Saturday, April 23, 2011

Red Sunset

My good friend and fellow lawschool survivor Carlos visited from Michigan recently.  Carlos is more of a RPG and computer gamer than traditional boardgame player.  However, he has always held a certain fascination for those of us who grew up during the Cold War, particulary the 80's era vision of such a conflict, being that he was quite young at the time.  We have had many conversations on the cultural impact of the period, significantly in how it influenced my own pursuits at that time in high school and college into history, international relations and gaming.  Carlos asked me to give him the total 80's Red Scare experience so we spent an evening watching Red Dawn and playing Fortress America.
We tinkered with the game and watched the movie, mostly just having a good time than a serious gaming session.   The part of the game that most intrigued him was the mystery surrounding the box art.  The first edition of the game came out sometime in 1986, which I purchased that year from a Toys R Us.  I still have that first edtion copy, and that was in fact the one we were using.  The box art features a montage of images reminiscent of Red Dawn but with a slightly more futuristic edge reflecting the advanced technology offered in the game.  However, there are two salient features to the picture that would become controversial some years later. 
The picture in the middle has a remarked resemblance to Saddam Hussein.  The third picture features the World Trade Center.  At the time of the games release in the 80's of course neither of these images would have evoked much response in the way of current affairs.  The commander is most likely inspired by the Cuban commander from Red Dawn.  There have been conflicting stories on the web and at BGG that the artist was inspired by everything from a news image of Saddam himself to a Milton Bradley co-worker.  The image of New York also is easy to understand in context of the total vista of the work: West Coast, East Coast and Middle America as the three major sectors of action in the game.  Naturally, the conclusion of many is that the box is in fact a wargame signpost to the future dropped right out of a Richard Kelly movie.

To add to the air of mystery, Milton Bradley ordered up a smaller 2nd printing of the game a year later.  For some unknown reason, "Saddam" gets a beard and sunglasses, indicating both an actual and symbolic "coverup"!

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