World War 2 was a terrifying time in human history that for many would not bring about thoughts and reflections related to board games however these games had a huge impact on the world during this time.
Here are 4 surprising things you may not know about WW2 Board Games.
1. Monopoly Games Helped Allied POWs Escape During World War II
In one of the most surprising stories around world war two Monopoly boards made by Waddingtons were used by fake charities called The Prisoners’ Leisure Hours Fund and the Licensed Victuallers’ Sports Association with the help of the red cross to send the maps and related messages to prison camps in Nazi-occupied Europe.
These versions of Monopoly had been printed on silk cloth and were equipped with the information, that helped large numbers of shot-down pilots and other captured servicemen in POW camps to break out and some made their way to neutral countries or even back home.
The system was set in place by MI9, a secret government department responsible for helping prisoners of war and liaising with resistance movements in continental Europe.
This brilliant plan worked and was used by M19 because one of the major problems of having a bunch of prisoners of war was boredom this boredom of prisoners provided a unique opportunity for the spy division.
This meant the games and entertainments were permitted in the camps as the guards recognised that if the prisoners were allowed some diversions they would be less troublesome and easier to control.
Little did they know the opposite was happening.
Once the allied forces got several Monopoly boards safely through, MI9 and the game publishers Waddingtons developed a code to show which map was hidden in the set.
You can read more about this story in the Waddingtons Story written by Victor Watson
2. The War Shut down most of the Toy Industry (including board games)
World War II devastated both the European and American toy industries.
The effect of the war on these companies affected everything from there ability to get the resources to make games to the very factories they used to make the games being reclaimed for the production of wartime resources and weapons.
One example of this was US metal that was rationed and toys were placed on a list of unnecessary goods.
This classification of toys being unnecessary goods lead to a major pivot in the industry and lead to the most popular games of the time being card games.
A number of manufacturers including Smethport Specialty Company known for making a bunch of Magnetic board games and a very popular version of the classic tic tac toe were also suddenly prohibited from making play items from their factories.
Needing to focus on the war efforts instead.
Many toy companies just like were forced out of business some like Smethport continued to produce various toys after the war until it was shut down on Feb 28, 2014.
But most others that were retooled and enlisted by the government and went from making children’s products to military supplies during the 1940s, unlike Smethport, never found there way back to children’s toys.
These companies instead pivoted and never returned however others like the Lionel toy train company that during the war made a Wartime Freight Train was made entirely
of cardboard to keep the production of toys available just went back to what they loved doing making toys and are still doing it today.
3. They were used to indoctrinate German Children
During this time a lot of board games where suspended in there creation and most toy factories repurposed on both sides.
Some board games that did find there way out into the public, however, had a more sinister motive the Nazis fuelled children’s enthusiasm for both their war effort and genocide partly by stocking toy stores with cheerful-looking but horribly insidious board games full of indoctrination and hate.
You thought scrabble was bad these games take the award for being horrible on so many levels.
The steps by which Hitler and the Nazi Party rose to power in Germany are illustrated by a trove of period artifacts that you can find on display on this website of the International Museum of World War 2.
This archive includes some some chilling images of games so make sure you check it out.
4. Many of the Games played by children then are still played today
Toys were placed on a list of unnecessary goods during world war 2 but some of the Board games were popular in this time despite this where games like Monopoly, Scrabble, Life, Checkers, Chess, Backgammon, Chinese Checkers, and Dominoes.
Most of these games were already available and had been produced in masses pre world war too so we can theorises that there popularity may had been influenced by there availability.
Cards were a really big hit – Fish, Concentration, Crazy Eights, Hearts, and if old enough, Canasta, Gin Rummy, Solitaire, Slap Jack, War and 21.
The war lead to the popularity of card games like never before and can be credited with these games becoming the go to games being passed down on camping trips and family holidays.
If you enjoyed this post make sure you read more about the Monopoly POW story in the Waddingtons Story written by Victor Watson and let us know in the comments so we can create more posts like this. I also recommend you check out this post on the history of mancala and modern board games that use this ancient mechanic here.