I was with my girlfriend, browsing a townwide garage sale looking for items we could use in cosplay when I came across this game. I often run across things at garage sales that make me say “OH! that is so cool! I want that!” Like a Goofy doll in a kilt. Or old license plates. Or an old fashioned typewriter. My way of avoiding making impulse buys is to take pictures of them, perhaps post them on social media and then walk away. If I’m ready to leave and still really want it, I’ll consider buying it. Besides, as a friend pointed out, my girlfriend can see Goofy in a kilt any day. (I think that’s a reference to the fact that I wear kilts, I’m not sure)
More often than not, any item you see at a garage sale, even an antique, can be found at another garage sale. It may not be in as good condition or the price may not be as good, but you’ll find it again if you are persistent enough. Periodically though, you find something so unique that you know you will never ever find it again, and The Sinking of the Titanic board game is such an item.
THE SINKING OF THE TITANIC
Made by IDEAL games in 1976, it is a “game you play as the ship goes down… then face the peril of the open sea!” (If they made this game today they would say it in ALL CAPS with 4 exclamation points!!!! That’s the only way to convey anything urgent in 2013. That, or else they’d tweet it.) The cover of the game depicts a lifeboat full of survivors set against a backdrop of the S.S. Titanic at a 35 degree tilt as it sinks below the ocean waves, with numerous lifeboats being lowered or floating in the water. Unlike the James Cameron film, there’s virtually no one at the rails of the ship nor do we see any bodies in the water. So right off the bat I am dubious of the realism of this game. Then there’s the life boats being lowered by ropes which are at an angle incongruous with gravity and the angle of the ship’s bow. And what’s with the other large ship in the background? I am pretty sure the Carpathia didn’t arrive till long after the Titanic sank. Am I quibbling? I haven’t even started.
Before I go into the gameplay, let me clarify something. The game I bought was released in 1976 and was met with instant criticism by the British public. There was controversy over the use of the name Titanic, due to the fact that, you know, lots of people died and stuff. Now, a moment ago, I said that “you’d never see this game again”. Well, in this era of eBay and Amazon sellers, yes, you will. I found three copies on Amazon being sold for roughly $100. But I also found this game. Apparently after all the protests, IDEAL pulled the original Titanic game from the market but then immediately re-released it with a new name: Abandon Ship. You can read a review of Abandon Ship here but it is otherwise identical to the Titanic game in every aspect and features the same graphics and artwork.
In 1998 Universal Games released ANOTHER game based on the Titanic event, but the goals and game mechanics of that version are nothing at all like the game I am about to discuss. The handful of reviews on Amazon are generic (though amusing), but the board game geek review is fiercely negative. The game play requires you to collect certain items to be able to gain access to first class and eventually the lifeboats in order to survive. Lovely. If I wanted to be denied access to the upper level till I got the blue key, I’d be playing Resident Evil, OK?
You’ll understand more as I get into the game in depth, but as a game, Abandon Ship makes much more sense than The Sinking of the Titanic. I’m a purist, I want my board games to make sense. That’s why when I play Payday I make sure to make pretend phone calls to the children when they don’t have enough money to pay a bill. I ask them how it feels to be a deadbeat. Don’t even ask me how we play Operation in my house. OK, you didn’t ask, but I can tell you that it involves gauze pads and there’s a $200 deductible. Payable in cash, out of the children’s allowance.
Anyway, back to the Titanic. There are 3 distinct parts to the game. Escaping the ship, survival at sea, and survival on an island until a rescue ship arrives. The island is apparently infested with hungry baboons and even hungrier cannibals. Periodically, monsoons will come to the island and wash away your supplies. Last time I checked, there are no islands in the North Atlantic that feature indigenous baboons or cannibals, and I’m pretty sure monsoons aren’t all that common either, so to have them in a game about the sinking Titanic is ludicrous. Remove the Titanic and put the game in the South Seas and it makes a lot more sense.
I would have predicted that the concept for a lost-at-sea game was developed and then later converted to incorporate the famous Titanic name. It reminds me of how a book or story is adopted to became a story of a character totally unrelated to the original work. For example, both Die Hard and Die Hard 2: Die Harder are based on books published 10-15 years prior to the films’ release and adapted to suit the filmmakers’ desires. Die Hard is based on Nothing Lasts Forever, about an aging detective who is at a Christmas party when terrorists take over the building. The terrorists, their motives and the hero of the story are very different from what we see in the film, but the basic plot structure is the same. Die Hard 2 is based on a book called 58 Minutes, about a totally different NYPD detective who is at JFK to pick up his daughter when a terrorist shuts down the airport and he has to defeat the villains before his daughter’s flight runs out of fuel. I’ve read 58 Minutes and it is a good read but I much prefer Die Hard 2 because it gives us the ridiculously coincidental and unnecessary plot element of having Walter Peck–I mean Dr Hathaway–I mean Richard Thornburg being on the same flight as Holly McLane, BUT WE GET TO SEE HIM TAZED IN A BATHROOM STALL, which is very, very satisfying.
In this case it was the complete opposite. It was released as a game about a very specific incident, which was then removed and re-released as a generic ship survival game. But I digress. Back to the game.
