History of board games | Monopoly

Ever wonder where your favourite game came as a child? Or question if it had some hidden past? Over the coming weeks the VMS team will be revealing some of the hidden secrets of the most loved games of our childhood.

he classic board game to play on a dreary Sunday afternoon, gathered around the family dining table, the origins of Monopoly extend back into the dark and dangerous realms of espionage.

Invented by Charles Darrow in the 1930s, Monopoly was used by the British Secret Intelligence Service during the Second World War to deliver information to prisoners of war being held by the Nazi government.

In 1941, M19, the secret service unit responsible for escape and evasion conspired with John Waddington Ltd., the manufacturer of Monopoly in Britain,  to produce ‘special editions’ of the board game, which it could dispense to airmen who had been captured overseas.

Hidden inside these innocent looking games were maps printed on silk, compasses and money, among other objects to aid escape, hidden beneath the usual play pieces of the board game. These were delivered in care packages which were distributed in the war camps by secret agents masquerading as humanitarian aid workers.

These versions of the board games could be identified by a red dot marked on the ‘Free Parking’ space, while the locations which each Monopoly set was destined for could similarly be deciphered by clues on the board – a full stop after ‘Mayfair’ signified the board contained specific information for prisoners held in Norway, Sweden or Germany, whilst a dot after Marylebone meant the game was intended for Italy.

35,000 Allied Prisoners of War escaped their incarceration throughout the course of the conflict, and a proportion of these must have been with the help of Monopoly.

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