While in York Castle Museum, I was surprised to come across Black-Out, a 'skilful card game -- full of interest'. It's one of the British war games I mentioned in a previous post. At that time I only had a low-res photo from the BBC website to go on, so I was glad of the chance for a closer look.


So here's what I can make out of the gameplay. There are up to four players who driving a car or lorry across a blacked-out London. Each player starts in a corner of the map corresponding to the colour of their vehicle, and presumably wins by getting to the opposite corner. (The corners are Hyde Park Corner, Marble Arch, Holborn, Charing Cross.) The board is a map of London which bears some relation to the actual geography of the city (as Monopoly does not). But it's not marked into squares or numbers or anything, so it's a bit unclear how movement works.

One clue is the arrows drawn across the streets at intervals, each with a symbol beside it. These symbols seem to relate to various civil defence organisations or objects: Air Raid Precautions, Auxiliary Fire Service London, Metropolitan Police (?), fire hose, fire helmet, buckets of sand, fire extinguishers (?), a siren (?), a kerbside pillar of some sort (?), a red cross, a yellow cross, a blue and white ribbon (?). Presumably they are obstacles of some sort (and maybe opportunities too), and it's the successful navigation through these hazards which determines success or failure.


Another clue is that there seem to be three different directions a player can go in from each corner, so from Hyde Park Corner they could go down Park Lane, Piccadilly or Constitution Hill. It's a 'skilful game', so I think the player gets to choose which direction to go in, which way to turn at corners. Since it doesn't seem that the players could interact with each other (i.e. to slow each other down somehow), there's probably some random element too, or else there wouldn't be much replayability once the fastest routes have been figured out. It's also a 'card game', but unfortunately none of the cards are shown, so I can only guess at what they might do. One possibility is that they dictate movement (e.g. 'move to the nearest AFS post'). Another is they are random events (e.g. 'you fail to stop at a sentry point and the Home Guard shoots you dead').

That's about all I can say from the information to hand, except to add that it must date to between 1938 and 1941 (the years the AFS operated). It looks like it could be an amusing game for children, with more possibilities for skill than Snakes and Ladders type games, and with the added bonus of teaching a bit of London geography. But it's also a reflection of life in a city made strange and unfamiliar by the hazards of the blackout.

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2 thoughts on “Black-Out

  1. Denis Vernon

    I still have my 'Black out' which my mother and I played during the war years. The game has a pack of cards and each player take three cards. When a player gets two cards matching the symbol on the board he can move onto the white bar adjacent to it. He puts the two matching cards back on the board adjacent to the pack and picks up two more and so on. There are however one or two tricks which players become aware of after playing a few times. One route has less 'stops' then the others. If I remember correctly players are required to go to a diagonally opposite corner. The adults at the time were rather bemused how a game showing a 'map' of London could possibly be allowed when security was so important?

  2. Post author

    Thanks very much for this, Denis! Interesting to see which of my guesses were right and which were wrong. The worries about security sound familiar, but it seems unlikely that there was any information on the board which couldn't be found on a pre-war tourist's map of London!

    Do you recall when you first played the game? To me, the topic (and perhaps the quality of the components) suggests it came out early in the war, say in time for Christmas 1939.

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