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The Watergate Scandal game (1973)

Following up the recent post on Irish Free State Monopoly here’s another game with historic resonance preserved for posterity. The Watergate Scandal dates from 1973 and cost a less than scandalous $2.99 at the time. It is a card game with political points made in a mild satirical fashion. 

The cast of characters
The penalties
Strictly Confidential Instructions: Enhanced by playing in an echoey carpark
Made in 1970s paranoid USA

This (Washington) post is dedicated to Alfie Dennen, creator of Evil Corps game, which features thinly veiled portraits of the likes of the current owner of the Washington Post. A post on the excellent Evil Corps will follow shortly. 

As with the vintage Irish Monopoly set, this card game also features in Google Arts & Culture thanks to The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York. 

For the youngsters among us, a brief reminder of what the Watergate Scandal was all about. It was the mother of modern political scandals, unravelling in Washington DC from 1971 to 1974. So it was ongoing when this game came out. It took down the grim administration of U.S. President Richard Nixon and led to his resignation.

The scandal was rooted in the administration’s hopelessly inept attempts to cover up its involvement in a break-in to the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate Office Building in D.C. on 17th June 1972. The five burglars were arrested and then the press (noticeably Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post) and the Justice Department connected the cash found on the perpetrators to the Nixon re-election campaign committee. Witnesses at the subsequent Senate Watergate hearings testified that Nixon had approved plans to cover up administration involvement in the break-in and that there was a voice-activated taping system in the Oval Office hence all the tapping/bugging references in the game.

Later in 1973 the House commenced an impeachment process against Nixon. The Supreme Court ruled that the President had to release the Oval Office tapes to government investigators. The tapes cooked Nixon’s goose. The House Judiciary Committee charged him with obstruction of justice, abuse of power and contempt of Congress. Nixon resigned on 9th August 1974 before the house could impeach him and the Senate remove him from office. Tricky Dicky remains the only U.S. president to have resigned.

The name Watergate came to stand for a variety of clandestine and illegal activities by the Nixon administration, from bugging the offices of political opponents through ordering investigations of activist groups to using the FBI, CIA and IRS as political tools. Between Nam and Watergate the good ol’ US of A lost its trust and became the cynical and conspiracy-crazy place we know & love today.

Inspired by fork-tongued Nixon, The Watergate Scandal is basically a game of lying and bluffing (like many card games – and political activities). To see how to play it, this recent episode of Game Board Archaeology featuring Hunter and Rob Mattison captures it pretty well.

The game was produced in Illinois in Elk Grove Village, 20 miles northwest of Chicago, next to O’Hare International Airport. Its current population is some 35,000. Its original population were Potawatomi, speakers of an Algonquin language. They were booted off their land in the 1830s and relocated to Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. Stepping into the void created by men right up there with Tricky Dicky on the evil stakes came pioneer farmers from New England. Their civilisation reached its zenith when Elk Grove became the largest industrial park in the United States. The Watergate Scandal card game was the jewel in the crown of that mighty industrial estate.

Three years after the game we got the real silver lining of Watergate, William Goldman (scr.) and Alan Pakula’s (dir.) All The President’s Men, a film practically guaranteed to turn young viewers into journalists. 

All the President’s Men (1976) Dustin Hoffman & Robert Redford and a typewriter (youngfolk, it’s like a PC & printer, just no screen and often no electricity and if you get it wrong you just have to start all over again)
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