UNDER STARTER'S ORDERS: My first gaming passion - Totopoly

The first game I ever purchased with my own money, (i.e. not a game bought for the family), was Totopoly. My paper round circa 1960 gave me a little to spend each week. I cannot recall where I bought it, certainly not in a shop, much more likely in a Jumble Sale (Car Boot Fairs and Charity Shops were some distance into the future). I can thank Totopoly because it changed my life. It gave me a passion for games that still exists today, some 50+ years later.

The game was designed by two friends, Walter Lee and Roy Palmer. From their picture, they were not in the first bloom of youth, so maybe they honed their game for some years. In 1938 John Waddington (who made Monopoly in the UK under licence from Parker) published it. I don’t know if the name was of Waddington’s creation or the designers, but it was a very good name. However it was very different to any other games at the time. First, here is the first description of the game from their first rulebook.



Patent applied for.


Briefly, the idea of the game is that racehorses are leased by players, and trained by them for the race. Players have the opportunity of leasing horses at first option, that is through the deal, and later the chance arises to lease additional ones in the auction sale. In the same way players will acquire temporary ownership of a racing stable, veterinary surgeon's practice or forage merchant, etc.

When all the horses and businesses have been sold, the training of the horses then commences. Players may have to get trainers’ and vet 's reports on the progress of their horses, and it will be found when training has finished that some horses have made more progress than others, and have therefore more chance of winning the race. Whilst it is possible by careful play in the race for any of the horses to win, the black ones have more chance than the red ones, the reds more chance than the yellow ones, and the blues least chance of all, but it may be found that during training a blue or yellow horse has improved so much that it has an equal chance with the blacks and reds. Naturally, the horses with the most chance in the first place and those that improve well in training, will be ‘backed’ the most on the Tote. But, as in real racing, an outsider can always give players a big surprise.


What drew me to the game was the incredible board. For your money you actually got two boards. In my earliest edition, the board was a typical one but it had at the centre a paper addition. On one side of this ‘extra’ was the second half of the training board and on the other side it showed the first half of the racetrack. So you laid out the training board side and then you just turned the page over when you were ready to race. Very original in its day I would say. Also, the board was extra-large and that finally convinced me to with my hard-earned sixpence.

John Waddington copied Monopoly in that their horses were all made of metal. The timing was unfortunate ast they soon had to change to card-horses in wooden bases because all metals were going to war preparations. They did revert to metal after the war but eventually they used plastic, such is the way of the world. Sigh!

One original rule in particular was that during training you could collect Advantage Cards. These were played during the race to assist the horse with extra moves depending of the colour space they were sitting on during any given turn during the race. That was original enough but they topped it by giving some horses Disadvantage Cards and a horse would be disqualified if it still had one or more advantage cards when it crossed the finish-line. That seemed to me a very clever rule. Now it happens in lots of games but Totopoly was the first to do it.

There was one rule that was rather strange. You spent 45 minutes or so doing the training. Then, before the race, you had a chance to bet on the horses, not just your own but other players’ horses as well. This is where colour of the horse and advantage/disadvantage cards came into play during the betting. However, after the race, the winner of the race was the winner of the game. Now, the question arises, why have betting rules? Strange indeed.

I could not get the family to play the game, (actually, my family never played games), so I settled down to play it solitaire. Already at, aged 8, I started tweaking the rules here and there. I have continued to do that these days although it is rarely needed. Sadly, I cannot recall the changes I made but it was enough to get me hooked). I even developed an idea to allow me to have races with horses named on the racing page of our daily newspaper. I would run each race and write down the 1st, 2nd and 3rd places and then it was an exciting day or so until I could check my results against the actual results in the next day’s newspaper.

As a family game I would still recommend it today .I do not know if it is still in print, probably not. However, it was made in several European countries so you might find a copy. Waddingtons were very hopeful that Parker would make it in the States but that was not to be. In that regard they had to wait for a decade before Parker made a Waddingtons’ game under licence. That game was Cluedo.


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