War on Terror (game)
Box design (edition 1)
|Designer(s)||Andy Tompkins & Andrew Sheerin|
|Setup time||10-15 minutes|
|Playing time||120+ minutes (player dependent)|
|Random chance||low to medium|
|Skill(s) required||Strategy, diplomacy, Machiavellianism|
War on Terror, The Boardgame is a satirical, strategic board game, produced and published in 2006 by TerrorBull Games. War on Terror was originally conceived in 2003 by Andy Tompkins and Andrew Sheerin, two friends based in Cambridge, England. The initial inspiration for the game came from the imminent Invasion of Iraq but, as a whole, was intended as a reaction and challenge to the counter-productive pursuit of the wider War on Terror. In 2005, Sheerin and Tompkins founded TerrorBull Games and gathered enough financial support from a mixture of friends and acquaintances to put War on Terror into production.
Widespread notoriety has meant the game has had a colourful and, at times, troubled history. Its initial release was met with a barrage of criticism, particularly from the tabloid press. Other businesses refused to be associated with the game and it was also banned from a number of industry fairs around the world. The British police even confiscated it at one point (see Controversy below). More recently, however, opinion has turned around and War on Terror is now praised by various highly respected institutions and individuals, among them Amnesty International and John Pilger (see Cultural impact - Education below).
The gameplay has been likened to a cross between Risk, Diplomacy, Monopoly and Settlers of Catan. Like a number of war board games, the basic goal is to dominate the entire world (or "liberate" in the parlance of the game itself). However, the scope of War on Terror stretches to cover all aspects of war-time politics, not just battlefield tactics. The creators of War on Terror have correspondingly claimed it is the most realistic war simulation around.
War on Terror, The Boardgame can be described as a Risk-like war board game inspired by modern day imperialism and geopolitics. In terms of board game style, it is a mixture of both European and American approaches - utilising elements of chance and chaos as well as strategy and player interactions.
Starting with a tiny presence on the map, each player takes on the role of a budding empire, intent on "liberating" (dominating) countries and continents, controlling oil production and building cities to win the game. An empire controls a region when it has a development there: a village, a town or a city. To expand, an empire can build developments at the border of its current empire if the regions there are unoccupied. Much of the time this will involve some fighting. There are two primary ways to interfere with other empires: fighting wars against them or funding terrorist units in the hope of making them attack your opponent. The game play is essentially card-driven - including the aforementioned warring and terrorist attack. Players obtain two such cards every turn. Additional cards can also be bought using money, which is obtained from oil. Oil is randomly spread out across the map and varies from game to game. An important issue is that when terrorists are no longer dormant and leave the training camp, they act outside the control of the empire which initially funded them, and can turn on that empire if triggered by an opposing empire or the terrorist player. An in-game twist is that defeated players are not out of the game - they become the "terrorist" players, and can still influence the result and perhaps even win. It is also possible to join the terrorist side voluntarily. An important aspect of the game centres around diplomacy and off-board negotiations and dealings. A 'secret message pad' is provided to this end and sees heavy use in a typical game.
An iconic part of the game is the "Axis of Evil": a spinner in the centre of the board which determines which player is "evil" - that player must then wear the Evil balaclava and gets two terrorist cards per turn. Other empires also have a financial incentive to fight wars against the evil empire.
The 'Evil Balaclava' itself has developed a life outside of and independent of the game - something the designers encourage with the Gallery of Evil - and was responsible for the police classifying the game as an offensive weapon (see below).
Before the game was released, the story broke and was seized upon by the world's tabloid press as a sensationalist example of a "sick product". There are numerous examples; generally the tabloid press derailed any discussion of the themes contained within the game onto more emotive and emotional lines. Following these reports, the creators of the game received numerous death threats and threats not to go ahead with production.
Several major game and toy fairs, as well as several retailers, have refused to stock this product. The justification in all cases is some variation on the claim that the topic is highly inflammatory and may be offensive to some.
In August 2008, a copy of the game was seized by the British Kent Police because the balaclava included in the box "could be used to conceal someone's identity or could be used in the course of a criminal act".
War on Terror has achieved a level of cultural penetration that is relatively rare for a board game. Due in part to the Zeitgeist of its theme and the prevalence of the real-life War on Terror, War on Terror, the boardgame has also attracted support and attention precisely because it is so rare for a board game to deal with such sensitive and political themes.
