Spotlight on Games > Ludographies
History of the "Take That!" Card Game
May 17, 2011 introducing William Janson Roche
You probably know the sort of thing. Each player has some card holdings on the table. The goal is to grow or at least preserve them while at the same time playing cards to destroy the holdings of others. These "beer 'n' pretzel" vehicles seem so common and throwaway that they're lost in the woodwork. On the other hand, I suspect that as a class they've earned themselves an amazing number of hours played over the years.

This is an attempt to trace the history of them: where they started, how their mechanics have developed and changed and what is going on now. Probably there are too many to fit in just one list and probably I will forget some too. Maybe readers can help by suggesting others.

1906: Touring
This is the one that started it all, now nearly a century ago. After being self-published for a while by a company with the same name as the company it was licesed by first, the Wallie Dorr Company, but eventually by
Parker Brothers and published more or less continuously, with modernizations in artwork and terminology over the years, until 1975. The "thats" of this game are rather mild, probably because players are trying to build up their holdings, the number of miles traveled, at the same time and combination with strong events would have been unworkable. Even so, the deck distribution seems to be overheavy with disasters and sometimes players spend most of their time doing nothing but waiting for the right card. [more]

But what about the origins of this game. For a long time not much has been known or remembered, but in 2011 with the help of Scott Kamholz this site has discovered new information. This was no casual endeavor, but actually one for which a US patent was acquired, no. 836537. As a consequence, the name of the inventor of this game, the progenitor of this immense stream of gaming activity, can finally be revealed: William Janson Roche.

What do we know of him? Well, not as much as we might like, but he certainly seems to have been a typical inventor type, with wide-ranging interests. He seems to have lived in Pennsylvania and his creations were by no means limited to card games. In 1908, based in New Bethlehem, he patented an Interest Calculator. In 1914, now based at Meadville, Pennsylvania, he patented a sort of coaster sled that could slide on a single runner. He might also have been the author of a book having the title We go modern, published in Pennsylvania by the Roche products company in 1933, which included 70 pages with illustrations and a few poems. It sold for the whopping sum of $1.00.

So it feels like a project the inventor did as a one-off which may not have gotten much attention and so he quickly moved on into other pastures, never realizing just what a major effect he had. For us it is quaint to have a look at the simple original sample cards he created and reflect how far we have come since.

1927: Lindy, the New Flying Game; The New Lindy Flying Game
The patent must have expired after seventeen years, that is by 1923, but no new game employing these ideas arose. Perhaps everyone had forgotten? Then, in 1927, a major event in transportation caused not one, but two to appear. Of course this was the historic solo air crossing of the Atlantic by Charles Lindbergh. The New Lindy Flying Game was invented by Paul K. Guillow and published by his Nucraft Toys company. He seemed well suited for the job as a former flier in the US Navy who also made gliders and models. The game's form fitting box included 75 cards: 39 mileage, 10 take off, 10 weather, 15 hazards and 1 Lucky Lindy. Hazards include forced landing, storm, fog, engine trouble, etc. The other, similar, game of that year came from industry giant Parker Brothers. This one offered 99 cards, 51 of them mileage and 48 of the move and event type. Head winds kept you from playing the 500 mile cards. Beside obvious disasters like running out of fuel, players had to deal with ripped fabric and broken propellers. There were no equivalents to things like puncture proof tires and extra gas. By the way, it's original price? 75 cents. With such similar titles and concepts, it's not surprising that a lawsuit emerged, in this case Nucraft suing Parker Brothers, and losing. As a consequence the Nucraft game is much rarer and more valuable to collectors today.

1954: Mille Bornes
These legal proceedings may well have scared off all competitors for a good long while. Or perhaps interest in this sort of game had simply waned as Great Depression-oriented vehicles like Monopoly hogged the game table. In any case, it seems to have taken the 1950's to have a new development. In France, Edmond Dujardin returned to the automobile to create his adaptation of Touring. Added is the Coup Fourré concept whereby safeties could be held back until the corresponding calamity was played, making the player invulnerable, granting bonus points and adding another level of strategic interest. [more]

1965: Nuclear War
This is the next one I could find, from 1965. What a bizarre choice of topic! It certainly proved popular nevertheless, or perhaps because of it? The innovations must have helped too though. Fixed holdings that only decline (for the most part) means that attacks can be that much more devastating (satisfying). The slow buildup of the attack added strategy and planning. And stealing from Mah Jongg to have the player order jump (with the anti-missile) was a winning idea as well. Dice or a spinner was added to help in the damage resolution. Has been supplemented by three expansion kits: Nuclear Escalation, Nuclear Proliferation Nuclear War Booster Packs. [more]

1980: Grass
The game that depicts a hallucinogenic lifestyle adheres more closely to the pattern established by Touring. (Was there really nothing else in the genre in the decade and a half previous?) One twist are the Paranoia cards that one must not be caught with at the end of the game, but which is passed around the table and so are difficult to avoid. The rules are a bit vague – do you [more]

1982: Family Business
Here was a very clever innovation, that of the creation of the very dynamic and often maddening queue of death which often takes on a life of its own. The player order jump idea previously seen in Nuclear War was preserved as well. [more]

1983: Naval War; Star Commander
Arriving in the next year from Avalon Hill, Naval War covered World War II battleships in a way that seemed more like Nuclear War than any of the other predecessors.

