Rolling the Dice in War on Terror


Sept. 21, 2006 — -- Let's face it. We don't live in "Candyland" anymore.

And in the daily "Scrabble" for existence, "Risk" is a daily assumption.

So what's a modern board-game player to do?

A pair of British board-game designers think they have the answer.

Slated for an October release, War on Terror, the Board Game, may soon be on the shelf next to Monopoly and Clue.

But the game is already raising the hackles of some in the United Kingdom who feel that it is less a game than a political manifesto in a colorful box.

Loosely modeled on the classic strategy game, Risk, each player takes on the role of an Empire and has to join up with others to gain access to natural resources -- or fight it out for them.

Players can use conventional methods to take on opposing Empires, but the rules state they can also choose to "fund a bit of terrorism."

In an e-mail, one of the game's creators, Andrew Sheerin, said the game was not "trying to point fingers" at a particular country.

He said, though, that the game implicitly touched on the charge that the CIA had helped create al Qaeda by funding anti-Soviet mujahedeen groups in the 1980s.

Reflecting this and "other examples of Western interference," the game's rules dictate that as Empires collapse, they join with the terrorists and turn on the original terror sponsor.

At that point, according to the game's creators in a news release, "the remaining Empires begin to wish that maybe they shouldn't have funded quite so much terrorism as they did."

And yet, Sheerin says to ABC News that he was certainly "guilty" of "oversimplifying a complex issue like terrorism."

In his defense, he said that the game was not intended as a political treatise, but as "satirical entertainment."

Satirical or not, real concerns have been expressed.

Ben Ramm, editor of the British magazine, The Liberal, said that, although he had not supported the Iraq war and "could see where the [game] makers are coming from," he thought the game's tone sounded "potentially misleading."

Noting the game's focus on Empires, Ramm said, "Al Qaeda is not an anti-imperialist organization, but an explicitly pro-imperialist one. It openly seeks to establish a caliphate across the Middle East, and subvert hopes for proper democracy in the region."

The Cambridge Evening News, a British paper, quoted Jacqui Putnam, a survivor of the 2005 London underground train bombings, as calling the game "sick. … I almost feel like saying it is dangerous," Putnam said. "It is liable to encourage the wrong sort of approach to terrorism."

In the same article, a member of British Parliament, Andrew Lansley, said the game's makers had "gone too far" in creating a board game of "very bad taste."

However, Sheerin told ABC News that he had not intended to offend, but to "present the issues in an open and ambiguous way. Our game isn't about legitimizing terrorism," he said. "It's about de-legitimizing war."

Sheerin and his game collaborator, Andy Tompkins, are hoping that this story will serve as a direct challenge to both British Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush to a game of War on Terror.

"They wouldn't be able to win because of negative PR," Sheerin said. "We'd have them over a barrel."