Saturday, December 8, 2007

Who says Monopoly Money Is Good For Nothing

I came across this rather cool story the other day.

About how during World War II, that classic board game Monopoly came equipped with real-life "get out of jail free" cards for Allied POWs.
During World War II, the British secret service hatched a master plan to smuggle escape gear to captured Allied soldiers inside Germany. Their secret weapon? Monopoly boxes.

The original notion was simple enough: Find a way to sneak useful items into prison camps in an unassuming form. But the idea to use Monopoly came from a series of happy coincidences, all of which started with maps.
Paper not being the most suitable source for maps in these circumstances (due to its propensity to fall apart when it gets wet and the noise it makes when being folded and unfolded), the British decided to make escape maps out of silk. And place them in 'special edition' Monopoly games which were distributed in Red Cross aid packages to the prisoners.

But the maps weren't the only things that made this edition special.
Along with the standard thimble, car, and Scotty dog, the POW version included additional "playing" pieces, such as a metal file, a magnetic compass, and of course, a regional silk escape map, complete with marked safe-houses along the way -- all neatly concealed in the game's box.

Even better, some of the Monopoly money was real. Actual German, Italian, and French currency was placed underneath the play money for escapees to use for bribes.
By the end of the war, it's estimated that more than 35,000 Allied POWs had escaped from German prison camps. And more than a few of them would have owed their freedom to the classic board game.

So why haven't we heard about this before?

Apparently strict secrecy about the plan was maintained not only during the war (so that the British could continue using the game to help POWs and because the manufacturer feared a targeted reprisal by German bombers) but also afterwards, when all remaining sets were destroyed and everyone involved in the plan, including the escaped prisoners, were told to keep quiet. It was hoped that, in the event of another large-scale war, the seemingly innocent board game could return to action.

Now that the cat is out of the bag box, I, for one, will never look at a Monopoly game quite the same way again. Kind of makes you wonder what games are being played now that we're unaware of, doesn't it?

No comments: