One of the most extraordinary—and timely—subcollections in the archives of the Canadian Centre for Architecture can be found resting on a few metal shelves in the basement, where you will discover stacks of old, oil exploration-themed board games.
Cartel: The International Oil Game.
La Conquête du Pétrole.
King Oil: Combine Luck and Strategy to Control the Oil Fields.
Oil: The Slickest Game in Town.
Total Depth: An Oil Man’s Game.
There’s even the confident one-word title of Gusher, with no description or subtitle needed—or, if none of those strikes your fancy, you can always play a few rounds of Gas Crisis. Its goals include an exhortation to “Master the Minicar” and “Shun the Sheikhs,” showing that smaller cars (and better gas mileage) have been seen as tools of foreign policy since at least the 1970s, when many of these games were first released.
But the one game that seems particularly delirious, a kind of sad joke now, or unfortunate coincidence, is Offshore Oil Strike, “Designed and Manufactured by Printbox (Scotland) Limited in collaboration with The British Petroleum Company Limited.” Offshore Oil Strike, brought to you by BP.
With this “exciting board game for all the family,” released in 1970, BP delivered all “the thrills of drilling, the hazards and rewards as you bring in your own…”
Bring in your own “Offshore Petro-Dollars,” that is.
The game’s internal monetary supply comes in denominations of $200,000, $500,000, $1,000,000, $2,000,000, $10,000,000, and $20,000,000—which is good because you need to earn a lot of it: “The 1st player to make $120,000,000 cash is regarded as the winner.”
After all, it’s “a race to find and develop the riches ‘neath the seabed,” where no deepwater is beyond the horizon of possible drilling.
Accumulating this fortune, however, is not without its difficulties. Each player has “Hazard” cards to deal with; here are some of the risks BP thought to include:
—”Accident. Rig shuts down while replacement of key personnel takes place. Miss one turn.”
—”Fire breaks out. Pay $2,500,000 for repairs.”
—”Hit High-Pressure Gas—Rig Damaged. Specialists called in.”
—”Blow-Out! Rig Damaged. Repairs cost $2,000,000″
—”Drill pipe breaks. Pay $500,000 for replacement.”
—”Strike High Pressure Gas. Platform Destroyed.”
—”Blow-Out! Rig Damaged. Oil Slick Clean-Up costs. Pay $1,000,000.”
Players are assigned one of four competing oil company identities, each of which is associated with a specific urban headquarters: Chevron/Rotterdam, Mobil/Dieppe, Amoco/Bergen, and BP/Hull.
As the CCA wrote in their excellent book and exhibition catalog, Sorry, Out of Gas, “Historians and researchers often see games as a source of information about the customs and concerns of a given era. The way games work, their meanings and goals, are linked to the social context in which they are invented and popularized.”
I’ve included several photos of BP’s game here so that you can see the space of play for yourself. But perhaps it’s time now for BP to release a new edition: Beyond Petroleum: Nightmare Well!, with whole new strategies for hazards and risks, with “Junk Shot” cards and “Top Kill” moves to deploy when needed. Perhaps they could even throw in a few special supplements for good measure: Perpetual Blow-Out! or It’ll Take a Clean-Up of $6 Billion to Bring the Gulf Back!
Anderson Cooper and Joe Barton could play a few rounds on national TV.