Milwaukee, One Square at a Time: The Brew City’s Board Game Review
There are a number of games that are enjoyed at a much higher level in Milwaukee than other parts of the country. Bags, ladder ball, sheepshead and bar dice are some of the usual suspects. But there are also a number of board games that are undoubtedly unique to local closets and basements. Recently, I took a dig through my own board game shelves and found a few Milwaukee-themed games that, to various degrees, capture a part of the city’s flavor while providing an evening’s entertainment.
Milwaukee Scene, 1979: The most familiar of the bunch is one that I actually discussed in this space a couple of years ago. Milwaukee Scene was one of a number of locally themed Monopoly-esque games produced by the John N. Hansen game company. It features some excellent late-1970s Milwaukee flavor and humor, goofing on pollution in the Milwaukee River, stuffy local architecture critics and binge drinking at County Stadium. The gameplay is pretty simple but surprisingly lively and a game is over far more quickly than a traditional round of Monopoly.
Milwaukee’s Great Blizzard Travel Game, 1977: This is a “travel” game in the sense that the goal of each player is to travel with their game piece through Milwaukee during a terrible blizzard (I would not recommend unfolding the game board while actually in a car). It is also a “Milwaukee” game in the sense that it says Milwaukee on the box and has a couple of local street names printed on the board. The lack of local color is so complete that one of the action cards offers a free turn because of snow-clearing army troops having just arrived from Ft. Bragg, which is in North Carolina. Like Milwaukee Scene, this was a game that was released with several different city variants. Themed around the New York City Blizzard of 1977, it can be found in ten different versions, ranging from Providence to St. Louis. There is nothing special about the gameplay, but its faults are entirely made up for by the backside of the game board. Dubbed the “Sunny Side,” it’s a replica of blizzard side, only with all the obstacles removed. You just roll the dice and move around like you would on any summer day.
Milwaukee in a Box, 1998: Produced by custom board game maker Late for the Sky, this is another variation on Monopoly. Late for the Sky is still making games, although it seems that Milwaukee in a Box is no longer in print. The box cover is a veritable orgasm of late 1990s Milwaukeeana, with the old Art Museum logo, the Wisconsin Avenue starburst sculpture and that terrible “Milwaukee: Genuine American” wordmark. Oh, and there’s also a horrifying clown. But not just any horrifying clown, the horrifying clown played by Ernest Borgnine in the old Great Circus Parade. The only thing missing is Glenn Robinson riding a Beastie. Anyway, the game makers really did their homework with this one. Game pieces include a mug of beer and a big pretzel, well-known local properties ring the board and the instruction cards reference everything from Al’s Run to Riversplash. Unfortunately, the gameplay isn’t nearly as fun as the Scene’s and the novelty wears off pretty quickly.
All About Town: Milwaukee, 2008: Without a doubt, more work went into All About Town than any other Milwaukee-themed game. Designed by historians Steve Daily and historians Kevin and Laura Abling, the game is a trivia-driven race through the city. The graphics on the board are amazing and the game pieces are representations of actual former means of city transportation. Just as in Trivial Pursuit, a player must answer questions from different categories to win. Over 1,500 different questions are included with the game. The concept of the game is great, but you really need the right company to have fun playing. The questions can be very difficult and, with the game now almost a decade old, they can also be kind of dated.