Monday, November 12, 2007

In Which Don Paco Introduces You To The Pleasures of Reagan-Era Board Games

Above: The box illustration for "Public Assistance."

So Don Paco has a special lady friend, Doña Estrella, and she was recently overseeing some annual cleaning efforts at her own Hacienda. Sometimes at large estates such as our own, things can get misplaced for long periods of time. Artifacts can disappear, and not reappear until decades later. Doña Estrella found many things during her latest excavation, some characterized by a high degree of awesomeosity (an original Millennium Falcon replica, from the original Star Wars toy run, in good condition, and huge), and some not (a League of Nations-era vacuum cleaner).

The real prize of this haul, however, was not the ship that Han Solo won from fellow rogue Lando Calrissian during the Cloud City Sabbac Tournament, but rather a game inspired by events transpiring not so long ago, and in a galaxy not so far, far away. Verily, Doña Estrella pulled forth from her brimming armoire a box containing quite possibly the greatest board game ever, 1980’s “Public Assistance” (tagline: “Why bother working for a living when you can play this great welfare game?”)

Why is this possibly the greatest board game ever? Well, let me answer that question with another question: when was the last time that you were reading the instructions for a board game and saw something like this: “Is there a limit to the number of illegitimate children an able-bodied welfare recipient may have?” If you answered ‘never,’ then boy are you in for a treat.

(By the way, here is the answer the instructions provide: “No. It is possible, though improbable, to land on 16 “Have Illegitimate Child” blocks in two trips around the Able-Bodied Welfare Recipient Promenade. 16 illegitimate children may be uncommon, but not unheard of. A welfare recipient in Baltimore, for example, is on record as having 22 illegitimate children, all by the age of thirty-two! And in turn, some of her illegitimate children now have illegitimate children of their own.”)

I can not stress this enough: I am talking about a real game, and in this game, you can have illegitimate children. In fact, having illegitimate children, from my reading of the rules, seems to be about the absolute best way to win at this game.

The game itself is not so different from Monopoly. You don’t start at “Go;” you start instead at “The First of the Month.” Instead of a banker, however, someone is designated as the Custodian of the taxpayers’ heard-earned dollars. Plus, when you pass the First of the Month, you don’t just get $200. That’s chump change. Here, you get your “basic monthly grant of $500, plus $200 for [your] first illegitimate child, and $100 for each additional illegitimate child.” As I said, the whole illegitimate child thing really seems to pay off in this game. As opposed to Trivial Pursuit, where fathering a bastard doesn’t get you shit. Stupid liberal Trivial Pursuit.

Gameplay is simple. You start out the game as an able-bodied welfare recipient on the 1st of the month. You then roll the dice, which determine how many blocks down “Able-Bodied Welfare Recipient’s Promenade” (seriously, that is the name of the street; let’s shorten that to “Welfare Drive”) you get to travel. Welfare Dr. seems like a pretty hip place. Say you roll a 1. You’re going to land on “You are on the welfare rolls in two states—collect double all benefits.” Score! Being on welfare is the shit! Say you roll again and get a 3. You get to “Buy a case of wine. PAY $10.” Who knew being on welfare made you privy to such tremendous bargains? Wine in hand, say you roll another 1. Oops! Now you “HAVE ILLEGITIMATE CHILD.” Can’t wait for that 1st of the month!

So let’s take stock. Three moves into the game, and you have a) defrauded two state governments, b) purchased alcohol in bulk quantities, and c) fathered a bastard. It’s just like Candyland. Except with very, very different candy.

But not everything in “Public Assistance” is fun and games. If you’re not careful, you’ll land on GET A JOB, which means you have to move from Welfare Dr. down to Working Person’s Rut, which, let me tell you, is not where you want to be. All the spots there are things like “School Tax. PAY $50” and “Gas Fill-Up. PAY $20” (ahh, 1980). You do not want to stay on Working Person’s Rut for very long, or you’ll go broke.

Because that's how food stamps work, after all.

