We all know that smoking nicotine is not the smartest of habits and it is best not to start in the first place or, if you do, give it up. What better way of enforcing an anti-smoking message to impressionable young minds than through a fun-packed and enthralling board game. That at least was the thought behind the launch, in 1978, of Smokers Wild by the Avalon Hill Game Company. “This game will convince you not to smoke” ran its tagline and in this sense, they were ahead of their time.
The game was simplicity itself. It came with a board, which you had to assemble from four parts that interlocked with each other, twelve counters, two dice, and some money. The hazards and rewards element of the game were provided by 24 Have a Puff cards and twelve brand cards. At the start of the game, each player – the game required a minimum of two who were aged 10 and above – selected one of the eight occupation cards. The occupations were no ordinary ones, but specifically those that could expect a pecuniary benefit from smoking, such as doctors, undertakers, taxmen. You get the picture.
Players moved around the board, the throw of the dice dictating how many spaces they moved at each go. The aim of the game was to accumulate money and to evade the lure of cigarettes. If a player landed on an advertising space, it enhanced their risk of starting to smoke while a player landing on a space occupied by an opponent would be entitled to sell them a brand card, augmenting their pot of cash and increasing their opponent’s likelihood of smoking. The more a player smoked, the more of their life, measured on a Life-o-meter, ebbed away. To be eliminated, you had to reach the end of the Life-o-meter. The only sure ending to smoking was death. The winner was the last player left alive.
To make the game go with even more of a swing, the game included a host of jokes and puns, most dreadful, some worthy of a smile, but all not meriting a second outing. And that was the trouble with the game – it is hard to see what attraction there was to play it again. How many children said, “Mummy, let me play another game and see if smoking kills me”? Smokers Wild quickly ate up the board game industry’s own Life-o-meter at a rate of knots and quickly became a quirky footnote in the history of games and pastimes.
Some considered it to be in bad taste, but, probably, its heart was in the right place, only it was poorly thought out. What was indisputably in bad taste was a game brought out in 1981 by the respected games manufacturer, Waddingtons, called Bombshell. For a bit of historical context, the factional troubles in Northern Ireland were rumbling on and the IRA were waging a bombing campaign on mainland Britain. Tensions were high and people were concerned about getting caught up in an indiscriminate terrorist attack.
Just the perfect time, you wouldn’t think, to launch a game where the objective was to assist four bomb disposal officers by the names of Major Disaster, Sergeant Jimmy Jitters, Private Tommy Twitters, and Piper Willy Fumble, to dispose of a bomb before it exploded. There was a sustained newspaper campaign against the game ahead of and following its release. Then the inevitable happened. A bomb disposal officer was killed while working on an IRA bomb weeks after the game hit the shelves. It was immediately withdrawn, never to reappear.