If you’re a fan of Best Play you should know by now that Monopoly is not only an awful game, but also has a dark, fascinating and cut-throat history. We’ve also listed our favourite 12 Monopoly editions and done an exhaustive statistical analysis of the game. Well, guess what? There’s even more to this much-maligned marvel of gaming.
A truly interesting part of its history only came to light 40 years after it happened, when the British Government declassified a set of documents from World War Two. It turns out that Monopoly’s impact on the West was far more profound and life-changing than the millions of copies sat on dusty shelves across people’s homes would ever suggest.
It all started in the midst of the first world war, but not on the battlefield. A young man named Christopher Clayton Hutton, or Clutty to his friends, was involved in a daring stunt with famous escapologist Harry Houdini. In 1939, this stunt attracted the attention of a hiring officer in the British army. Soon after, Clutty was offered a job to work out the best way of getting supplies to prisoners of war stuck in Nazi detention camps.
After experimenting with all sorts of disguises, Clutty eventually settled on modifying Monopoly boards. Working with the game manufacturer Waddington’s, maps of Europe were printed using silk in-lays and razor-thin instruments like compasses, files and blades were intricately inserted into the famous cardboard grid. These board games were then sneaked into Nazi camps as part of entertainment care packages.
It’s estimated that more than 700 prisoners managed to escape camps during the war aided by the items concealed in Monopoly boards. In fact, these Monopoly boards were the only parcels used for smuggling during the entire war that were never detected by Nazi guards.
Perhaps the most amazing story in all this concerns an American soldier named David Bowling. Bowling was held behind German lines near Berlin. Once he learned of a secret Nazi plan to execute all allied prisoners of war, getting this news to London suddenly became a matter of life and death.
At 10pm, after lights out, Bowling crept out of his quarters and made his way to the perimeter fence. He cut his way through and made a dash for the nearby forest after the alarm had been raised. Eventually, he evaded his pursuers and reached a nearby town. Bowling ad managed to escape using money, a silk map, a tiny compass, wire cutters, and a saw that were all slipped into the camp inside a Monopoly board. Within days he had reached Zurich, where the horrifying news was shared with allied forces in London. Plans were adjusted, and thousands of doomed soldiers were rescued before they could be executed.
Monopoly. An undoubtedly terrible game, but something we still have plenty to be grateful for.