Cool Vintage Toys: The Green Ghost game

by AnomalousArtist

What could be more cool than a game about haunted houses, a murky swamp, ghost children, bones and batwings...and it glowed in the dark!

The concept of the "board game" goes back as far as recorded history. Since before people could write it appears there has been a need/desire for a pastime that centers around a board with specific information on it and pieces that you place on it and move about. It's possible that with computers taking over the world board games could become a thing of the past (along with just about everything else) but as of this writing board games continue to remain a popular social activity of skill, luck and competition.

There is one game that stands out from the pack for the simple reason it was supposed to be the dark! This was 1965's "Green Ghost," a unique three-dimensional game that had the distinction of being made of phosphorescent parts so it glowed in darkness; if you were up to the challenge you could find yourself with your friends and family giggling...or the darkness as you navigated a spooky, softly glowing play board in search of ghost children. "Green Ghost" was not a perfect game but it was definitely a memorable one.

The green, green grass of home!
The green, green grass of home!

1) A Game Of Mystery

As is often the case with toys of the past I couldn't find any clues as to who the mad genius was who conceived of a glowing game about ghosts you play in the dark.  The game itself was initially released by a now-defunct company called "Transogram" in 1965 but received a mass release in the early 70s when it was re-released by Marx toys, famous for the hard-plastic "Johnny West" line of cowboy dolls of the 60s.

The concept of the game was as mysterious as its origin...a large ghost (the "Green Ghost" of the title, perhaps?), sitting on a numbered spinner, lives in a haunted swamp.  "GG" has lost its child, "Kelly."  Players of the game, personified in pieces as a bat, cat, vulture or mouse, have to navigate the murky, glowing swampland, which includes three creepy locations (a haunted house, evil tree and sunken boat).  Each location includes a locked door and beneath the locked doors are crypt-like boxes filled with batwings (feathers), snakes (rubber bands) or bones (plastic pieces).  Each crypt also holds a few of the Green Ghost's small, green ghost children.  The goal is to collect as many of the ghost children as possible and place them on the Green Ghost's spinner.  Once all the children are collected onto the spinner players give the ghost one last spin and, roulette-style, the ghost points with one luminous finger at its star missing child, "Kelly," and the player who found the ghost wins. 

The appeal of the game was obvious--not only did it have the unique "glowing" feature but it also capitalized on images and ideas of the increasingly popular Halloween holiday.  It was more cartoony than scary but it still managed a few chills.  It was a beautiful looking game even with the lights on, with the stencil-cut plastic 3D house, tree and boat and the elaborately painted board.  The ghost spinner, with its big eyes and blobby form, was tactile and attractive and it made a funny clicking sound when you spun it around.

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2) Green Isn't Just The Color Of Ghosts

"Green Ghost" was popular enough to not only survive the 60s and 70s but had a "resurrection" in the 90s. 

In 1997 Marx reissued the game, ostensibly to Baby Boomers who remembered it fondly as kids.  At that time many late 60s/early 70s toys were being re-released.  The "Green Ghost" re-issue was fairly accurate to the original with just a few changes to make the set less expensive and eliminate some of the smaller parts that tended to break off or get lost.

It seems the game had a long shelf life and it was a great value for the money, coming as it did in a box that was close in size to that of a child who might receive it as a gift, and the box contained parts that were fun to play with even outside of the actual game rules.

Today there are fan groups for the game and it sells fairly well on eBay; it's next to impossible to find an original version of the game with all the parts intact and almost as hard to figure out which edition of the oft-re-released game a potential collector is going to find.  But if you really are a Green Ghost fan you can find the game and happily sit in the dark playing it to your heart's content today!

Vintage 1965 Green Ghost Game - By Transogram Company - Glows ...

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Transogram Green Ghost Game 1965 Original Box Missing Some Pie...

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Vintage Transogram Green Ghost Glow In The Dark Game Complete ...

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Vintage Transogram Green Ghost Game

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3) It Ain't Easy Being Green

I loved "Green Ghost" with emotions that bordered on obsessional when I was a child.  As is likely the case with many kids, Christmas was a time of mania in my family's household, a fevered race to a deadline when a cornucopia of toys would be laid out before the rolling eyes and salivating mouths of my older sister, younger brother and myself.  I received "Green Ghost" in my 8th year on the planet and I'm unlikely to ever feel as satisfied with anything again as I was the year I received this giddy glowing game. 

Having said that, the game itself was not nearly as fun as just OWNING it was.  Like "Mousetrap," Green Ghost was much more fun to set up and mess with than it was as a game in the proper sense.  For starters, the through-line of "Kelly," the lost ghost child, was difficult to follow or get too worked up about.  You never knew...was "Green Ghost" a mom, dad, or...?  And the ghost babies were depicted as small, pale green thimbles that were much more fun to stick on your fingers than into the spinner board.  Because the ghost kids had no facial features it was impossible to care about "Kelly" and the plight of the ghost child being lost in the swamp...and after all, being ghosts, would being lost in a haunted swamp really be such a bad thing?  Kelly had the other ghost kids to play with in the batwing/snake/bone-filled pits, after all.  And further, what made Kelly so special?  The instructions for the game never made this clear.

I also found myself wondering, just where WAS this haunted swamp?  Whose haunted house was it...why was there a half-sunken boat?  And who was Green Ghost when he/she was alive?  Of course it was all just a game so it didn't matter but it was perplexing.

Of more importance was the playability of the game.  The spinner that "GG" sat on never really worked that well--rather than "spinning" the big, blobby ghost would usually just move a few places with that characteristic croaking/clicking sound.  If you practiced (and lord knows I did, for hours) you could manipulate the ghost spinner so it always came to whatever number you wanted it to move to, and you could win the game every time.  However, you had to be careful and hold the spinner down while you spun it once you started adding ghost kids to it--if you spun wrong you'd send ghost babies flying everywhere.  Similarly, the plastic legs that held the game aloft were always a flimsy fit and would sometimes fall out mid-game, upsetting the board.  Eventually I lost one of the six plastic legs and had to balance the board precariously on my leg to get through the game.

Lastly, the "glow" effect never quite worked out right.  Even if you stuck the game under a bright light for an hour before playing (yes, I experimented, we didn't have video games in those days) the glow effect would only last about 10 minutes and in five or less the board would grow so dim it was hard to see what you were doing.  Often as not we would get impatient with "re-charging" the thing every few minutes and finish the game--if we finished it at all--with the lights on. 

But it really was a fun game, overall, just for different reasons than one might initially think.  Reaching into the crypts and not knowing if you were going to find something disgusting inside was a laugh--the feathers felt particularly yicchy, or so my sister would reiterate as she squealed in horror again and again (eventually she refused to play the game with me any more and I don't suppose I blame her, as I started putting "surprises" in the pits, to my own amusement and her dread). 

It was fun to set up the baby ghosts on the spinner and just spin it around randomly, the spinner making that awful croaking sound until mom sent us all to the TV room so we'd quit making so much racket.  More than anything I just liked setting up the board and STARING at it, glowing softly, imagining myself wandering some radioactive, forgotten swamp where only a ghost would feel at home.

In the pantheon of old games, particularly games with a "horror" element, however cheesy, "Green Ghost" holds a unique place in history as the first, and perhaps ONLY, glowing game still beloved by those who remember playing it as kids.  Long may the memory of the Green Ghost haunt us all!

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Updated: 07/15/2013, AnomalousArtist
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


AnomalousArtist on 07/27/2013

Thanksfor the comment, it's so fun to go down memory lane! :)

marciag on 07/27/2013

Oh I love all sorts of vintage toys! Great selection.

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