Monthly Archives: January 2017

Classic “Aggravation” board game

The Memoir

When I was a kid, my family of 4 played a game called Aggravation.  According to the history recounted on Wikipedia, this was the original version and is no longer made.  I recall it was a piece of thick material similar to what I’d buy today as high-density fiberboard, with holes in it.  This was placed on top of the bottom of the box which was printed with colored patches that would show through the holes.  The box had short sides so the marbles could be placed within and the lid put on, for storage.  (Here is the same board from 1962, but the marbles were different and I think the lid was slightly different too.)  I think it was obtained in 1964 by my parents.

Photos from Julie of the LeolasAttic store on Etsy.

Vintage 1962 Aggravation board courtesy of LeolasAttic

Later, I got a 6-player version for a birthday present.  This had a folding board like many board games used, but was this single board only—there was no backing, so the holes went through and you could see the table through the holes.  Instead, colors were drawn around the holes to indicate different zones, and this gave it a completely different character.

Now I see the 6-player set for sale as “Rare! Original vintage deluxe party edition antique” circa 1972 for $130.  I believe I’m missing one of the colors of marbles and have substituted ordinary cats-eyes for that color.  Even so, I hope it turns up in my parents’ garage in the same good condition!

I must say, it lived up to its name.  Even rolling the die (by a child barely old enough to play) might fly across the table and knock into marbles in play, fall off the table, or (most irritating to some) be dropped in place so gently that it was not sufficiently randomized.

I don’t remember personally, but I’m told that my maternal grandfather called the center the “knockout hole” and also enjoyed the game with family, when it was first released.

This is another family game that I’d like to revive, particularly with my mother-in-law visiting.

It would be easy enough to make a copy of the classic version, with a couple pieces of hardboard.  But not easy enough, right this moment.  It would be even simpler to just print out the board on paper.  After all, the historical predecessor that this is a variation of was normally made out of cloth, and many other modern versions are flat boards that don’t need holes.  It’s just a matter of using more typical game tokens rather than marbles.  These can be borrowed from another game, or, to preserve more of the original flavor, I can use glass stones from a Pente set.  (I see my “Vintage Pente Game (1977)” being sold for $125 now!)

The Project

My idea is to make it modular.  Not only does this make each module fit easily one a standard-sized sheet of printer paper, but it can then be customized for the specific situation.  Any number of players can be used by using 3, 4, 5, 6 (or more?) modules, and there will be no dead zones or asymmetry from using a board that accommodates more players than are in play.  It can also arrange the different colors in any order, to suit seating preference.

So, each module is the section of track that us a “W” shape, with the center row being one player’s home.  The modules will overlap at the first/last spots which form the inside corners.  A spot for the knockout hole needs to be positioned in the center, separately.

The track module is 6 spots tall and 5 wide.  So, it should be easy to lay out on a grid using Adobe Illustrator.

New Variations

Now, Aggravation is a specific variation owned by Hasbro.  The larger family of Pachisi (पचीसी) games is ancient, though, and there are many westernized commercial versions of the idea.  So, if I come up with my own unique variation, I can publish it as my own game that needs a suitable name.

I think the modular nature is key to making a new variation.  Adding and removing modules can be a dynamic effect of game play, not just a configuration made before starting the game.  I found a similar game called “marbles (or pegs) and Jokers” that has a modular track.  But it doesn’t have the knock-out hole or the shortcut track of the 6-player board.  And that’s the best part!  So my variation will feature more self-intersecting tracks and shortcuts.

I have a general idea of adding/removing sections that provides for a loop at each corner, and then a flying bridge shortcut between these loops.  A player can spend chips (use poker chips) to perform the actions of adding, removing, or moving track modules.

Now here comes the clever part: whenever starting a new token out of the base, the player gets a chip.  This means that attacking a player — knocking out his tokens repeatedly so he has to start over — also makes him stronger in terms of these board-changing powers.

