British board game brings satire to war on terror
CAMBRIDGE, England — Andy Tompkins and Andrew Sheerin didn’t intend to ignite a controversy. They say they just want to promote good family fun — with a board game based on the war on terrorism.
“There’s lots of ambiguity and complexity to this game. Friends become enemies, enemies become friends,” Sheerin said. “And there is the potential for world peace.”
The game, called War on Terror, is scheduled to be launched Oct. 9, but it is already drawing attention from the media and merchants. Specialty stores around the globe have expressed interest in it.
“We’ve had orders from literally all over the world so far,” Tompkins said. “It’s been a bit of a surprise.”
The two longtime friends and Internet business partners came up with idea for the game when they became frustrated with the state of world affairs during the run-up to the war in Iraq in 2003.
“We just couldn’t take it seriously anymore,” Tompkins said. “It’s so absurd, we had this absurd reaction to it.”
Their frustration came out in a satiric version of something they knew well: board games. The Web site developers, both 30, grew up playing Chutes and Ladders, and later, Monopoly and Risk.
War on Terror has an unrepentantly grim view of geopolitics and a British fear of naked capitalism. The money does not say “In God We Trust” but rather “For the profit of few, at the cost of many.” Its slogan, splashed across the front, leaves no room for ambiguity: “Truth, Justice, and a decent slice of oil-rich land.”
“We really wanted to make a good game. We didn’t want Chutes and Ladders with a picture of Osama bin Laden and George W. Bush on the front,” Sheerin said.
“Risk is a world domination game. Ours is a world liberation game. Whether you are an empire or a terrorist, you have the same goal: To liberate the world.”
While the board looks much like a Risk board, the similarities end there. Territory is not conquered. Instead, oil is seized. Armies are not trampled. Empires are amassed and terrorists fight back.
“You start off with a couple of villages and a clean world,” Sheerin said. “But sooner or later space runs out and you fight over the oil. It does bring out the worst in people.”
The game sells for 26 pounds ($50) and is available on the Internet and specialty shops. It’s being produced by TerrorBullGames, a gaming company specializing in what the Cambridge men describe as “the nastier things in life.”
The game has drawn the ire of terrorism victims in the United Kingdom. The duo’s hometown newspaper, The Cambridge Evening News, ran a story about the game in which a victim of the July 7, 2005, London subway bombings described it as “beyond belief.”
The game does not refer to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks or the London bombings. It does, however, poke fun at the U.S. military and its approach to fighting what it calls the global war on terror.
One of the playing cards quotes retired Gen. Tommy Franks’ response “We don’t do body counts” when asked about casualties in Afghanistan. And the game even comes with a black ski mask with the word “evil” written across the front for “terrorists” to wear.
“Clearly, our defense all the way through is to go completely over the top,” Tompkins said. “It’s kind of against everything.”
Soon they’ll learn if going that far over the top on such a polarizing topic will leave them wealthy, like winners in Life, or just back to square one, like a loser at Sorry.
“If this takes off, we’re not ashamed to profit from it,” Sheerin said. “We’ll take a nice holiday, buy a gold car and have fun with that.”