Thursday, February 10, 2011

What classic board game was used to help Allied POWs escape in WWII?

Americans in Asia?Image by Martin Cathrae via FlickrThis week marks the anniversary of the "invention" of a classic board game, which is to say the date a mainstream game publisher started distributing the game on a national scale. There are a number of legends and misconceptions regarding this cultural icon, but often overlooked is the board game's role in aiding the Allied victory in World War II -- by supporting prison breaks by captured soldiers.


Of all the many-splendored variations of the classic board game Monopoly, none is perhaps so rare and valuable as the Allied POW Escape edition.

By sheer coincidence, the British distributor of Monopoly in 1941 -- John Waddington Ltd. -- was also the official supplier of waterproof silk maps to Allied forces in WWII. Thus, the British Secret Service approached Waddington to create POW escape aids disguised as Monopoly games, which in turn were openly shipped to German POW camps via Red Cross care packages. Various secret compartments in the game boxes hid the aforementioned silk maps, as well as compasses, metal files and currency for bribing prison guards. Allied pilots and officers were told to seek out Monopoly game sets with a red dot in the upper right corner of the Free Parking space, as these sets contained the escape equipment.

Germany never caught onto the ruse, and after Allied victory all the game boards and most of the program records were classified or destroyed in case the technique was needed in future conflicts. That's not just some seriously sneaky subterfuge, it's a game-changing grab from the banks of the Truly Trivial.

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