The Incredible History of Presidential Games

Presidential Games started in 1929 as a humble subsidiary of the Neversink Pencil Corporation, as a way to retain some value from the voluminous wood shavings produced in a hefty run of No. 2s. As the market for pencil sellers expanded in the Great Depression, so too did the public’s desire for two things: board games and presidential venerations. From these humble origins was a titanic game company birthed: Presidential Games.

Starting with early offerings such as Monument Valley Forge and Madison Libs, Presidential Games eked out a corner of the rapidly emerging game market. The top-selling Monropoly, a roll-and-move about isolationist foreign policies, pulled the company through the Depression, though an ill-advised and patently racist Uncle Wiggily clone called Jackson’s Trail of Tears nearly derailed the young company.

A savior would emerge. Purchased by inventor Lizzie Magie with her voluminous royalties from the million-selling hit The Landlord’s Game, Presidential Games in 1934 released the whodunit boardgame Lincoln’s Night at the Theater. This was a massive success. Who among us hasn’t shouted the words “Mr. Booth in the presidential box with the Philadelphia derringer!” to the amusement of all present?

Magie’s next release was 1936’s action boardgame Dance Dance Re-Election! Little shavers and salon-goers engaged in furious lindy hopping and jitterbugging at the drop of a card. But when President Franklin D. Roosevelt declined to endorse the game, few suspected it was due to growing awareness of his physical impairments. Out of respect to the 32nd president, Presidential Games shelved the game for 75 years.

In 1951, Magie sold the firm to French filmmaker Albert Lamorisse, himself a boardgame enthusiast. His parchisi-like family game Harry! put the “antic” in “anticommunism.” Similarly, 1955’s Pictionary-like Ike-onography encouraged players to “Draw Out America’s Enemies!” Can you illustrate a picture of “Josef Tito” or “Those Darn Rosenbergs” before the timer runs out? America could!

A few years later, a new frontier of gaming began with the JFK-themed physical dexterity game Pass the Bay of Pigs! had kids across America rolling livestock onto brightly colored beaches. It was so successful that the company hastily released a follow-up, The Cuban Sandwich Crisis.

Now a division of 3M, in 1967 Presidential Games was again ahead of the curve by preceding Dungeons & Dragons to market with the LBJRPG. However, a poorly timed gamble on the marble game Hubert Humphrey Hippos cured the company of preparing products before an election.

Its biggest hit of this era was 1972’s Wild Wild Watergate, 18½ minutes of slippery entertainment. Who can forget the commercials? “Careful how you hook up the hose, mom! If you’re not careful, you’re gonna need some plumbers!”

In 1978, Presidential Games anticipated the explosion of Eurogames with Peanut Grid, letting every gamer be an ersatz Jimmy Carter. 1986’s release of It’s Morning in Agricola allowed players to apply trickle-down economics to their farms, typically with disastrous results.

The board game revolution of the Clinton era did not leave Presidential Games behind. The 1992 kids’ classic Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and Don’t Wake Daddy modeled the knife-edge terror of trying to keep your homophobic father from calling your base commander. George W. Bush’s Weapons of Mass Dice Traction was reportedly a 2002 collectible dice game, except that despite quite a lot of marketing intensity, there was no evidence it actually existed.

In 2011, Presidential Games ventured into the electronic arena, converting its classic Dance Dance Re-Election! into the inclusive dance game FDR DDR. With its slogan “New Deal, New Wheels!” FDR DDR let players experience beat-rocking action from its custom wheelchair controller, expanding the gaming community’s empathy for gamers with disabilities. A sweep of GOTY awards promised a bright future ahead for Presidential Games.

Alas, it was not to be. In 2016, Presidential Games put out Thanks O-Bomb-A! The Tactical Drone Strike Game. Unfortunately, a spate of personal injury lawsuits led to the temporary shuttering of the company. Few saw a likelihood of the company ever emerging from its financial apocalypse.

In 2019, the political action company Basket of Adorables acquired the remaining assets of Presidential Games. But with all 43 previous presidents represented in the line (twice for Grover Cleveland), there was only one president left to gamify. Partnering with Nextoy, makers of Crocodile Dentist and Gator Golf, the new Presidential Games ventured to Kickstarter to attempt to fund TanTrump: The Impeachment Edition. As of this writing, the game’s future hangs on a precipice. Only you can determine the future of this once grand game line.

In case the future isn’t Trumpian, design work on the tac-sim Warren Peace: The Battle on Billionaire Street has begun.

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