It’s hard to think of an activity more wholesome and family-friendly than an evening spent playing board games. But the world of board games has its controversial black sheep. Here are five you should probably skip at your next family game night.
War on Terror: The Board Game
It has cards called “Suicide Bomber,” “Regime Change,” and “Terrorist Attack,” uses a spinner dubbed the Axis of Evil, and comes with a ski mask with the word “EVIL” written in red across its forehead. It’s War on Terror: The Board Game, and it raised eyebrows by making light of what, at the time of its 2006 debut, was a pretty serious issue. Quoted in Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper, War on Terror co-designer Andy Tompkins said the game is intended “to make you question who the terrorists really are. Are they the ones blowing people up with suicide bombers, or the ones destroying countries with planes?” Regardless of how you answer that question, the game was quite a hit with critics and retains a healthy fanbase.
A clumsy attempt at parodying Monopoly, Ghettopoly replaced the board’s railroads with liquor stores, its houses with crackhouses, and its income-tax squares with carjackings and police shakedowns. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t last long: it was withdrawn from sale — at well-regarded retailer Urban Outfitters, no less — after being dubbed racist by a number of prominent African-American groups. Hasbro, owners of the Monopoly trademark, wasn’t amused either, and took legal action against the game’s creator. All that kerfuffle had the effect of making Ghettopoly something of a collectors’ item; it routinely sells for a few hundred bucks.
Bomber uber England
The propagandists of Hitler’s Third Reich didn’t just make posters and radio broadcasts. Turns out they also embraced board games as a way to sell the Fuehrer’s message to the youth. Bomber uber England (“Bombers over England”) is just one example of many; it’s a pinball-style game that sees players firing balls at targets including major English cities, shipping lanes, and lighthouses. Hit a location controlled by the Germans — like Brussels or Amsterdam — and you’ll lose points (and make Hitler mad).
Milton Bradley, storied maker of Twister, Yahtzee, and Connect 4 (to name but a few), is one of the most respected names in board gaming. But with well over a century of history behind it, it’s perhaps not surprising there’s the odd skeleton or two in Bradley’s closet. And here’s one of them: the cover art from a 1950’s edition of Battleship. There’s a father and son, merrily you-sunk-my-battleshipping, in the foreground — but what’s that behind them? Yup, it’s Mom and daughter, in the kitchen, doing the dishes. No games for you, girls. While we’re sure the sexist art would have passed unnoticed sixty years ago, we doubt MB will be re-releasing this particular version any time soon.
Playing Gods: The Board Game of Divine Domination
The “God game” genre has been a staple of board and video games for years, but usually their creators have the sense to use mythological or invented deities as their centerpieces. Not so with Playing Gods, a satire on religious extremism that includes plastic figures of a gun-toting Buddha and an angry, cross-wielding Jesus. Featuring cards that let you send lightning bolts, plagues, floods, and earthquakes to kill off the followers of other deities, it’s a bit of a button-pusher, to say the least. And if you decide you don’t like any of the standard gods you can make up your own. Just like real life, then.