Never Let Them Tell You Gaming Isn’t Useful

CNN has a fascinating article about the role the board game Monopoly played in WWII. In particular, Monopoly helped POWs escape from German camps by providing them with maps (printed on silk so they would silently unfold), tools (hidden as the player pawns in the game), and money (hidden beneath the real Monopoly money). The German authorities happily provided the POWs with the games because they were hard-pressed to get provisions to their own troops, much less to the Allied soldiers they’d captured. So, when the International Red Cross offered to provide the games as part of care packages, they accepted in order to keep the POWs occupied while imprisoned. Monopoly was already a well-known game throughout Europe.

Working in conjunction with John Waddington Ltd (the UK licensee of Monopoly), the British Secret Service arranged for skilled craftsmen to painstakingly carve small niches and openings into the games’ cardboard boxes. Along with the standard thimble, car, and Scotty dog, the POW version included additional “playing” pieces, such as a metal file, a magnetic compass, and of course, a regional silk escape map, complete with marked safe-houses along the way — all neatly concealed in the game’s box. Actual German, Italian, and French currency was placed underneath the play money for escapees to use for bribes. Pilots and soldiers were told to look for marks identifying the modified games: A red dot in the corner of the Free Parking space. After the war, all remaining sets were destroyed, and everyone involved in the plan, including the escaped prisoners, were told to keep quiet. In the event of another large-scale war, Allied officials also wanted to make sure the seemingly innocent board game could go back into action.

One wonders if they could do the same thing these days with Ticket to Ride, which has just issued a Nordic Countries edition.