New game is a wonderfully bitter version of the economic mess


“Crunch, The Game For Utter Bankers” is a card game for anyone with a distinctly gallows sense of humor:

[It] allows you to experience the upside of down. Placed in the role of a global banking CEO, you have to juggle the conflicting demands of your ailing bank and your flourishing bank account. … Each player starts the game with a number of Assets in their bank, a small workforce and a few Trust cards. Trust is essential to your bank’s survival. Not only will capitalism falter without it, but each Trust card hides on the reverse a potential Government Bailout.

card-rebrandThis  is the latest product from the fine warped folks at TerrorBull Games and – judging by the website — it is as bitter and cynical as their last number: War On Terror: The Board Game. (Does anyone do bitter better than the Brits? They have a cultural gift for angry commentary that I have never seen equaled: Waugh, Ralph Steadman, Francis Bacon, Martin & Kingsley Amis, Thackeray, Joe Orton – the list just goes on and wonderfully on. While the US has some fine satirists only Mencken really ranks for among the great acidivists.)

An average game sees you bribing your way out of government investigations, fending off aggressive takeovers and forcing debt onto the unsuspecting public. Meanwhile, reward your hard work by taking inappropriate bonuses and – when no one’s looking – brazenly embezzling your bank’s own funds and hiding them about your person. Crunch is unique in that to win, players are coaxed into cheating.

Fittingly, the game will hit stores on April 1, but it is NOT a prank.

Full disclosure alert:

  • I have not played the game yet.
  • I am being given a free review copy.
  • The company has wormed its way into my heart by sending a free copy of War On Terror to a friend who is currently deployed in Afghanistan.

That said, if the game is half as fun to play as the website is to read it will be great.

card-toobigtofail Although the problems inherent in, say, spending over a trillion dollars on a war, while your country’s exports diminish year-on-year, would be apparent to the average school child, somehow everyone seemed caught off guard by this. And, being simple people, we started looking around to find out who to blame. …

Unfortunately, you can’t bomb the economy into shape, so looking for culprits was largely a waste of time. Even when bank bosses finally came under fire, it all felt like a bit of a diversion. Like sitting in an upturned, burning car and taking that moment to try and work out where you went wrong, when the car itself has no breaks, no steering wheel, tyres made out of butter and wood instead of glass for windows. And it’s not even a car, it’s an angry lion on roller skates and you’ve been trying to drive it.

Not sure if this will be as much fun as some tar and feathers – but I have my hopes up.


War on Terror makes it to Afghanistan!

The fine folks at TerrorBull Games, makers of The War On Terror: The Boardgame*, have made sure that the war on terror is helping out our troops in Afghanistan. When I told them my friend and fellow boardgamer, Lt. Pete, was over there they sent out a copy free of charge.

Lt. Pete writes:

I just wanted to let you know that War on Terror made it to theater!  I was a bit worried because once we got here they said to just use the APO because any address with the word “Afghanistan” on it typically gets routed thru Kabul and doesn’t always make it to Bagram.  Thankfully it did!

I really appreciate the effort you put into this and will be sure to update you with pics, etc.  I am doing a right seat/left seat ride with the person I am replacing right now and we are quite busy with turnover. Once things settle down with the turnover I should get a chance to play.

Again, my sincere gratitude – boardgames are the best stress reliever I know, so it will be very theraputic and fun for me!

Anyone else wishing to send things to either Lt. Pete or Lt. Autumn, please drop me a line a cvon (((at))) areporter DOT com or post a note in the comments section and I will get you their shipping information.

*Official board game of CollateralDamage and heartily endorsed by the Penguins of Irony!

Game proves satire is world’s most dangerous marketing strategy

The War on Terror is still terrifying people. And in this specific case I mean the boardgame, not the George Bush Desert Classic. As readers will recall, War on Terror: The Boardgame was released in November of ’06 (though I was reporting on it in July of that year HAH!). The satiric game seems to be what would have happened had Randy Newman designed Risk.

“The ‘War on Terror’ was once just a violent hobby for greedy imperialists. Now, courtesy of TerrorBull Games, it’s also a boardgame! That’s right, now everyone can experience the thrill of waging war on an abstract noun – and liberate the world in the process.”

