Play Stuff Blog

The Strong’s historians, curators, librarians, and other staff offer insights into and anecdotes about the critical role of play in human development and the ways in which toys, dolls, games, and video games reflect cultural history.

Board Game Prototypes and a Gift of Clank!

We receive lots of donations every year at The Strong, from single items to accumulations numbering in the hundreds or even thousands. One of the largest collections ever gifted to the museum has been the game collection we received from the founder of Mayfair Games. This collection includes not only thousands of games, but important archives related to a game manufacturer and to game design and marketing. And the collection holds game prototypes which I find fascinating artifacts.

Translyvania (Transylvania) game prototype and published edition, Mayfair Games, Inc. 1981, The Strong, Rochester, New York. The name is misspelled on both the game booklet cover and the map board.

Most of the prototypes relate to Mayfair’s published games, from the early, simple Translyvania (notorious for its spelling error) to the firm’s 1991 version of Cosmic Encounter. But recently I found a non-Mayfair prototype called Heroic Adventures with a many-years-old Post-It note that said “Return to Designer.” The museum chose to honor this request if we could. But all I had was a name.

Sometimes the internet rewards those who Google. Without much stress, I found a person with that name, who worked as a game designer. I emailed the firm, explaining what we had. Not long afterwards he wrote me back, astonished that his 20 or 30-year-old prototype had survived, and grateful that we offered to send it back. In exchange he said he’d be glad to send us a first edition of his latest successful and award-winning board game. Thus, The Strong added Clank! to its collection.

Clank! A Deck-Building Adventure board game, Renegade Game Studios, 2016, The Strong, Rochester, New York. Gift of Paul Dennen. Clank! won a Mensa Select award in 2017 and was highly recommended or nominated for about 15 other awards. The game is a deck-building grab for points while exploring a dungeon. Your wooden pawn hopes to steal an artifact for more power. But a dragon—represented by a beautiful black silhouette—hunts any intruders and may find them if they stumble and make a noise like . . . Clank! Quality materials and artwork characterize the game, and now there are expansion sets, multiple specialty versions, and different language editions. As a curator, it’s an honor to add such a gift from the game’s designer to The Strong’s holdings. The museum gains a new game , and I think we’ve also won a friend.   

Business Hours… For Pets

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Life in Plastic: It’s Not Just Barbie

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Cooking for Fun

When I left home for graduate school and my first apartment, I could barely boil water. But I rapidly recognized that I couldn’t afford to go out to eat very often and I didn’t want to subsist on products from the supermarket’s freezer case. My solution? Learn to cook! Living alone let me experiment and hone my kitchen skills without anyone else around to say, “I thought we were going to eat before 8 p.m.” or “Did you really mean it to turn out this consistency?” And I found that I liked cooking—both the process itself and the tasty results.

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Ralph Baer—Toy Inventor

Ralph Baer is perhaps best known as the father of home video games. He patented the idea for playing a video game on a television and then successfully developed the first home video game system, the Magnavox Odyssey, that came out in 1972. And yet Baer’s work on video games was only one small part of a lifetime of inventing. He had worked for decades in the defense industry, ultimately heading a major engineering division of Sanders, a large military contractor. And in the 1970s—after the success of the Odyssey—he became an active creator of many successful electronic toys.

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Musical Chairs

Mary Valentine The Strong Museum Trustee  
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Star Wars Day: The Action Figures that Almost Weren’t

Not long ago—1977, to be exact—in our very own galaxy, moviegoers witnessed the birth of a legend. Since its inception, the Star Wars franchise has generated billions of dollars in film, television, and merchandise, and is one of the most iconic titles in entertainment history. But while its popularity is undisputed today, that was not always the case. In fact, it was quite the opposite, which led to what could have easily become one of the biggest faux pas in toy history.

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Digging for GEM icons in an Atari ST Floppy Disk

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Creativity in the Time of Quarantine

While recent world events may be causing many of us to feel uncertain—or even stuck—as most businesses, restaurants, and entertainment venues remain closed indefinitely, the circumstances seem to be fueling something much bigger: a global tidal wave of creativity.

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Domestic Hobbies: Flattening the Curve from Home

It feels so long ago when I last wrote about domestic hobbies as play. It was indeed a different world—if we told our past selves what our lives look like now, we wouldn’t believe ourselves.

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Toy Fair 2020: Things That Make You Go Eww

In 2018, the toy industry saw a significant increase in toys related to potty humor. Some critics speculated that this was based on the popularity of the smiling poop emoji on the iPhone, while others associated the trend with the new generation of parents raised on South Park’s Mr. Hankey, The Simpsons, and Family Guy. Lawrence Cohen, Ph.D., author of Playful Parenting, noted that the sensory experience of using the bathroom combined with the “hush-hush privacy and secrecy” creates the opportune moment for children to get a reaction from adults.

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