TNB Night Owl – Wild Games

Chinese plum liquor (梅酒), an inexpensive variant sold in Germany as “Pflaumen Wein” (plum wine), served on the rocks. Photo by SKopp

Columbia Games is one of the longest-surviving wargame companies, manufacturing dozens of products. Some, like Victory in Europe, Shiloh, and Rommel in the Desert, have been commercially successful, but in the late 1970s they attempted a shift into non-military board games and the effort was a remarkable failure.

With the three games in their “Wild” category they failed to garner sales but did manage to develop enough bad publicity that the company changed from their original Gamma Two label to Columbia in the early 1980s.

The first game was Smokers Wild. It was designed and advertised as an anti-smoking game to be playable with children, at a time when there were aggressive campaigns to curtail the popular habit. People are assigned jobs that earn money because of smokers (tax man, doctor, undertaker, insurance agent, lawyer, tobacco planter) and travel around the board. They accumulate money, but with each stop they risk developing or increasing a smoking habit… and as their smoking increases, their life meter drops.

Here’s a video of the game being played, should you be curious:

The main appeal of the game was the silly puns and images which inundated the pieces and packaging, but it didn’t have much replay value and the notion of racing to one’s death was generally unpleasant (as opposed to the Game of Life by Milton Bradley, which also employs a “racing to one’s death” mechanic but is careful to ignore the implications of the game’s end.)

Smokers Wild was joined by Drinkers Wild. As the first game had been an anti-smoking effort, it was to be expected that this one would be anti-drinking… but it wasn’t. Not exactly. This was a standard property acquisition game where players attempted to amass alcohols of a particular bottle color and then charge others for landing on them. Simple puns were again commonplace, with alcohols like “Riled Turkey” and “Hicardi” available to replace properties like St. Charles Place or Marvin Gardens. The theme of the game was thus positive toward casual alcohol abuse… until the inner track was consulted. At various points in the game the players would shift to an inner track where they would go on a pub crawl / bender, and while in there they could not make money from other players.

Unlike the anti-smoking game which was designed to be accessible to children, the inner track of Drinkers Wild used scenes like strip clubs, rendering the game only for sale to adults. So, while the two games in the initial launch were named, packaged and distributed similarly, they had two different target audiences and drastically divergent messages.

To this mix, the company added a third offering: Lovers Wild. Using the same cartoon art and silly names as the first two and again focusing on a common vice, the target of this game was casual sex. While Smokers Wild warned against smoking and Drinkers Wild suggested that unchecked liquor consumption could be either good or bad, Lovers Wild implied that casual sex, including group sex, was just marvelous. Players moved twelve characters around the rooms of a mansion, attempting to gather two to five characters together in one of many room for assignations.

Any one of the three would be likely to simply gather dust on the shelf of a Spencer’s Gifts next to some blacklight posters, but the game designs were such that a fan of any one of them would likely be displeased by others in the series they might be inspired to purchase. In the end, Gamma Two ended their venture into traditional board games, changed their name, and redoubled their efforts toward the wargames. Sometimes a part of success is accepting the magnitude of a failure.

Question of the night: Are there any board games you particularly dislike?

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About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.