Components include an Axis of Evil spinner, a balaclava with the word “evil” printed across the forehead and a “Suicide Bomber Gift Certificate,” bearing the legend “thank you for funding the War on Terror.” I really think one of those should be given to every US taxpayer.

While I doubt it’s been a huge seller it has certainly been a PR bonanza for TerrorBull Games — one that just keeps on giving. Initially it was decried by every UK news organization with a slow news day and then banned by the big toy store chain over there. Also the company wasn’t allowed to even rent a booth at the London Toy Fair. More recently the game was cited by the police as evidence that a bunch of UK treehuggers at the Camp for Climate Action had a “sinister weapons cache.”

… on Monday night police found a stash of weapons that included an assortment of knives, a pointed throwing star, shields and chains hidden in trees and undergrowth around the site.

Also seized — and featured prominently in press coverage — was a copy of guess what boardgame? (Note to the UK cops: a throwing star? There is no less dangerous weapon in the world — except to the person using it. The damn things are nearly impossible to throw with any accuracy.)

Now the damn thing is once-again getting banned by stores. According to the game’s publisher:

When Zavvi ordered 5,000 copies of War on Terror, independent publishers, TerrorBull Games, thought their luck had changed. After a year of obstruction and rejection, they finally had a high street outlet. However, the celebrations were short-lived when the games were recalled the very day they went on sale. A Zavvi spokesman strangely claimed that “poor sales” lay behind the same-day recall, but TerrorBull Games suspect differently. Apparently, while many at Zavvi were backing the game, MD, Simon Douglas, was unaware of the deal until the moment he saw War on Terror on the shelves of his own shop. Douglas reportedly “kicked off” and the games were promptly pulled. Zavvi then refused further delivery and became reluctant to pay for games they suddenly decided they didn’t want. A protracted legal battle ensued that, while almost bankrupting TerrorBull Games, ended in victory for TerrorBull as they got to keep half the games as well as getting paid in full.

In order to make more hay from this the company is going to be “giving away over 100 board games on Oxford St in London to draw attention to the fact that no High Street chains will dare sell the game.” Apparently High Street is a big thing over there. It’s so cute when the Brits act like they’re a real country!

One of these days I really want to actually play this thing.

Oklahoma license plate lets you show your support for the “War Against A Feeling”

licenseOklahoma, the state that was the site of the worst case of domestic terrorism in US history, has a new license plate commemorating the current offensive against a concept. I’m looking forward to the follow up: Tags that show support for the Global War On Extremism, Gen. Petraeus’s current cause celebre. How about one that says “My country invaded Iraq and all I got was this lousy recession”? There’s definitely a market for it. Recent polls show 2/3rds of the people in the US now expect a recession.

U.S. escalates war on concepts: “The enemy is extremism”

pogoIn an interview on NPR Gen. David Petraeus showed that logic is not a required course at the Army War college:

Q: A simple question that many in America are now wrestling with: Who is the enemy and what is the U.S. fighting for?

A: The enemy is extremism, we think, and it is extremism that comes in various forms.

I forget, is it the infantry or the artillery who are trained in extreme combat?

Isn’t moderation the best weapon against extremism? But if you do it too well you run the risk of being extremely moderate.

If the enemy is extremism does this mean we’re about to attack the X Games?

Maybe we could attack marketers who use the word extreme when ever they want to appear “hip” and “down” with the kids these days?

I look forward to the Armed Forces blowing up statues of Sen. Barry Goldwater who famously said that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

Isn’t going to war a very extreme act?

One definition of extremism is “any political theory favoring immoderate uncompromising policies.” Invade the vice president’s office immediately.

This reminds me of something George Bush the elder said during the first Iraq contretemps: “We are fighting to prove that might does not make right.”

The war on extremism makes the war on terror look good.

