Another old blog (from Feb 2012) ported over from my old site. Quite a long one, so make a cuppa before you start…
It’s funny how similar things seem to crop up in different situations for no obviously related reason, isn’t it? Like when you have just booked a holiday and suddenly every news report or TV documentary starts mentioning that very place, to the point that you actually start to consider the possibility of nonsense like ‘synchronicity’ and other forms of New Age wooo. Of course, it’s just the human condition and our predisposition for finding patterns where they do not exist among the numerous coincidences that occur around us all the time but generally go unnoticed for lack of a specific focal point to trigger the process of association. But that doesn’t stop it from feeling mysterious, now does it?
Anyhoo. A few days ago somebody posted a twitter message about Monopoly, which triggered a discussion on the theme of Board Games I Have Known & Loved. After about a dozen or so exchanges that particular round of messaging ended, but a couple of days later a ‘trend’ or whatever it’s called appeared on the theme of ‘Toys ‘R’ Unsuitable’, with the names of established children’s games and toys corrupted for comic effect. Two of my favourites were ‘Pepper-Spray Pig’ and ‘Skate Bored: The disinterested fish that kids won’t be interested in’, but TBH there was quite a lot of chaff to sift through to find a few grains of half-decent wheat.
That aside, it did get me thinking in more general terms about the relevancy of board games for twenty-first century living, and I came to the conclusion that most would benefit from major updates. Of course, some might argue that board games have become completely irrelevant now because of the abundance of cheap and accessible software and computer games, and it is certainly true that newer versions of old favourites tend to incorporate electronic ‘bankers’ and swipe-card technology, and have streamlined rules to circumnavigate the boredom threshold of today’s kids, but IMO manufacturers are really missing the point: it’s not the technology that makes board games redundant and old-hat – it’s the social values and ideologies they reflect.
Taking The Game Of Life as an example, we are presented with a board that promotes higher education and staged career progression, the intrinsic values of the ‘nuclear family’ underpinned by happy marriages and prudent family planning, and the material benefits of sensible borrowing and cautious money management to ensure a comfortable retirement and care-free old age. I mean, how relevant does that sound in a society where almost 50% of marriages end in bitter divorce, unemployment statistics regularly hit new record-breaking levels and pension schemes seem almost routinely plundered by those setting them up to provide revenue for speculation in a world market undergoing the deepest recession in history?
With these factors in mind, here are some ideas for bringing traditional board games bang up to date…
MONOPOLY: Sadly, this game’s going to require quite a major facelift, the levels of greed depicted in the original version appearing nothing less than laughable in the 21st century. Even the name is no longer relevant, with multinational businesses now so adept at concealing the full extent of their trading profiles that the Monopolies commission is, in all but the most flagrant of cases, effectively a toothless dog. That said, the inherent charm of the game lies in its ‘local’ feel and adherence to the concept of property letting and trading rather than wider commercial investment and capital venturing, so sticking with that theme I suggest it be re-branded as ‘Slumlord’, with the emphasis shifted from development and refurbishment to maximised profitability. Rather than being valued by location alone streets will be assessed by three different criteria – density of population, general levels of disrepair, and the lack of alternative local government-backed affordable housing opportunities – with prime sites commanding the highest rents while offering the lowest standards of living.
When building, the emphasis would be on maximum return for minimum square footage, with ‘houses’ colour-coded and priced accordingly. The traditional ‘hotel’ would be replaced with the ‘hovel’ – a single room (lock-up garage or somesuch) with no running water or sanitation illegally let to upwards of twenty of the most desperate, needy and vulnerable people our crumbling society can offer. Generally, rents charged for ‘hovel’ accommodation would be four times higher than those for regular houses built on comparable sites, but this is doubled if the landlord has also drawn the ‘illegal immigrant tenant’ card from the Community Chest.
The income tax squares have always represented something of a sticky issue in gaming terms, because it goes without saying that the highest earners in our society are also the most astute when it comes to finding tax loopholes to avoid payment. Recent disclosures regarding the tax bill of a certain ex PM highlight just how unrealistic the simplistic Tax Demand = Payment ideology of the old game has become, so it would seem sensible to update the game to include a business expense that today’s Slumlord might more readily identify with – i.e. twin ‘intimidation tax’ squares, representing retainers paid to the Doug and Dinsdale Piranha Rent Collection Advisory Service.
Unlike the traditional game, the ‘Go to Jail’ square would offer opportunities for increased income rather than implying a loss of income, as the landlord would not only still be able to claim rent on any property but also to supplement his/her income by drug dealing throughout the period of incarceration, rolling dice for up to three turns to determine the amount of revenue earned. In the event of throwing a double, the landlord has to leave jail immediately, losing any revenue accrued from drug dealing in the process.
