Wednesday, January 9, 2013

FEATURE: LoEB ''Spies''

Following the Holiday Hiatus, The League is has been called back into (clandestine) action, as this week our assignment - should we choose to accept it - involves cloak and dagger dealings, secret meetings and poison-tipped umbrellas as we delve into the murky world of the spy...

The League of Extraordinary Who Now?
For those unfamiliar with The League of Extraordinary Bloggers we're a loose affiliation of writers, bloggers and egotists united under a common banner by Cool and Collected's Brian. Each week he - or a guest assignment... assigning... person... give us a topic to blog about. We do so and then share our thoughts over at Cool and Collected. But the fun part is, we also share links to each other's articles, thus creating a cross-referenced network of themed posts.

The other cool thing is that it's open to anybody wishing to join in. Simply post your update to your blog then head over to Cool and Collected and share a link to your article. Just be sure to include at least three links to other posts from your fellow League members as they become available and share the cross-posting goodness.

Now, with that out of the way here's this week's assignment, which saw Brian giving us quite the open-ended subject of: 


Having just covered the very cool superspy Captain Action in our Review earlier, my thoughts turned instead to the other spies of my childhood and - in that way that often happens quite unexpectedly - memories came flooding back of one or two particular spy-related products of yesteryear.

Without sounding like I come from a time where everything was made of wood, was powered by steam and cost tuppence-ha'penny, I grew up in an age before videogames. I know that's hard to believe but I was probably around eleven years old or so before I actually owned any form of what we'd consider a ''modern'' gaming system. Yes, we had hand-held electronic games (although believe it or not, some of them were powered by clockwork mechanisms) but back then when we came home from working as chimney sweeps or digging out spinning jennies from down t' pit, we had to find our own amusement, so most of my childhood was spent either playing with action figures or - if we were being particularly social - playing board games.

Board games were essentially the videogames of the pre-digital age. Every kid I knew had an assortment of games they'd play in regular rotation and the lure of an obscure or very cool board game was enough to see us visit the less-popular, normally-ignored stinky kid if it meant we got to play his game. And yes, there were the dull ones like Snakes & Ladders (or Chutes & Elevators or whatever it's called in the US) and the predictable ones like Monopoly but we also had some real gems, games that featured neat playing pieces like Game of Dracula or were in some way ''constructed'' like Mouse Trap or Haunted House. 

In our modern Internet-connected age of smart phones and on-demand information it's difficult to grasp the fact that forty years ago it was possible to go into a toy store and be surprised by what they had in stock. There were no websites like That Figures or official online presences for toy companies where you could browse their lines or download the collector app  The only way to see a manufacturer's line-up of toys was to either browse the Kays catalogue (remembering to fold-down the corners to show your parents what you wanted for Christmas) or to physically visit a toy store, where you'd often find hidden gems of games and toy lines you didn't even know about until you actually saw them.

Given the popularity of James Bond (and to a lesser degree espionage-themed shows such as Mission: Impossible) it comes as no surprise to learn there were quite a few spy-themed toys and games around back then. James Bond and Oddjob were both immortalized in plastic courtesy of Aurora. Dinky released Bond's various vehicles - often with working features - in car form. Private detective JJ Armes got his own (incredibly rare) line of action figures and although I wasn't aware of it at the time even Takara got in on the whole spy thing with the Microman Spy Magician line in Japan.

One board game that was clearly designed to cash-in on the cold war spy craze was Microdot. Despite having a wide range of friends it seemed nobody else owned this unusual espionage-themed board game and to this day I've never met anybody who owned it. From the scant amount of detail available online it certainly seems to have been a pretty obscure game.

The thing is, it's probably not that well remembered because there was a little bit of a fundamental flaw with this game. You see, whilst it featured incredibly moody cover art, really cool little playing pieces (including wire cutters, brief cases and even chaps in trench coats and trilbies) and was from Parker Brothers (who knew a thing or two about board games) I don't think anybody could ever actually work out how to play the game properly. I recall trying to set it up and my brother and his friends (who were older) trying to figure out what was going on, where we were supposed to put the Lugers and why there were actual microdots on some of the cards but in the end I think we simply gave up and used the toy pieces as accessories for my action figures instead.

And the incomprehensible spy-related gaming didn't end there. Oh no, sir. There was also Mastermind, a game that always struck me as being somehow spy-related - or at least the cover art did. Themed around ''break[ing] the hidden code'' and featuring a sexy, exotic Bond girl lady alongside a character I assumed to be the titular evil genius, I always imagined this scene depicted the villainous Mastermind pitting his wits against whichever spy had been sent to defeat him and choosing to toy with him in a game of life and death. That revolved around colored pegs and a mock-wooden board.

Sadly though any sense of impending danger or ''No, I expect you to die!'' moments you expected to experience whilst playing generally failed to materialize, as 90% of the game was spent trying to remember which configuration of results meant what and consulting the instructions to find out... But maybe that was the point. I mean, let's face it, which would you take your chances with? A man with a single golden bullet (fired from a gun cobbled together from a lighter and a pen) or trying to win a game of the impossible-to-understand Mastermind?


So what spy-themed topics to my fellow League members have to share?


  1. Nice blog. I love old board games! This was funny "Board games were essentially the videogames of the pre-digital age

    1. Thanks. Yeah, I was lucky enough to be of that age where board games were gimmicky enough to be fun but still required thought or strategy to play (rather than smash-grab games like Hungry, Hungry Hippos and stuff.) Unfortunately though it did mean we had quite a few games we struggled to figure out at times!


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