War on Terror: The Boardgame — Part 2

It’s not just the US that’s having problems waging the war on terror. As loyal readers may recall last July I wrote about the new boardgame version of the War On Terror called, appropriately enough, The War On Terror: The Boardgame. (Writing in the pages of the august publication that chooses to employ me, I described it as what would happen if Randy Newman had designed Risk.) Since then the two Brits behind it have hit a PR jackpot as their game has been denounced by two members of Parliament and been rejected by the toy industry.

Quoth the Cambridge Evening News:

“We went to the London Toy Fair and we were a bit green and didn’t really know the drill. They expected us to be buyers but we turned up wearing balaclavas and holding a mock up copy of our box. So we were kindly removed from there, but that was because we hadn’t paid to exhibit, which was fair enough.

“More recently though, we tried to go down the correct route and exhibit. We applied to do a couple of very large German toy fairs, and got rejected from both. With the first, our application went a long way and we paid for our booth and everything and then, when we submitted our press release, we were told there was no way we could exhibit there, and that our money would be refunded.

“There wasn’t much of an explanation, so I phoned them up and the woman in charge kind of flipped over it – she said it was sick and ridiculous. She couldn’t believe we were making a board game about terrorism. But Germans are a bit touchy about war.”

The controversy has also been featured on the BBC and The Sun. That really is the kind of publicity you can’t buy. But you can buy the game, if you live in the UK. For some reason they haven’t found a US distributor yet. Which is too bad because the game, which costs about 26 of whatever it is they call money in the UK, comes with a balaclava emablazoned with the word evil and a “Suicide Bomber Gift Certificate,” bearing the legend “thank you for funding the War on Terror.” If that’s not worth buying then what is?

War on Terror: The Boardgame

The ‘War on Terror’ was once just a violent hobby for greedy imperialists. Now, courtesy of TerrorBull Games, it’s also a boardgame! That’s right, now everyone can experience the thrill of waging war on an abstract noun – and liberate the world in the process.

This is either a brilliant piece of political satire or the most cynical game since the release of the computer game Postal (you got to play a berserk post office worker who runs around shooting innocent bystanders. I wish I were making that up). Or maybe both.

Hmmm, having done a little research I’m leaning towards satire. These may be the two best quotes from a press release ever:

“We wanted to diffuse the language of terrorism – it’s being (ab)used by governments and the unquestioning media to control people and instil them with fear. Instead, we want people to laugh at it. We want families blowing each other up, funding regime changes and bickering over oil – all with a smile on their face. Once we’ve reclaimed the language of fear then maybe an honest discussion can start.” — Andrew Sheerin, director TerrorBull Games

“Since our first prototype for the Axis of Evil spinner we’ve had nearly three years of war in Iraq, suicide bombers in London and the only weapons of mass destruction I’ve spotted are being used by us. Some people suggest that turning the War on Terror into a boardgame is a tad insensitive. I always reply that starting a war is insensitive, a boardgame is just fun for the family.” — Andy Tompkins, director TerrorBull Games

Not surprisingly War On Terror: The Boardgame has set off quite the contretemps among over at the Board Game Geek (on line home for all of us who prefer cardboard to computer when it comes to games). While most of the discussion falls into the typical dichotomy of “that’s too awful” vs. “ha ha you politically correct wimps,” one poster nails it:

Seriously though, your “playing the game” page seems to hint at some small promise of an actual game and not just a theme of the moment. I was kind of wondering when someone would take a shot at “mechanizing” the current state of world politics into a game. I just didn’t think it would look like something out of MAD Magazine. I suppose that’s probably a better approach to try and sell something than making a “serious” game with this theme. After all what do any of us really know about the War on Terror? It’s not like John Stewart and the daily show aren’t taking the same approach. Satire, we laugh because it would hurt too much to cry about it.

Back in 1984 I won a tournament of a game called Nuclear War – in which “each player represents a ‘major world power’ and attempts to gain world domination through the strategic use of propaganda or nuclear weapons…” The currency of the game is millions of people and mega-ton nuclear warheads. Same game, different world.*

FWIW: An update on this can be found here if you are interested.

*I also own a very limited edition t-shirt which reads on the back “The Rat’s Back and he’s ready to party.” And on the front “1385 – 1985 Celebrating 600 years of bubonic plague.” As Lou Reed put it: Those were different times.