Another variation would be to use different types of dice, with 4, 8, 12, or 20 sides, as used in role-playing games.  Simply using a different die, perhaps scaling the board to match the range of motion from one throw, isn’t much of a change.  It would be interesting to use difference dice throughout the game, giving a speed boost for example by rolling a d12, or making it easier to snuggle up the tokens in the “home” by using a d4.  I don’t have any good ideas as-yet as to decide when to allow these choices.

…work in progress…


I’ll post PDF and Illustrator files when ready.


Yahtzee in Chinese — scorecard adaptor

My mother-in-law is visiting from China, and one of the games my family has always played while I was growing up is Yahtzee.  Although now I have official published score cards, I recall as a small child that we originally had home-made sheets produced by my Great Aunt Harriett.  They probably date from about the time the game was first introduced and popularized: I read in Wikipedia that innovations made by Yahtzee® over the traditional forms include the upper-section bonus.  The sheets I remember did have an upper-section bonus, but had the Big/Little straight idea as shown for Yacht, and I recall it had a Pair.  So, it had to have been influenced by the E.S.Lowe product some time after 1956, and I know my parents were playing it in the 1960’s.

I’ve played Yahtzee since I was old enough to understand it, sometimes in large family gatherings with parents and grandparents.  It was always a favorite of my Mom’s.

So naturally I thought it would be great to play during the holiday season with my mother-in-law’s visit.  The catch is that she doesn’t speak English.


I had an idea to make, not a translated score sheet to use in place of our English sheets, but an adaptor.  Originally, I thought to make a stiff card, printed on letter-size paper, that the sheet would attach to using paperclips.  So, it would contain translations for the score information (the first two columns of the printed sheet) that exactly line up with the rows of the score sheet, to the left of the sheet; and general notes and instructions that could point exactly to the rows it referred to.

So, the main design work involved exactly duplicating the grid spacing and position on the sheet.  That did not seem as simple as it should be in Illustrator, so I posted a question on StackExchange.  I quickly got comments that Illustrator doesn’t do that easily but InDesign has a table tool.

While playing (initially using translations on a separate sheet), I noticed that it was proving difficult to use columns beyond the first two games.  So I modified the design to take care of this also:  I reversed the attachment idea, and now have the card attached on top of the score sheet.  The new legend appears on the right, and can be shifted over for each new game.  This turned out to be a good design in general as now the explanation can continue to the right of the name, as wide as desired.

The question then became how to attach the papers when using the rightmost columns on the score sheet?  There is no paper beyond that to clip under the card.  I solved this by having the card both in front and behind the score sheet at the same time: a careful cutout and fold, and the letter-size page can provide a “tail” that supports the entire width of the score sheet in any position, from behind.

As planned, the adaptor is lined up such that the papers can be aligned on their vertical edges, and then two paperclips will hold them perfectly.  I do suggest using smaller clips that I have in the photos: less than one inch long and they’ll naturally cover only the title area above the part you write on.  The photo above shows the adaptor card positioned to the right of the Game 5 column (nearly at the right border), and the score sheet is clipped to the folded-back strip along the entire top edge and holds securely.  I printed on 32# HP Premium printer paper.

A final improvement concerned the scoring.  I noticed some confusion in remembering that some rows used “total of all dice” and others used just the matching dice.  So I color-coded the different scoring schemes in the “score description” column, as well as color matching the row where the upper total is copied down below.  And as long as I was shading things, I shaded the “name” column to indicate which rows represented turns to be scored, as opposed to totals and bonuses.

Here is the  PDF File of the Simplified Chinese Yahtzee Scorecard Adaptor.  Be sure to print as “actual size” and simply allow the margins to be cut off as needed.  This is free to use with attribution, under the CC-BY 4.0 license, so here is the InDesign file.  If you make one for a different language (just change the text in my layout) or other variations, let me know and I’ll link to it or include it here.