An additional benefit of a jail sentence would be that while inside the landlord is exempt from all local ‘taxes’ (intimidation, extortion etc) that might have otherwise become payable to other players. In certain situations, then, when a player’s revenue is low or another player is making an aggressive takeover bid, it may become advantageous to ‘do a bit of porridge’. With this in mind, the ‘Chance’ cards contain two ‘Get Into Jail Free’ tokens which can be kept by the landlord collecting them until needed, or traded with other players as desired. Additionally, the ‘Get Into Jail Free Card’ can be used in conjunction with the ‘Take The Rap’ card to facilitate a short-term business merger between two players that benefits both financially, leaving one free to trade and move freely around the board while the other enjoys the personal security and additional income afforded by a custodial sentence.
Chance and Community Chest cards will remain a feature of the new product, but will be updated in line with the rest of the game. The ‘you have been assessed for street repairs…’ card, for example will now read ‘you have been assessed for building repairs but have successfully lobbied against the proposed changes in legislation…’ and will offer a payout determined by the roll of the dice, while the ‘you have won second prize in a beauty competition…’ card will now read, ‘you have got a bung in with the main judge of a local beauty competition and…’.
Many other games are also ripe for updating in this way; Battleships, for example, pretty much begging for an upgrade from its current one-on-one war strategy game status to become a thrilling trading race for up to six players, all seeking to make their fortunes by circumnavigating international laws on arms dealing to successfully offer nuclear capabilities to various blacklisted minority groups of religious fundamentalists.
Cluedo is another game much in need of a face lift; the notion of a detective actually solving a crime without the aid of DNA profiling and a full CSI team patently ludicrous in this day and age. Providing an even more exciting and modern twist, rather than it being the lead pipe that is ‘bent’ the game could actually focus on the exploits of an unscrupulous, owned-by-the-mob detective whose job it is to successfully frame one of the occupants of the manor house by planting incriminating evidence, cleverly lifted fingerprints and other various bodily fluids and fibres at the scene of the crime to provide a ‘watertight’ case and guaranteed promotion, while simultaneously diverting attention away from his gangland bosses.
While revitalising larger games like the ones above could prove quite complex, simpler games could be adapted far more easily with just a few quick changes to the rules or game-play definitions. Build A Beetle, for example, could very quickly become ‘Torture A Termite’ simply by reversing the order of play and pulling bits off of the pre-assembled bug rather than putting them on. Budding psychopaths of the 21st century, weaned on more graphic computer simulations of torture and murder, would probably enjoy the addition of artificial blood, which could be piped into the unfortunate bug with an included turkey baster prior to commencement of the game for hours of spurting fun.
In a similar vein, a few small tweaks to the traditional board graphics would see Snakes & Ladders rapidly transformed into ‘Swings & Roundabouts – The Private Pensions Game’, while the simple addition of a timer could see Operation morphed into a race against the clock where up to six competing surgeons rush to get the most private patients in the shortest time through one NHS operating theatre.
As someone who likes board games and has spent many an happy hour rolling dice and moving small pieces of plastic around a cardboard covered tabletop I think it would be a shame to see them getting left behind in the race to keep our children entertained. On the off-chance that a traditional game manufacturer may stumble across this blog before it is too late, here are a few brief outlines of other game adaptations I think might pay dividends:
- Draughts: First care-home owner to kill off all their pensioners with hyperthermia wins.
- First Past The Post: Six pensioners compete for one artificial hip.
- The Game Of Life: Whose sperm will arrive at the egg first to win them half shares in a housing association flat?
- Pass the Buckaroo: Each player takes the role of a leading politician in the aftermath of a political scandal. “You never know where the buck will stop!”
- Frustration: Up to four players compete to get their name on the books of an NHS dentist.
- Blow football: First ‘sleb wannabee’ to successfully perform fellatio on a married 1st division footballer and sell her story to a tabloid newspaper wins.
- Jenga: Shore up the economy with increasingly desperate and impractical short term fiscal policies (i.e. ‘Quantitative Easing) until the whole thing comes crashing down.
- Scrabble: Remarketed as a banking game, the numbers on the tiles represent money (in £100,000 increments) rather than points. Triple word/letter scores etc to be replaced with ‘end of year bonuses’ for which the individual players (bankers) ‘Scrabble’.
- Mouse Trap: Cut all benefits to below subsistence levels then watch the ‘vermin’ squirm.
- Kerplunk: Take turns removing the sticks to leave ever widening holes in the eligibility criteria of the social welfare safety net so that increasing numbers of societies weakest, most vulnerable, most needy and most disenfranchised fall through the cracks.
- Uno: Due to rising inflation this should be renamed ‘Quattro’.
- Connect 4: The first reporter to successfully tap the phones of four celebrities/public figures wins a promotion to deputy editor.
Etc., Etc., Etc. …