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History of Guess Who?: Timeline of the Changes to the Classic Board Game

History of Guess Who?: Timeline of the Changes to the Classic Board Game

When I was young, one of my favorite board games was Guess Who?. The game was simple, and yet it was oddly satisfying figuring out your opponent’s identity. As I grew up I kind of lost interest in the game as I found other games that I enjoyed more. This is partially due to there being a Guess Who? strategy that you should follow in order to maximize your chances of winning the game. I don’t enjoy the game as nearly as much as I did when I was a kid as it has its flaws. Guess Who? still has a place in my heart as one of my first favorite board games though.

Guess Who? may not be as old as some of the other classic board games, but it has had an interesting history. While the core gameplay has remained mostly the same since the original version of the game, there have been some notable changes made over the years. This has mostly come from the roster of characters/people in the game. Over the years there have been three main eras for characters in the game. Many of the changes to the people have come from some of the controversy that has surrounded Guess Who?.

So join me as I take a look at the history of Guess Who?. This post will look all of the main versions of the game. With each new version of the game I will detail how the game has changed. For this look at Guess Who?’s history, I will be looking at versions released in the United States. Versions released in other countries may have different characters and other changes not present in the United States counterparts. I will also only be looking at main releases in the franchise. Therefore I won’t be looking at versions of the game that use a theme, or spinoff Guess Who? games.

1979 The Introduction of Guess Who?

Guess Who? was created by married couple Ora and Theo Coster. The Costers are most know for designing Guess Who?, but they actually had a pretty prestigious board game career. The pair formed the company Theora Design which was responsible for creating around 200 different board games and toys.

The first version of Guess Who? was released in 1979. Its original name was “Wie is het?. This was due to the first edition only being released in Dutch. An English version was released shortly afterwards.

Many elements of the original version of the game are still present today. In fact outside of a couple minor differences, the rules are still exactly the same today. For more details on how to play the game, check out our Guess Who? how to play guide.

The original version introduced the characters that many people associate with Guess Who?. The original cast of characters from Guess Who? included:

  • Alex
  • Alfred
  • Anita (The only child in the game.)
  • Anne (Anne is the only non-white character in the game for many years, even though in some versions she is white as well)
  • Bernard
  • Bill
  • Charles
  • Claire
  • David
  • Eric
  • Frans
  • George
  • Herman
  • Joe
  • Maria
  • Max
  • Paul
  • Peter
  • Phillip
  • Richard
  • Robert
  • Sam
  • Susan
  • Tom

This version of the game used a more cartoony art style, but is otherwise almost identical to the more well known 1980s and early 1990s versions of the game.The above list of people would be the roster for over two decades. Outside of some minor tweaks to the character designs, these characters would remain in the game until 2003.

1982 Lakeside’s Attempt At the Game

When most people think of Guess Who?, they think of Milton Bradley and Hasbro. This is not a surprise since those two companies have been responsible for most versions of the game. There was one outlier back in 1982 though. The board game publisher Lakeside actually released their own version of the game. This version must not have sold particularly well since it is the only year Lakeside made the game, and it appears to be quite hard to find.

The Lakeside version of Guess Who? doesn’t really change the gameplay in any significant ways. It does specifically forbid players from asking about gender on the first question though. This would not become a rule for the game again until the 2018 version.

One thing that is unique about this version of the game is that it is actually quite a bit more inclusive than the Milton Bradley versions of the game from this period. While the Milton Bradley versions of the period only had one non-white character (Anne), the Lakeside version of the game actually had four non-white characters: Bill, Maria, and Phil (Phillip in Milton Bradley versions) along with a new character Art (replaces Alex). There are also seven women characters instead of the five from Milton Bradley versions.

Some additional character changes include:

  • Bernard is replaced with Brian.
  • Joe is removed and Jill takes his place
  • Richard is renamed Dick.
  • Herman’s name is changed to Henry.
  • Charles becomes Chuck.
  • Frans turns into Frank.
  • Alfred is switched out for Alice.
  • Max is renamed Mike.
  • Robert is swapped out for Bob.

A lot of the characters have a similar look to their Milton Bradley counterparts, but some of the characters do look a little different.

Box for 1987 version of Guess Who?

1980s to Mid 1990s: The “Classic” Version of Guess Who?

For most of the 1980s until 1996, Guess Who? didn’t really change at all. The box itself didn’t even change during this period. This is one of the versions of the game that most people are familiar with. In fact this is the version of Guess Who? that I remember playing as a child. This version of the game is very similar to the original version.

All of the characters are the same as the original game. The one major change is that Anne becomes the first non-white character in the Milton Bradley versions of the game. Otherwise the art style of the game changed a little, but the overall look of the characters remained very similar to their original designs.

Characters from 1987 version of Guess Who?
Components for 1987 version

The 1980s and early 1990s versions of the game have two unique ways to play the game. Championship Play is still included in newer versions, but the Challenge Game is no longer included in the rules.

