In this electronic age, board games have become something of an anachronism. When a world of immersive 3D fun is available on the PlayStation or Wii, why resort to pushing a plastic character around a board?
The answer was always using your imagination and interacting and having fun with others in a way you cannot with electronic gaming. Until perhaps the 'nineties or thereabouts, when a character in a book, TV series or film, or the film/book itself was a hit, it was often made into a board game. In the marketing parlance, such a 'tie-in' was produced to maximise revenue for the rights holder and create a lucrative commercial bond with fans of a particular character or series.
I was prompted to blog about board games having come across recently - via eBay - a copy of The IPCRESS File board game, made by Milton Bradley.
The Harry Palmer character is not the only espionage fiction character to have his own board game. A little research shows that in the past, the board game's proved a popular route to market for some major characters in spy fiction, and indeed about the Cold War and spying in general.
And one can see why: the best board games encourage players to be tactical, to keep secrets, to bluff their opponents, to take on missions, to make (metaphorical) threats and, ultimately, to come out on top. The Cold War in cardboard.
In 1965 Milton Bradley (MB) Games in the US bought out a board game based on The IPCRESS File, clearly hoping to ride on the coattails of the commercial success of the movie in the cinemas in the US. Images from the film's marketing materials are used - presumably under license - and on the box is the legend: 'Harry Palmer, the cool British agent'.
It is difficult to determine their target audience. The movie was aimed at an adult audience, yet the game is marked as 'from 10 to adult'. It is a bit of a stretch to imagine many adults playing the game as it is incredibly simple and lacking in sustained interest. In form it is a simple chasing game, with players picking up orders and enacting them through dice rolling and movement. Up to four players move around a board which features representative scenes from the film complete with recognisable characters of Harry Palmer and Dalby and Ross. Players are gven spy assignments, but one player secretly becomes a double agent. Those around the table are required to solve their assignments so that they can identify the double agent. Any player who knows who the double agent is then 'licensed to kill' the double agent and thereby win the game. Simple as.
However, no such games were produced for Funeral in Berlin or Billion-Dollar Brain, which suggests either the game was a complete failure, or the marketing people at the studio were looking to target a more mature audience through more traditional marketing means.
The IPCRESS File board game follows in path of a number of games which have a clear espionage link; indeed, some of the most famous spy fiction characters have appeared in cardboard and plastic form.