Parker Brothers

Winter is upon us, alas, but board games are a time-honored way of powering through these cold February nights. If you've ever wondered about the origins of those games that live up on the top shelf of the closet, it turns out that many popular games have genuinely intriguing histories.

For instance, did you know that the popular game Clue was invented by a British husband-and-wife team Anthony and Elva Pratt in 1944? Also, it was originally called Murder! and included extra weapons like a syringe, a bomb and a shillelagh. Fun couple, the Pratts. Here are some more historical tidbits on your favorite board games.

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This is a recreation of of the original Monopoly game based on a 1924 patent.Wikimedia Commons

The game of Monopoly, as we know it today, works like a celebration of aggressive capitalism. Players win by taking all the money and real estate from the other players. But in its original incarnation, Monopoly was actually an educational game designed to illustrate the dangers of monopolies and unchecked economic privilege. The earliest known version -- titled The Landlord's Game -- was patented in 1904 as part of a series of games involving real estate transactions.

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Surely the most passive-aggressive game in the history of family fun night, Sorry! is based around a central game mechanic in which players try to impede or negate the progress of their opponents. It's a good way to sublimate simmering family dynamics on a cold winter night. Sorry! is one of several Westernized versions of the Indian game Pachisi, which dates back to at least the 16th century. The earliest known version of the modern game was trademarked in England in 1929.

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Game scholars consider the ancient Chinese game of Go to be perhaps the oldest and most complex board game ever invented. Mathematically, the game is more complicated than chess by several orders of magnitude. While the true origin of the game remains unknown, researchers theorize that Go grew from military strategy maps used by warlords preparing for actual battles. The earliest written references to the game date back to the 4th century BC.

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The perennially popular game known as Connect 4 was first sold by Milton Bradley in 1974, but its origins go much farther back. It's a variant of the "Four in a Row" or "Four Balls" game played in Europe in the 18th century, using carved wooden balls. Legend holds that the famous explorer Captain Cook was so obsessed with the game that he would play for hours in the ship's cabin, earning the game the nickname "The Captain's Mistress."

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Scrabble may be the single most popular board game in the U.S. -- it's estimated that one in three American homes have a Scrabble board on a shelf somewhere. The game was invented by out-of-work architect Alfred Butts in the 1940s. His initial idea was to create a hybrid game combining elements of anagram and crossword puzzles popular in the era. Butts originally named his game "Lexiko" and determined the relative point value of individual letters by painstakingly counting letter frequencies in the Saturday Evening Post and the New York Times.

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The admirably ambitious board game known as The Game of Life looked a lot different when it was first brought to market. Invented by Milton Bradley himself in 1860, it was called The Checkered Game of Life and was played on a modified checkerboard. The goal was to get from Infancy, on one corner of the board, to Old Age, at the opposite corner -- while hitting as many beneficial squares as possible. The game was substantially redesigned in the 1960s.

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In the 1940s, the infectious disease polio confined thousands of U.S. children to their beds. Schoolteacher Eleanor Abbott -- a polio victim herself -- created the game Candy Land as a way to entertain children recuperating from the disease. Legend holds that Abbott actually sketched the game on a roll of butcher paper while recovering in a San Diego hospital. She sent the idea to the Milton Bradley company, who introduced the game in 1949. Almost all of the iconic locales in Candy Land -- Gumdrop Mountains, Peppermint Forest, Molasses Swamp -- were present in Abbott's first version of the game.

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Renowned for its elegant and balanced design, the German board game Catan -- originally called The Settlers of Catan -- is credited with opening the U.S. market to so-called "Eurogames." Designed to be strategically challenging yet easy to learn, Eurogames now represent the fastest-growing segment of board games in America. Catan was one of several games designed by German dental technician Klaus Teuber -- as a hobby, in his basement. The game has now sold more than 20 million copies worldwide.

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When the U.S. company Parker Brothers acquired rights to this popular French strategy game in 1957, they didn't know the odd back story: The game's original title was La Conquête du Monde (The Conquest of the World), and it was invented by French filmmaker Albert Lamorisse while on family vacation. The year before his game hit shelves in France, Lamorisse won an Academy Award -- and the Palme d'Or prize at the Cannnes Film Festival -- for his celebrated short film "The Red Balloon."