In the Challenge Game each player draws two mystery cards at the start of the game. Each player has to figure out both characters that their opponent selected. This makes the game considerably more complicated because you have to ask questions that may apply to one or both characters. You need to solve both identities at the same time in order to win the game.

The other unique way of playing the game is the Championship play mode. Basically each time you win a game you get to place a peg on your gameboard. The first player to win five individual games, wins the entire game.

1996 Guess Who? Gets a Refresh

After having the same version of Guess Who? in print for quite a few years, a new version was finally released in 1996. After mostly keeping things exactly the same for close to a decade and a half, the 1996 version does change a few things.

The differences mostly come from cosmetic changes. Most of the character’s designs were changed quite a bit. The characteristics usually remained the same, but the people’s appearances changed quite a bit. Some smaller elements such as nose size did change on some of the characters.

The two most significant changes were applied to Susan and Anita. Susan’s hair changes from white to yellow/blond. Meanwhile Anita changed from a girl to a woman with white hair.

2002 The Discussion of Inclusion Begins

In 2002 a new version of Guess Who? was released. This version changed a few things, but mostly stayed the same as the 1996 version of the game. The components looked a little different, but the character’s artwork remained exactly the same as the 1996 version of the game.

At this point lets talk about some of the controversy that Guess Who? has had over the years. Early versions of Guess Who? were/are criticized because they weren’t particularly inclusive. In particular there are 19 male characters and 5 female characters. Additionally there is only one black character in each version of the game with some versions not having any non-white characters.

A lot of people debate what was the cause of this. Some people think it just wasn’t inclusive, and other argue that it was due to the design of the game. Guess Who? is designed around the number five. If you look carefully at the characters you will soon realize that they are mostly divided into groups of five. For example there are five characters with black hair. Five characters wear glasses. If you look at most of the unique characteristics, there will be four or five characters that share it.

This was done to make it so an obvious question would usually only eliminate a fraction of the remaining characters. For example if you ask whether a character wears glasses, it will usually only eliminate five or less characters. The one exception to this is if the character is wearing glasses, which can eliminate a lot of characters. This generally leads to the game lasting a few more questions, which makes the questions you ask more important.

The problem arises from the fact that the game decided to use gender as one of these characteristics. This lead to the older versions of the game not being very inclusive. There is even less diversity when it comes to race. Later versions of the game do address this, which does have an impact on the gameplay. It is hard to deny that the original versions of the game weren’t particularly inclusive though.

I bring this up at this point in the timeline because starting with the next version of Guess Who?, the game starts to become a little more inclusive.

Guess Who? 2003 Box

2003-2008 First Major Change to the Roster of Guess Who? Characters

The 2003 release of the game had some huge changes to the roster of characters. In fact only three people’s names from the original game return in this version of the game: Alex, David, and Joseph (Joe). These characters share very little in common with the original characters who had those names though.

Otherwise this version of the game includes a bunch of new characters, and some well needed diversity. This is the first Milton Bradley version of Guess Who? that actually has multiple non-white characters (a total of five in this version of the game). The 2003 version of Guess Who? is responsible for the first major change to the roster of people.

The cast of characters in the 2003 version of Guess Who? include:

  • Alex
  • Andy
  • Ashley
  • Brandon
  • Chris
  • Connor
  • Daniel
  • David
  • Emily
  • Jake
  • James
  • Jon
  • Joseph
  • Joshua
  • Justin
  • Kyle
  • Matt
  • Megan
  • Nick
  • Rachel
  • Sarah
  • Tyler
  • William
  • Zachary
Characters from 2003 version of Guess Who?

The 2003 cast of characters is used by the game for the most part until 2017. In 2017 it gets a smaller update to include more women. In 2018 the cast is changed again to the roster that is used in versions of the game to this day.

Components for 2003 version
Box for 2009 Guess Who?

2009 The Introduction of Non-Human Characters

The 2009 version of Guess Who? added a new element to the game that is used in many of the newer versions of the game. Until this point the game used mystery cards as well as little cards that you put into each door. The 2009 version of the game ditched the mystery cards entirely allowing players to select their own person. Instead of the little cards, the game includes large cardboard sheets that have all of the characters printed on them.

Components for 2009 version

The next big change is that this version of the game was the first of the main series of Guess Who? games to include characters other than humans. The game actually includes two sets of characters that you can play with. You can play with the human side. The game also includes a pet side where the players have to try and guess a pet instead of a human.

Pets from 2009 version of the game

The addition of pets was an interesting twist, which many future versions of the game would also include. This introduces a whole new set of questions that you can ask. Instead of asking about hair color, eye color, etc; you can ask questions such as what type of animal you are.

The human characters remain the same as the 2003 version of the game. The game includes all of the same characters, and they mostly have the same characteristics. The art design does look a little different though.

