Close followers of the hit Iraqi sit-com “Dictators” (see Fax 21 review here) may remember Saddam Hussein’s four loveable look-alikes playing a board game called “Arab Spring” in episode 7 of series 3. What started out as an in-joke on the part of the scriptwriters of the cult series, has now apparently materialised into a real board game made by Wadiingtons and available in the shops this Xmas.
Traditional board games seems to have taken something of a back seat in recent years due to the explosion in computer games sales, but Wadiingtons are hoping that the festive season will remind people of the wholesome social benefits of “real interaction” where children, adults and dull visiting relatives alike can find something in common to titter about, for a few hours at least while waiting for the turkey. Did I say Turkey? The designers have modelled the new game on old family classics like Escape From Colditz, Monopoly and Risk, and emulating the latter, have opted for a board which is a rather educational map of the middle-east/north African area. Each player gets to “go” a dictator, whose face-card is modelled on the original “Cluedo” avatars of Miss Scarlet and Professor Plum etc, except that this time the smiling faces above the black polo-necks belong to the likes of Bashar al-Assad and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Controversially, Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel is also there, and the deluxe party-pack version of the game includes full costumes that each player can dress up in. One for the younger kids perhaps, but what adult wouldn’t also relish the prospect of impersonating Colonel Gadaffi for an afternoon?
The aim of the game is to build up oil reserves, buy arms, exclusive residential properties in London, nuclear technology, and WMD (in that order). Like Monopoly, players must roll the dice and progress around the region (using little gold statuettes of themselves) and collect $200 every time they pass Mecca. The “chance” cards that one is obliged to pick up every turn include amusing eventualities like “Mossad commando raid, your nuclear assets are voided”, or “UN Weapons inspection, 50% arms reduction”, or “Pro-democracy riots, your assets are frozen by international banks”.
The ultimate goal is to achieve a critical mass of WMD then win the final asset of “Delivery System” and blow-up Israel, by means of a “Buckaroo” style Heath-Robinson gantry (the Arab Spring of the game title) that fires yours WMD spectacularly across the room while everyone wets themselves with laughter.
Like “Escape From Colditz” (remember that one?) there is even an equivalent of the “Appelle” card, the “Armageddon” card that instructs everyone to line up their pieces at “Megiddo”, a specially enlarged section of the Israel map and roll the dice for a sudden-death play-off.
Arab Spring isn’t as easy as it sounds, and players will need many hours of practice to become truly adept at hoarding power and subjugating their populations through misdirecting them towards hatred of their neighbours. My own favourite chance cards were “Geo-political shift, CIA commando team arrive to help bolster your regime against communists”, “Amnesty International report, lose three points of international standing due to evidence of torture”, “SAS team make botched landing, gain 2 points covert support from China”, “Three Kudos points: interview with Jeremy Bowen”, or “Four Kudos points: Hello Magazine wants your wife’s recipe for pizza”.
Many players will become overwhelmed by the all-too-frequent Pro-Democracy Riot cards, infiltrated by Al-Qaeda, crippled by international sanctions or a mixture of all three. Festival of Eid and Ramadan cards compel the player to miss a turn (Passover and Yom Kippur for the Israeli player). If Netanyahu wins, he gets to hurl his WMD at Iran.
Early signs indicate some negative press reaction, with accusations of poor taste levelled against Wadiingtons, but their marketeers have been quick to point out the US Military’s erstwhile use of a “deck of cards” to identify member of Saddam Hussein’s regime targeted for capture. “What’s the fuss?”–their spokesman Wal T Al-D’sni told me, “Every guy of a certain age still fondly remembers playing with his toy soldiers, even as wars still rage in the world. Life on earth is a sick joke, and until we admit that to ourselves, how can we hope to change it? The first step to recognising a joke was laughing, last time I checked…and ridicule in many ways has been the first nail in the coffin of each middle-eastern despot. These are the guys that execute you for laughter or spraying disrespectful graffiti over their portraits, remember, humour should be our weapon of choice…” he smiled then his eyes flared in a sudden flash of unexpected rage, “but who are you to criticise me anyway, who d’you think you are, dictators?”