Unboxing a 1940’s Monopoly “War Time” Edition

This is a 1940’s wartime monopoly set. After hunting for about two years, I finally got my hands on one last week. And I know what you’re thinking, “Who cares about some old board game, Austin?” But stick with me. This is actually pretty cool. At least I think so. This monopoly set was manufactured at the height of World War Two, and as a result, It looks and feels a lot different than what you’d expect. My generation doesn’t really understand this, but during World Wars Supply shortages of raw materials were actually quite common. See, to win the Second World War the Allies had to rely on international supply chains. Various countries all cooperated by pitching together materials for the Armed Forces. While the men went off to fight, women joined the workforce by laboring at the supply chains to help bolster the production capacity of each country. Not to give you an idea of how extensive this combined effort was, from January 1942 to June 1944, the United States shipped more than 17 million tons of cargo to the United Kingdom in preparation to invade France 17 million tons from just one ally to another. Everybody was pitching in, not just citizens, mind you, but corporations as well. One such corporation was John Waddington limited, a card and board game publisher in the UK. One of the games they licensed was Parker Brothers’ Monopoly. So, in the early 40s while the country was facing supply constraints due to the war, they faced a dilemma. How do you produce a mass-market board game like monopoly when materials are scarce and thus the cost of production is way too high? This was their solution. Included at the front of the game box is a small note, apologizing for the poor quality of the game’s components. The memorable Monopoly trinkets had to be replaced with cheap cardboard cutouts glued to the top of these small wooden blocks. The game’s cash and property cards were all printed on cheaper quality stock with very little fanfare. The Community Chest and Chance cards, they’re about as plain and simple as you can get, missing the usual illustrations. The houses and hotels are also made of cheap wooden blocks, and although the games board still seems to be crafted with care, You’ll notice that the dice have been replaced with an economical, yet, novel spinner. Looks kind of cool, but in my experience it probably didn’t work very well practically. Also if you’re a die-hard Monopoly fan like me, you might find it interesting to note that the short game variant was introduced in this iteration and there’s a handy rule card included to learn the alternative play style. I mentioned I’ve been hunting around for one of these for about two years. It’s really hard to find a complete set without certain pieces or parts missing these days. I managed to get this one from a collector in England who’s been holding on to it for a while. Now, I’ll be honest. I had a slight bit of disappointment when it finally arrived at my doorstep. Not because any of the essential parts were missing, but because it was lacking something extra. See, I’ve actually been hunting around for a certain kind of wartime monopoly set, probably the rarest kind there is. John Waddington limited helped out the war effort in another way besides conserving materials. In 1941 British Secret Service asked the company to create what we’ll just call an extra special edition of the wartime monopoly set. These sets were sent to prisoners of war. They were designed to look just like regular games, but special markings such as a small red dot on free parking or a period at the end of one of the railroad names was a secret signal to soldiers that these boards were cleverly disguised escape kits. Hidden inside of these game boards were maps, and the box included other stealthily placed resources like money, or even a compass if they could get away with it. The sets were sent to POW camps under the name of a fake charity. The soldiers would then slice the boards open and find the escape materials hidden inside. Now I’ve looked this board over and there weren’t any indications that this was such a set, but I know they’re out there. Maybe one day, I’ll get to see one for myself. There was, however one curious item that my board shipped with. This, a folded up old piece of graph paper. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I opened it up, but, well, Just look for yourself. Printed upon the old sheet was a hand-drawn reproduction of the game board with some additions. The most reasonable explanation that I have is this: This board belonged to a family in the early 1940s, and the kids decided they weren’t content with the board it came with, so they made their own. This isn’t just the usual “put in extra 500 bucks on free parking” game alteration, mind you. This thing is an extensive re-design complete with diagonal alleys that cut across the board with a central junction and special landing spots that offer you the choice of various effects that can take place. This is really cool to look at. I like to imagine a cooped up brother and sister taking some school paper and making up this customized game format on a rainy day that kept them indoors. This is nothing short of childhood contained on a single page. It might not be a secret World War Two escape map, but I’d say it’s a pretty good consolation prize. I guess things like this just trigger a form of nostalgia for me I’ve always loved monopoly. I remember playing it as a kid at my grandparents house. And though I probably didn’t truly understand the concept of capitalism well enough at ten years old and play it wisely, the Monopoly board represents more to me than just an old-school game about real estate to me it represents fun times with friends and family. I don’t really know the true story of the family that owned this board once upon a time, whether they had hit hard times or had lost loved ones during the conflict. Maybe this game provided a moment of respite for a family that desperately needed it. It seems like that’s the role monopoly played in my house. And the truth is that there will always be room in my house for board games Because board games mean company – people – sitting around a table face to face in the pursuit of amusement, forming and strengthening relationships with each other. In a world where people are supposedly more connected than ever, it sometimes seems to me that we’re strangely growing more and more disconnected to one another. I guess what makes this board special is that it represents an uncertain time in history where everyone pulled together regardless of their background. They gave up their means and they sacrificed for a common goal. So, a board like this I guess is a wonderful reminder of a time when things were much different. Have a good week, guys.

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