It was a calm, bitter cold night, the frozen stars hung like icicles in the sky. The unsinkable Titanic, the greatest ocean liner of its time, was racing towards disaster. Directly ahead, even darker than darkness, loomed an iceberg. Violently, the Titanic hit the iceberg … then the shattering crush of ice and ship … and suddenly … YOU ARE THERE! Now begins one of the most unique games you will ever play….
And now begins one of the most unique games I will ever describe in a blog post. The above is verbatim, including original ellipses and all-caps, from the instructions of a board game that has been in my family for 40 years: The Sinking of the Titanic.
This post will examine a board game where, as the instructions illustrate, “shipmates become enemies … friendly islands aren’t always paradise and it’s every man for himself. It’s a merciless struggle, especially when you see the Rescue Ship on the horizon….”
“The Sinking of the Titanic” is a board game published by the Ideal Toy Corp. out of Hollis, New York in the mid-1970s. It’s an attempt at family entertainment based on arguably the 20th century’s most famous disaster, the loss of 1,500 lives in a maritime catastrophe occurring nearly 65 years earlier. Due to the negative reaction to the subject matter of the game, it was recalled and reissued later as “Abandon Ship,” the references to Titanic having been scrubbed from the cover and instructions. However, thanks to my mother, who is a bit of a Titanic buff, I have in my possession the original, 1976-version of this ages 8-to-adult, two-to-four player societal-tragedy family game.
An inherited family trait is my interest in the sinking of that grand ship. My sister and I, as children, enjoyed playing with the mechanics of this gameboard (more on that below). My personal interest in the Titanic was sparked in 1985 when the liner’s resting place was discovered at the bottom of the north Atlantic. My history teacher at the time thought it newsworthy enough to ask the class to ponder what the discoverers planned to do with the find – leave it alone? Raise it to the surface? The following years saw an ocean of books, documentaries and articles on the subject.
Plus I believe there was some sort of Hollywood DiCaprio-Winslet movie that happened in the mid-90s or something.
Through this all The Sinking of the Titanic slept in a family cupboard.
What made the game so cool to us as kids was its central gimmick: The Titanic would sink inch by inch as the players ran around the board, saving passengers and collecting food and water. Escape to a lifeboat before you sink below the waterline!
This past weekend, I rescued the game from the bottom of a cabinet. Playing the game, my family and I all still enjoyed the gimmick. We raced around the staterooms rescuing our assigned passengers in a panic, dreading every six or one die roll that would set the ship on its hapless course towards the bottom of the Atlantic. Contrary to any realism in this game, we weren’t saving any Astors or Guggenheims, but rather, um, Siegfried Fraud, Countess DeRose, and, uh, an embarrassingly inappropriately named “Long Fong.”
Once safely ensconced in a lifeboat, we all embarked on the second phase of the game – compete to be the first to dock with the rescue boat (which magically surfaced once the Titanic finally sank below the horizon).
Of course, we had to contend with more obstacles in our path. In addition to the two passengers we had to rescue before the majestic ship sank (I managed to save Master Percy and Diamond Jim Walker), we needed “two foods” and “two waters” to be able to board the rescueboat. This meant raiding other lifeboats (yes, it’s a cruel 1912 North Atlantic free for all) and landing on, um, desert islands to receive “island adventure” cards (plus rolling ones to get “sea adventure” cards.)
Once we all dealt with, yes, quicksand, cannibals, hungry baboons and monsoons (in the north Atlantic, remember), we vied for the rescueboat with our fortunate passengers to survive the disaster of the century. And we loved it!
Well, our enjoyment of this game made me wonder. Monopoly, Risk, Clue, and so many more games have licensed their trademarks to other brands to create new combined-branded versions of their product. Let’s do the same with “The Sinking of the Titanic.”
1) The Titanic-Pequod – Moby Dick is about to headbutt Ahab’s ship. You need to rescue two crew members and save two barrels of sperm-whale oil before your ship sinks. Then swim to Queequeg’s floating coffin.
2) The Titanic-Blowing up of the Death Star – you need to run around the doomed space station to rescue two Imperial diplomats and find two secret plans transmitted by Bothan spies before the station explodes. Then find Darth Vader’s spinning TIE fighter.
3) The Titanic-Destruction of the Sept of Baelor – let’s rescue two Tyrells and two casks of wildfire before Cersei blows up the whole sept. Bonus points for rescuing Tommen.
Signing off with some more “Sinking of the Titanic” imagery.