Human characters from 2009 version of Guess Who?
Box for 2013 version of Guess Who?

2013 The Year With Two Versions of Guess Who?

2013 was an interesting year for Guess Who? for a couple of reasons. First they decided to simplify the game. Up to this point the game had 24 different characters. In 2013 they decided to cut the number of characters down to 15. 

Components for 2013 version of Guess Who?

The other big change is that there were actually two different versions of the game released around this time. The two versions are mostly the same. Expanding on the gamesheets from the previous version of the game, these versions of the game actually include four different sets of characters. Both versions have a pet side, an aquatic animals side, and a food side. Where the two versions differ is the fourth set of characters. One version of the game features the normal human characters even though they are referred to by number instead of names. The other version includes vehicles.

Pets card in 2013 version
Sea creatures card
Food side of game card
Vehicle side of game card
Box for 2017 version of Guess Who?

2017 Equal Representation of Women

The 2017 release of Guess Who? was in some ways a return to older versions while changing things up as well.

The first notable change to the game is that it reverts back to using cards instead of sheets like the previous two versions of the game. Fans of the original game will probably see this as a positive. The tradeoff is there is only one set of characters.

Components for 2017 version of Guess Who?

The more noteworthy change is the fact that Guess Who? finally decided to embrace equality in the composition of the people. Significant more diversity was added to the roster of characters. The characters have different complexions, and white characters no longer comprise a large majority of the characters. Up until this point women/girls only comprised five of the characters in each version of the game. In the 2017 version the number of women and men are completely even. This was a well needed change.

It does add an interesting twist to the gameplay though. In this version of the game your first question should always be “is your character male/female?”. This question guarantees that you will eliminate half of the characters with your first question. Future versions of the game try to get around this by adding a rule that you shouldn’t ask this question until your third question (unless you want to play the easier version of the game).

With the addition of seven new women/girl characters, this obviously meant that some characters had to removed. The following male characters were removed: Alex, Chris, Joshua, Justin, Matt, Tyler, William, and Zachary. The following female characters were added to the game: Donna, Gail, Jess, Katie, Lisa, Liz, and Rebecca.

Characters from 2017 version of Guess Who?

2017 Roster of Characters

A few characters also had some changes to their design:

  • Ashley
  • Chris’ name changes to Jay
  • Connor
  • Jake
  • Jon
  • Nick
  • Megan

The complete roster of characters for the 2017 version of Guess Who? include:

  • Andy
  • Ashley
  • Brandon
  • Connor
  • Daniel
  • David
  • Donna
  • Emily
  • Gail
  • Jake
  • James
  • Jay
  • Jess
  • Jon
  • Joseph
  • Katie
  • Kyle
  • Lisa
  • Liz
  • Megan
  • Nick
  • Rachel
  • Rebecca
  • Sarah
Box for 2018 version of Guess Who?

2018 The Second Major Change of Characters for Guess Who?

A year later Hasbro released another version of Guess Who?. This version once again changed the game quite a bit. The gameplay remained basically the same, but the roster of characters changed quite a bit.

Components for 2018 version of Guess Who?

The 2018 version of Guess Who? is what I would call the third major change in the roster of people. The art style was completely changed utilizing a more realistic style. Pretty much all of the characters are unique from previous versions of the game, and it includes the most diverse cast of characters. This roster of characters is still used in the most recent versions of the game.

Here is the complete list of all of the characters in the 2018 version of Guess Who?.

  • Al
  • Amy
  • Ben
  • Carmen
  • Daniel
  • David
  • Emma
  • Eric
  • Farah
  • Gabe
  • Joe
  • Jordan
  • Katie
  • Laura
  • Leo
  • Lily
  • Liz
  • Mia
  • Mike
  • Nick
  • Olivia
  • Rachel
  • Sam
  • Sofia
Characters for 2018 version of Guess Who?

2022 The Modern Game

The most recent version of Guess Who? at this time is the 2022 release. This version reverses back to using game sheets instead of individual cards. Since the game uses sheets, it does give players two different sets of characters that you can choose to play with. The character side of the sheet includes the exact same set of people (including the same designs) as the 2018 version of the game.

The new addition to the 2022 version of Guess Who? is the addition of the superheroes. This side of the sheets include a bunch of made-up superheroes using the human characters from the normal version of the game.

The heroes in the 2022 version include:

  • Atlantia
  • Beast Tamer
  • Blasteroid
  • Dr. Ion
  • Eric Eagle
  • Geode
  • Glance
  • Ice Light
  • Madame Vine
  • Mr. Mist
  • Robo-Joe
  • Rumbler
  • Safeguard
  • Sam Spark
  • Shadow Ninja
  • Sir Stretch
  • Spysight
  • Stupendous
  • Swapshift
  • Thundershock
  • Ultrasonic
  • Whoosh
  • Zap