful cardboard path of “Life” takes you by a church, where you get married and add a spouse peg to your car.  Soon after you have babies (more pegs) and soon after that you buy a house.  The meandering path continues, until it stops “years” later at either “Millionaire Estates” (you’re rich!) or “Countryside Acres” (you’re not!)

When “Life” is over, it’s time to account for your accomplishments, which means simply adding up all of your cash.  The player with the most money wins.  Wouldn’t that be an interesting conversation with St. Peter?  Hey Pete, I won The Game of Life because I had the most money!  Open up the gates – I’ve earned my entry!

“The Game of Life” has evolved since it was first produced many years ago.  My childhood plays were on the 1960s version, which included a folding rectangular board with the wandering path for the cars, little plastic mountains you’d pass through at the corners, little plastic buildings you’d pass by here and there, and, smack-dab in the middle, a giant spinning numbers wheel to determine how far your car would go on any given turn.


The 1960s version also had insurance policies, promissory notes, and stock certificates.  Art Linkletter, who promoted the board game on TV, smiled out at you from the center of the $100,000 bills.  Finally, your choices on your final “Day of Reckoning” were “Millionaire Acres” or “Poor Farm”, depending on the size of your bank account.  But even before you chose “Poor Farm” you had a last-gasp chance to win the game by betting all of your money on the numbers wheel.

Today’s edition

The newest version of “Life” seems the same, with the little mountains and plastic buildings and giant numbers wheel.  But look closer and you’ll find the game is delightfully “PC” now.  You can perform “community service” or “good deeds” (which translate to monetary value at the end).  Your career choices include less traditional vocations like “Hair Stylist” and “Athlete”.  Your housing includes a mobile home or a “luxurious mountain retreat”.  You can even sue other players to the tune of six figures.  Today’s kids might actually understand that aspect of the game.

Finally, in a full-on nod to modern times, “Life” wants you to know it’s “Your Life, Your Way”.  Accordingly, you can choose pets instead of kids.  And the little people pegs are no longer just pink or blue because… you know.

Here’s the last word on “Life”.  The corner of the box top gleefully shouts, “Now with one-time assembly!”, meaning as soon as you put the mountains and buildings and spinner into place, the board is good to go every time you play it.  Now what fun is that?  Just like “Mouse Trap”, half the enjoyment of “The Game of Life” was putting the whole thing together.  At least we kids understood how to do that. As for what the game itself represented?  Not so much.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Author: Dave

Three hundred posts would suggest I have something to say… This blog was born from a desire to elevate the English language, highlighting eloquent words from days gone by. The stories I share are snippets of life itself, and each comes with a bonus: a dusted-off word I hope you’ll go on to use more often. Read “Deutschland-ish Improvements” to learn about my backyard European wish list. Try “Slush Fun” for the throwback years of the 7-Eleven convenience store. Or drink in "Iced Coffee" to discover the plight of the rural French cafe. On the lighter side, read "Late Night Racquet Sports" for my adventures with our latest moth invasion. As Walt Whitman said, “That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” Here then, my verse. Welcome to Life In A Word.

25 thoughts on “Another Peg in the Car”

    1. I remember Risk, but I think I took it on at too early an age. As much as world domination appealed to me, the effort to took just gave me a headache.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not sure we ever had a set of “Life” in our house. My memories may be more from a friend’s house, where I insisted we play the game every time I visited.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Congratulations Dave! Grandkids are so much fun! I never played the game of Life, so thanks for explaining the premise, but I remember it being advertised. We played Monopoly, which was always a long game, Snakes and Ladders, Candyland, and my younger brother had the Mouse Trap game. I wonder if kids play with games much anymore?

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    1. “Snakes and Ladders” was news to me as I researched this topic. Maybe the American version of “Chutes and Ladders” was the same thing. “Mouse Trap” was wonderfully inventive. I’m not sure we ever played so much as simply built the whole thing. I preferred games with mechanical action like that. I hope board games are still the choice of the ten-and-under set. They seem strikingly innocent compared to today’s more sophisticated options.

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      1. Yes it was like chutes and ladders. My brother and his cousin had great fun with Mousetrap. I remember being jealous as he got a game for his birthday, whereas my sister and I with late August birthdays got back to school clothes!

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  2. Congratulations on the new bundle of joy, how exciting! Life was one of the games my sister didn’t end up getting mad and throwing the game board ha! My other sister always ended up with a car full of kids in a motorhome.

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  3. Dave, I didn’t play LIFE when I was young, but lately I’ve been wanting to play Candy Land, Chutes & Ladders, and Chinese Checkers. Congratulations on your granddaughter. ALL of these games will be on your shelf, maybe they already are. This is exciting. Mixing the old with the new traditions. The NEW Life game sounds good.

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    1. “Candy Land” will be on my granddaughter’s game shelf for sure, just as “Life” is already on ours. I forgot about “Chinese Checkers” with all the little marbles. That was a big step up from the standard game.

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  4. Congratulations Grandpa! It’s nice to welcome the pink peg to the backseat of that little car. I played a lot of card games and board games as a kid, with my mom mostly. We played Rummy, Old Maid, Fish and there was Solitaire when I entertained myself … as an only child, I always had books or Solitaire to self-entertain. We had board games too – all the children’s games you mentioned and Operation too – remember that one? Also Chinese Checkers, Checkers and Mancala and we had Life at one time as well. In fact, in a downstairs cupboard are Monopoly and Scrabble games which need two players, but since it’s just me, it’s been a while since they were used. We’d play Boggle too and I bought Trivial Pursuit which we played ’til we knew all the answers to the questions posed. I’ll bet kids don’t settle down in one spot long enough to play games like we did. We did not have to be tuned into our devices 24/7.

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    1. Sounds like our respective game cabinets looked very similar, Linda. Operation is a classic (and I remember how the tiny “funny bone” was the hardest one to get). Trivial Pursuit came along in high school – good timing at that age.

      We’ll hang onto our edition of LIFE for the newborn. “Granddad” will enjoy playing the game with her when she’s old enough to understand it.

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  5. As kids, we spent many hours playing games, didn’t we! I also had a friend who owned the game of Life, and often requested it when I visited her house. ‘Played a lot of Monopoly too, as well as Sorry, Clue, and Careers. Thanks for the memories, Dave, (as Bob Hope would say/sing)!

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    1. Careers is vaguely familiar, but I had to read up on it to remember the details. The objective is somewhat similar to Life. The original 1955 edition only cost $2.97!


  6. First, congratulations on finally hitting the big leagues in the game of parenting. Second, I have not thought about Life in decades. The game, not the cereal. That game was a favorite of mine.

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  7. I liked this game as a child, but glad to know they have updated it for modern culture. Monopoly always seemed a bit cruel to me. You played until you bankrupt everyone else. Not many happy endings!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I haven’t played Monopoly in years but it’s interesting to think about the game now that I’m a seasoned property owner. Mortgaging for cash seemed easy back then. Refinancing now? Probably not a good idea 🙂

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