A snarky look at Battleship

Hasbro decided to release a “retro” version of Battleship. This retro version is just Battleship with the 1967 cover. A comparison of the “retro” version to the original 1967 prompted me to look at Battleship’s covers through the years. A strange and fascinating pattern emerged.

WTF Moments in board games…another look at board game covers

 

Retro Edition 2016

Battleship Retro 2016
Battleship Retro 2016

Battleship has been a staple of board gaming since it was first published in 1931 by Parker Brothers. Battleship is a no-luck game where you and your opponent place your ships onto a grid. Then you take turns calling out Bingo numbers, trying to find your opponent’s ships before he finds yours. After 15 minutes of tedium, it’s a good idea to put Battleship away and play Star Wars Armada.

Despite having no luck, Battleship feels very arbitrary. As such it suffers from a 4.5 rating on BGG. One might wonder why Hasbro feels the need to release a “retro” version of this game. A brief review of this blog may remind readers that Hasbro has been making bank in recent months. If Battleship goes “retro”, it’s because Hasbro thinks it can sell.

The box cover shows the 1967 artwork with a blue in-lay that says, “Retro”. But there is a slight difference between Hasbro’s 2016 “retro” box cover and Milton Bradley’s 1967 artwork…

Milton Bradley's Battleship 1967
Milton Bradley’s Battleship 1967

The original 1967 edition shows the same father and son bonding over a tabletop game. But in the background, mother and daughter are also bonding–albeit while washing the dinner dishes–an omission from the newer “retro” edition.

Hasbro wanted PC retro, not Madmen retro.

1990 Edition

Battleship game pieces
Battleship game pieces

A game of Battleship comes with two plastic display shields. Behind these, each player affixes their fleet which will then spend the rest of the game not moving, despite repeated bombardment from your opponent. The display has a grid that goes from A to J (rows) and 1 to 10 (columns). Using these grid coordinates, you call out your shots. Your opponent tells you if the coordinate was a hit or not. You then place a red tack onto that coordinate if it was a hit, else place a white tack.

Using a modicum of logic, you can plod your way through your opponent’s defenseless fleet. When all your opponent’s ships are full of red tacks, the game is over. You don’t win. Not really. I mean, you just played Battleship. What did you win? But at least the game is over.

Milton Bradley's Battleship 1990 edition
Milton Bradley’s Battleship 1990 edition

Sometimes a modicum of logic is elusive. Take a look at this cover from Milton Bradley’s 1990 edition. Take a close look.

 

Close up of 1990 edition
Close up of 1990 edition

The displays between the two players do not match up! The player on the right has recorded a hit on J3 where he has his battleship located. His opponent, however, recorded his as a miss.

Indeed, there are several mismatches between the two displays. It seems either the kids on the box cover didn’t know the rules or Milton Bradley’s photo study didn’t care.

1984 Edition

Battleship 1986 edition
Battleship 1984 edition

I received a copy of Battleship in 1985. This is the cover of the edition I got. It was a family gift. Thanks mom but the family propensity for heart disease was a much nicer gift.

Take a look at the 1984 box. The models are different. But the game display…it’s identical. The same hits, the same misses. You might conclude that they simply used a stock photo. But take a closer look.

1984 vs. 1990 editions
1984 vs. 1990 editions

The displays were updated slightly. The yellow arrows show the in-lay panel was changed. The 1984 edition has a light blue background whereas the 1990 edition has a red and black panel.

Why would the studio set up an identical display? And an erroneous one at that? I guess we will never know.

Canuck Edition

Battleship Canadian edition year unknown
Battleship Canadian edition year unknown

Milton Bradley released many Canadian editions of their American games. The most recognizable difference between these and the American editions was the addition of French rules. It should come as no surprise that Battleship would have a Canadian edition.

Yankee vs. Canuck
Yankee vs. Canuck

What might come as a surprise is that the Canadians have almost the same display as the 1984 and 1990 American editions. Almost. The cruiser in the bottom left corner has been sunk in the Canadian edition but not in the American. Perhaps this is why the kid on the right looks almost autistic in his enthusiasm.

Epilogue

Battleship 1996 edition
Battleship 1996 edition

It wasn’t until 1996 that we see consistency between the two displays on a Battleship box cover. Making consistent game box displays is hard work. Thus Hasbro, now the owner of Battleship, has settled upon a new artwork for its boxes. The newer editions of Battleship have pictures of navies on them instead of pictures of the game components.

 

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