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Monopoly, the 007 of the Boardgame World

Here’s a cool tidbit of verified historical fact that you can include in your espionage game, or in an espionage type scene in any other game: During World War 2, Waddington, England’s licensee of Parker Brother’s popular game Monopoly, were approached by Britain’s defense department to produce maps printed on silk, a much better alternative to paper maps, and for which Waddington already had an established, high quality production facility. Not content to stop at just producing maps for British airman who were risking being shot down over enemy territory, they also produced special Monopoly sets for delivery to POW camps through fronts claiming to be humanitarian organizations. These monopoly sets included silk maps, files, and compasses hidden in depressions within the game board, and large amounts of various currencies hidden within the packs of monopoly money. After retrieving the supplies, POWs would destroy the remains of the game to prevent their Axis captors from discovering their ruse. Though no hard numbers are available on how many Allied POWs used these special Monopoly sets to escape, or if the tactic was ever discovered by enemy forces, but it remains one of many instances in which real life is as amazing as fiction.

Don’t believe me [1]?

True, this is just a variant of the ol’ file in the cake, but it, or a variant of it could easily prove to be the edge your PCs need to escape from imprisonment. After the PCs use the smuggled tools to escape, they still have to get through enemy territory to safety. Even then there will be pursuers to dodge and questions to answer. Who sent this? Was it really meant for us? If not, who do we need to get out with us? Is it better to get as much distance as we can or to stay close and gather intelligence and harass their foes?

On the other hand, maybe this is the sneaky underhanded technique that their foes use to escape the PC’s detainment. In this case, the escapees have to be stopped or hunted down and interrogated about how they managed to escape. Then the same or similar questions arise. Who sent this escape package? How can we prevent another from getting through? Were the actual escapees the intended target or was this all just a distraction?

Each of these questions is easily a springboard to an adventure all it’s own. An entire campaign could be built around the simple introduction of an escape tool hidden in a novel fashion.

10 Comments (Open | Close)

10 Comments To "Monopoly, the 007 of the Boardgame World"

#1 Comment By Troy E. Taylor On September 27, 2012 @ 8:16 am

What an awesome cool story. That’s a real gem. Thanks for sharing. And the in-game application is a neat idea too.

I wonder what other variations there are on the “file in the cake” scenario?

#2 Comment By MuadMouse On September 27, 2012 @ 9:04 am

Science fiction and fantasy settings allow for all sorts of cakes! My personal favourite: the human/alien/elven/what-have-you body.

In a fantasy setting you could have a character with spells tattooed on them (essentially a living scroll) infiltrate a prison in order to facilitate the escape of an important prisoner.

Similarly, in an SF setting you can have all sorts of fun with implanted glands that let you spit acid, or you might just have a beacon hidden in your anatomy so that an extraction team find you.

Or, for any setting, the infiltrator might simply be capable of persuading guards to turn on their masters, for instance through blackmail.

This sort of an infiltrator is a nifty way of introducing a new PC to a party who lost one of their number in the capture. Nothings bonds people together like a good prison break!

#3 Comment By Troy E. Taylor On September 27, 2012 @ 9:25 am

I like that tattoo thing. Neat idea..

#4 Comment By lordbyte On September 27, 2012 @ 9:58 am

In the Deathgate trilogy by Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman, one of the protagonists uses his tattoos as spells, although I can’t remember the specific details (read it almost 20 years ago).

#5 Comment By Palin On September 27, 2012 @ 10:36 am

Yes, his whole race of powerful beings, called Patryns, have symbols of power tattoed in every part of their body. The character which is most followed by the story is Haplo.

#6 Comment By palin On September 27, 2012 @ 10:33 am

In Dune a forced traitor implants a poison capsule into a soon-to-be-delivered prisoner in an attempt to assassinate one of the major bosses.

#7 Comment By Roxysteve On September 27, 2012 @ 8:53 am

But in a world where such finesses are typically hinging on die rolls a file-in-the-cake escape should be something the PCs either arranged as a backup plan or took pains to be read in on before being banged up in chokey for the most bang-for-buck (in my opinion).

Otherwise all you have is another Cheesy GM Thrown Bone (which is also good, but less satisfyingly good I think). Use this sort of thing to spark player thinking on contingency planning and everyone wins.

Of course, the CDMTB was used to good and humorous effect in Kenneth Graham’s The Wind in the Willows, but it was also used as a moral: “Don’t Do This”.

I think the idea has more legs in a storyteller game, where the players and GM craft whole cloth from threads cooperatively and openly.

Waddington’s were, by the way, the best-known game company in England when I was a lad, and every house had at least one of their products in it. They made not only the London version of Monopoly, but the most fun race-car game I’ve ever played (Formula One) which commands a fortune on eBay, Totopoly, a horse-racing game, Cluedo (Clue, with an added pun in the title for British people), 40,000 AD (a Hyperspace combat game) and I don’t know how many more.

Their games ran from the moderately complex to the dead easy and came in boxes as small as an 5×8 to the long, thin Monopoly-style box used for all their full-size games. Boards were heavy-duty and bifold – no clipping together sections or trying to unfold the board *without* ending up with it frontside-down. They made dozens of card games too.

I don’t remember playing a Waddington’s game I didn’t enjoy.

Sadly, they are gone now.

#8 Comment By MuadMouse On September 27, 2012 @ 10:00 am

Actually, if the PCs in one of my games ended up imprisoned without having an escape plan, I’d be perfectly happy to have a file cake delivered to them. By someone they wouldn’t want to owe favours to (preferably an ambiguous villain). That gives the players a choice (not a great one, but still), and it allows me to complicate their relationships with their antagonists, especially if the favour they are expected to provide proves to be nobler (or at least less despicable) than one would think.

I wouldn’t want to railroad my players into an antagonist’s service, though. The choice in this scenario would be whether or not to risk compromising their morals for a “Get Out of Jail at a Discount” card. They could always refuse and try to escape on their own. But the convenience of that file cake is very hard to resist…

#9 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On September 27, 2012 @ 10:25 am

I wouldn’t think of it as a thrown bone (which is fun to saw, btw. thrown bone, thrown bone, thrown bone…) because you’re not giving something to your players. Instead you’re offering your players a trade. In return for you solving their problem, they’re picking up the resultant complications and shenanigans the offer comes with. Muad gives the excellent example of the help coming from an unexpected source. I’ll go furter and say that this isn’t so much an example of poor play (necessarily) but rather a feature of certain genres and play styles. What Bond movie would be complete without the crotch-laser table, for example, and sometimes players just like the fly by the seat of your pants, see what they (or you) come up with type of game as opposed to the dot all the is cross all the ts play style. Of course this is all dependant on the expectations of the game to this point. Switching suddenly w/o explicit discussion may seem like someone’s off their rocker.

#10 Comment By Don Mappin On October 4, 2012 @ 8:52 am

Love it! Thanks for sharing!