Star Commander by Historical Concepts took the idea to outer space in a faintly Star Trek way. Players are attempting to be the first to construct a fleet of ships, the unit of accumulation being crew points. The "take that!" sequence is more involved than most as it involves a lengthy exchange of back-and-forth card play in which players shoot and defend. [more]

1988: Enemy in Sight
A few years later Avalon Hill transported the system, with improvements including much better artwork, to nineteenth-century sailing vessels. Apparently it sold well because in the very next year there appeared ... [more]

1989: Modern Naval Battles
... to cover the Cold War era. Featured two later expansion kits, imaginatively titled Modern Naval Battles II and Modern Naval Battles III. [more]

1990: Express
This game on collecting various types of train cars is a fun return to the idea of building up one's holdings instead of just tearing down a fixed position. As a result, the events are again relatively weak. It also added a lot of the mechanics from another seminal card game, Rummy. [more]

1991: Car Wars: the Card Game
More a return to the Nuclear War model. [more]

1994: Plague & Pestilence
As was this vehicle set in Middle Ages. [more]

1995: Formula Motor Racing
Should this Reiner Knizia creation be included? Here holdings are indicated not by one's cards, but by one's position in the auto race. [more]

1996: Honor of the Samurai; Lunch Money
The innovation of the game of shogun-era Japan was to create two different ways to win: one to try to grab the prize right away and hope to survive all the slings and arrows of one's opponents, the other to bide one's time and creep up on it bit by bit.
Lunch Money is more reminiscent of Nuclear War in its mechanics and just as dark in theme, but without the levity. [more] [more]

1997: Groo: the Game
The form showed its maturity as it won its first commercial tie-in. A clever innovation is the set of special dice help to control what players can do to one another. Successful enough to spawn Groo: The Card Game Expansion Set. [more]

1998: Trailer Park Gods; Wucherer
This effort about the very offbeat topic of pagan worship in trailer parks seems mostly inspired by Nuclear War, without however heeding its lessons.
The other housing-related title of this year comes from Germany where the title means Profiteer (later released as Landlord). It is also somewhat dark in tone as one portrays an avaricious landlord. [more] [more]

1999: Wortelboer; Chez Geek
This unusual game from the Netherlands seems to be in the genre although, interestingly, the event cards have vanished entirely. Instead, players use the holdings cards to accomplish much the same result.
In Chez Geek the topic gets yet stranger as slackers try to sponge off society. Special abilities conferred by the holdings cards became more important. Has been expanded several already: Chez Geek (1999), Chez Geek 3: Block Party (2001), Chez Geek: Slack Attack (2000). [more] [more]

2000: Pirate's Plunder; Online: Internet Card Game
The makers of Plague & Pestilence returned to the genre with a pirates game. Here the holdings can be stolen so it tends to be a matter of who can steal the treasure last and make a clean getaway. [more]
In Online, Hasbro, by now the owners of both Touring and Milles Bornes, updated the concept to a computer theme.

2001: Saloon; Grave Robbers From Outer Space; Who Stole Ed's Pants?; Wyatt Earp
The German game of Wild West fisticuffs feels like Lunch Money, but with a lot more levity. Its companion game, Goldrush-City, could be considered a distant cousin to the genre. [more]
Grave Robbers From Outer Space is a treatment of horror and alien movies. Later expanded with a look at jungle movies in Cannibal Pygmies in the Jungle of Doom (also standalone). [more]
Who Stole Ed's Pants?, a game about solving a crime, is even more than Family Business, about adjusting the state of the game parameters, which are owned by all the players in common. [more]
Wyatt Earp is more in the Rummy vein, but as noted above, Rummy has been combined with the genre before. It's an unusual Rummy game though which permits reduction of others' holdings, even a little bit. [more]

2002: Flagship; Burn Rate; Bang!; Am Rande des Gletschers; Virus & Co.
Now the idea has been taken to outer space combat, a further re-working of the Naval War concept.
In Burn Rate, even the dot com phenomenon has become the topic for such a game. In fact the mechanism of holdings gradually dwindling to nothing seems to work better here than anywhere previously. [more]
And return now to the Wild West of yesteryear with Bang!, a "take that" featuring the clever innovation that every player has unique powers derived from his character as well as a hidden player goal. [more]
Am Rande des Gletschers, or "At Glacier's Edge" is set in the ice age. Players no longer simply draw cards from the deck, but turn them up and try to capture everything from herbs to giant hamsters to wooly mammoths. When winter comes they must use this food to nourish their people, but also use the items, along with dice, to compete for the bragging rights points that confer victory. [more]
Virus & Co., a satire of modern health care, is an unusual form of the genre. Now the taking of cards from other players is conditional, dependent on the player's willingness to take tablets (pay disks) to avoid the virus, injection or risk card. If they do so pay, they earn the right to pass the nasty on to someone else. [more]

2003: In 80 Karten Um Die Welt, Wo ist Jack the Ripper
[more] [more]

Maybe Take Thats:
There have been other games which use this concept in a wider context. James Clavell's Tai-Pan and Liberte are just two that spring to mind. I understand that Middle Earth: The Wizards is a collectible card game somewhat based on Milles Bornes. But since it is just a small subsystem in those games, I do not formally include them here.

Others I have heard about, but don't have much information on:

Also ...