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.


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