The IT Crowd
War on Terror has formed part of Roy and Moss's office set dressing since series 2 of the award-winning British sitcom, The IT Crowd (look on top of the shelves behind Moss's desk). Roy and Moss are seen playing the game briefly in series 2. The show's creator, Graham Linehan, is a keen gamer and an open supporter of War on Terror.
In December 2009, TerrorBull Games were featured on the BBC series, 'Games Britannia', presented by historian Benjamin Woolley. Woolley paid especial attention to War on Terror, noting that while it continued a certain historical tradition - going back to ancient times - of games that attempt to interpret the world around them, War on Terror was different in using satire to examine its chosen themes.
Before the game was even released, it had created enough of a stir to warrant a response from the British Houses of Parliament. The Conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire, Andrew Lansley commented, "this board game is in very bad taste and it appears as though somebody has gone too far". Jim Paice, Conservative MP for South East Cambridgeshire, meanwhile claimed he "[didn't] like the sound of it". Around the same time (i.e. before release) a spokesperson for the American Embassy in London was quoted by Mason's news service as saying the game was "beyond belief".
War on Terror formed part of the 'Embedded Art' exhibition at the Berlin Academy of Arts in January 2009. This popular exhibition looked at the effects of wartime and security on art. The creators of War on Terror and the illustrator were invited to the gallery to take part in a live, interactive game during the gallery's annual open night.
War on Terror is used regularly by educators around the world as a tool for broaching and examining the often complex issues contained within. War on Terror has been used in the following disciplines: geography, geopolitics, international relations and politics.
Amnesty International have stocked War on Terror in their catalogue under the banner of 'educational' for two years, while publications like the New Internationalist and The Guardian have emphasised the game's educational potential.
During 2010, the publishers of War on Terror started speaking publicly in higher education circles about the game and the role that games have to play in politics and activism; this appears to be an area in which they are gaining increasing recognition.
In February 2011 War on Terror appeared on its first major syllabus. The game formed part of a core module in Political Simulation and Gaming run by Dr Richard Barbrook, at the University of Westminster.
In March 2008, War on Terror was accepted into the permanent collections of both the Imperial War Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum of Childhood in London. War on Terror also forms part of the collection at the Bradford Peace Museum.
In April 2010, War on Terror was accepted into the John Johnson collection of the Bodleian Library in Oxford.
War on Terror is unique amongst board games for being accepted into such a diverse range of collections while still in its first print edition.
- 'Top ten historical board games of 2007' in the annual Origins Awards
- The iOS app of War on Terror placed 3rd in the best board game category of the 'Best Apps Ever Awards 2011'.
On 25 November 2011, despite previously claiming the task was impossible, TerrorBull Games released their first video game, an iOS version of War on Terror on the Apple iTunes Store. There was initial speculation that it might get banned, but as of writing the game is still available.
- "Global Responses to Global Threats". Oxford Research Group. June 2006.
- "Coalition Of The Unwilling"
- "War On Terror board game seized by police"
- Games Britannia, episode 2, 'Monopolies & Mergers', BBC4 first aired 14 December 2009
- Cambridge Evening News, 18 September 2006, lead story: "Terrorism Board Game Branded 'Sick'" -
- Dr. Nick Megoran, a lecturer in Geopolitics at Newcastle University in England, is one of a number of teachers that support the game as a teaching aid. Megoran praised it highly when reviewing it for New Internationalist in August 2007, awarding it the maximum '5 stars' rating. He is also quoted as saying the game is "a cleverly crafted satire that can be used by educators to provoke students to think critically about one of the most important issues of our time" "'Some of Our Favourite Quotes'"
- "Makers of the War on Terror board game have won their battle with a high street store, but reactions to the product are worrying" - John Ozimek
- "Through the fog of an often collusive and compliant media comes this extraordinary game, achieving, with its black humour, its own truth about the pernicious 'War on Terror'" - quotation given by John Pilger for us on a 'popular quotes' sticker on the box
- "Are Games Becoming Part of Our Political Landscape? (15 min lecture)" TerrorBullGames (YouTube), January 16, 2011
- "SPIR608 Political Simulations and Gaming/2011" Wikiversity
- "148apps Best Apps Ever Awards 2011"
- "Will Apple Ban the War on Terror iPhone Game?" Forbes.com, November 22, 2011
- War on Terror, The Boardgame official website
- TerrorBull Games blog
- War on Terror, The Boardgame at BoardGameGeek