There are 18 survivors in the game, but you don’t play as specific passengers or crew. As a ship’s officer, you move around the ship gathering food, water and passengers into lifeboats. (I almost wish that you could play a specific passenger, but then someone would have to be randomly chosen to play the Irish character, who can’t start playing until round five because he’s in steerage with the rest of the poor passengers.) A word of warning: there are no people of color in this game. No Hispanics either. Everyone is white except for on Asian character named Long Fong. Yes. You read that name correctly. Passengers/crew include Fifi the Maid, Sigfried Fraud, Dr Vapors, Rev Parrish, Lord Upton, Lady Upton, Miss Prissy (who reminds me of Hermoine in the first Harry Potter film) and Diamond Jim Walker. Whoever drew him, was creative enough to draw him from Texas as the stereotypical ugly American abroad.
The game board is split between the Titanic layout and the ocean seas and is hinged around a center pivot. Each time a 1 or 6 is rolled you “sink” the ship by tilting it further and further until compartments are below the water line. Eventually the ship flips and sinks. You draw passengers randomly, meaning you’ll pass stateroom 13 to get to stateroom 18 only to later have to return to get the passenger in stateroom 13. I picture Fawlty Towers, with Basil saying “I’ll be with you in a minute, Major.”
Above: the game board at the start.
Below, the Titanic has started to sink and Celine Dion is waiting in the wings.
To “win” the game you must have at least 2 surviving passengers/crew and 2 water and 2 food and make it onto a rescue ship. As you run about the ship you can decide at any time to head to the lifeboats, abandoning the remaining crew and passengers to their watery fate. The game teaches important lessons about self sufficiency and personal responsibility so it should go over well with Libertarians and Tea Party members. After making your way to the lifeboat it is launched and part two of the game, survival at sea, begins. If the last lifeboat is launched without you or if the Titanic sinks, you “leave without a lifeboat” which is a polite way of saying you just lost the game. Well not officially. You lose all your passengers, food and water and are now swimming. If you are swimming you may board a lifeboat but under no circumstances are you allowed to swim to an island. Because that would just make sense.
While at sea, you play sea adventure cards. Cards can give you food and water or you can lose food and water. You can even lose passengers to an octopus. One card says “land a tuna, add one food token”. Another says “it is raining, it fill one cask of water.” Then there’s this card:
Isn’t this a fun game! Hey kids let’s play the game where everybody dies but not before they eat Fluffy and Mr Tickles! And kids, no complaining when dad takes your food and water when he lands on the space next to you. It’s in the rules, I can do that. Survival of the fittest, should’ve eaten your brussels sprouts, maybe you could’ve fought me off.
Finally comes part three: surviving on the island. You’ll play Island adventure cards that involve baboon and cannibal attacks. My favorite is “its 150 degrees! One of your casks of water evaporates”. Ok, remember what I said before about credibility and how this takes place in the North Atlantic, right? During iceberg season? Yeah I don’t think it gets to 150 degrees in the South Seas either. Besides if you are stupid enough that it’s 150 degrees and you have only enough water left that it evaporates, you deserve to die. We’ll make a game about you called The Darwin Effect.
As players progress through the ship, fight the cruel seas and avoid mal-contented natives and island creatures, the Titanic is still sinking on the board. When it finally sinks completely, the board reveals a rescue ship, which players must now get back into their boats to reach. Apparently it has no boats of its own to come get you off the island, so if your boat was used to make a bonfire to signal a rescue ship, it sucks to be you. You get to stay with the cannibals and baboons.
Just beware of your mother when you go to board the rescue ship, because she can totally block you to get on board first. It’s in the rules. Once you board the ship, you win! Well, if winning means surviving a harrowing ordeal, and losing all your possessions, and probably most of your family.
FREE ADVICE FOR THE PUBLISHER:
I eagerly await IDEAL’s next game and I’m going to help them out with three games that fit their mindset.
First is Katrina: Escape from New Orleans. Players have to find food and water and make it to the Superdome, where they get to sit around and do nothing but play board games and take turns taking a crap behind a potted plant. If you’re playing this game you really don’t want to be the host for game night. One player is randomly chosen to be the old person left behind in the nursing home and can’t begin play till turn 7 when the water is already at hip level. Good luck grandpa, you will be remembered fondly.
Next is Deep Water, based on the true life story of two divers in Australia who surfaced only to find their dive boat had left without them. This game comes with only 3 playing pieces: a single die, a floating shark fin and a packet of ketchup. The game can only have two players, no more, no less. To play you sit in the tub together. Every 60 minutes, each player rolls the die. On a roll of one, you drown. If you drown, you have to sit motionless with your eyes closed for the duration of the game. The other player may not quit! That’s cheating. On a roll of two you are eaten by sharks and the player must do the same thing as if they drowned, only now they have to pour ketchup on themselves. Realism folks, remember what I said earlier. On a roll of 3-6 you tread water. The surviving player continues to roll every 60 minutes until either you die or 6 hours pass, in which case you both die anyways of hypothermia and the game is over.
Finally is a game based on 9/11 (but we can’t call it that unless the board game company gets the license from Rudy Giuliani). In the game you play a first responder. The game starts at 8:46 AM. Players roll a die and on a 1 they have cancer. If a player develops cancer on their turn they roll a die and on a 1 they die from cancer. The game is spent filling out insurance forms, waiting for the Zadroga Act to pass at 10:28 AM. If you make it to 10:28, congratulations you win! Your medical bills will be paid for!
NOTE: yes these game ideas are in bad taste, THATS THE POINT. The Titanic game is in bad taste and was rightfully rejected by the British public in 1976, much like the games I invented would be set the internet on fire with negative comments. also I know this blog is about weird stuff found in NJ but I found this game in Nj and it’s weird, so… it totally fits.