Working Person’s Rut, barring a few squares like “Forget troubles, drink beer and watch ball game on TV,” is a real downer, especially when compared to all the great stuff you can do if you’re back on welfare, such as “Steal Hubcaps,” “Sleep all day,” “Read girlie magazines all day,” “Smuggle in Iranian hash,” and, of course, “Act belligerent at job interview.” Also, you can have an illegitimate child about every 5 spaces. And let’s not forget the special, subtle pleasures of landing on squares that say vague things like “Sales convention in town: COLLECT $2000” and “Girls got busted: PAY BAIL $500.” I wonder how someone on welfare can make money off a sales convention. And who are these girls?

Oh, never mind, I just figured that out. (Step back here a moment: this game is full of hookers, drug dealers, pimps, and petty criminals of every sort, and the object of it is for you to navigate this morass while making as much money as possible, a goal you accomplish by committing as much fraud and crime as you can squeeze in. So does this mean that we can now blame Republicans for the “Grand Theft Auto” games they’re always bitching about? I vote yes. Oh wait, I can’t vote.)

It is tempting to just list all of what is on the little squares, but to do so in this space would probably get you fired, and also undermine American productivity in general to a dangerous degree. I mean, this is a game where you can get sent on a “Jail Jaunt,” where, if you’re not careful, this is what could happen: “You are sexually assaulted. LOSE ONE TURN.”

Take a moment and think about this. You can get RAPED in this board game. It truly is an embarrassment of riches, so I will have to limit myself and only point out one more thing about this saucy conservative pastime: its blatant hatred for something it calls “ethnics.”

Now, let me make very clear the fact that the game goes out of its way to avoid blatant, outright racism. The box it comes in features a street scene peopled by various types of vagrants, loiterers, n’er do wells, and even a pimp (my personal favorite detail is a guy sitting casually on a stoop while blood pours out from under the door and down the steps), but all of these people are white. But the covert racism is there in the details (remember where the broodqueen with the 22 kids was from? BALTIMORE!), and nowhere is this more apparent than in the “Welfare Benefit” cards, which are this game’s “Community Chest” equivalents. If you land on a spot marked “Benefit,” you get whatever Benefit is on the card you pick. Some of these cards are fairly run of the mill stuff for this game, stuff like “You are on the welfare rolls in two states, and the District of Columbia. Collect triple benefits.” Par for the course. Then there are the more creative ones, like “Your great-aunt Sophie dies. You don’t report her death, and bury her in the basement. Collect her $500 welfare check every 1st of the month” and “National Endowment for the Arts accepts your proposal for experimental film-making. Your theme: ‘The Limits of Pornography.’ Receive $900 grant.”

Right: Don't worry, kid. Chief Justice John Roberts will keep those ethnic bullies off you.

See, the stuff you do on your own carries no racial tinge per se. But once someone else becomes involved, once you’re getting help doing something dodgy, it’s always a certain type of person who’s helping you do it. Let’s see if you can guess who from the following cards:

“Your ethnic congressman gets your live-in or spouse a job with the Social Security Adminsitration.”

“Ethnic politician hires you under the table to get out the welfare vote. COLLECT $2000.”

“Your cousin hits is big on daily lottery. You hire ethnic lawyer through free ‘Judicare’ program and sue him on trumped-up defamation charges. COLLECT $2000.”

“A welfare comrade agrees to strike your car from rear on way to welfare office. You hire ethnic lawyer through free ‘Judicare’ program and obtain cash settlement.”

Apparently, this Judicare program only employs ethnic lawyers. By the way, these ethnic lawyers appear to be quite effective, as they always seem to secure you a hefty judgment. So I guess the game is not really racist after all.

Left: A liberal.

Does your soul hurt yet? Because mine does, so it is probably time to wrap this party up. I end this piece with good news, however. I know what you are probably yelling right now: “Wait, Don Paco, don’t leave yet, tell me, how can I get a copy of this tremendous game? Are all Puerto Rican closets filled with such bounty? I must have this game!” Well, my friends, never fear, as the game is still available for sale online, at, where this classic is marketed as “Guaranteed to Help Rehabilitate Lingering Liberals.” So, if you or a loved one has fallen under the seductive sway of demon liberalism, please do yourself and hire an ethnic lawyer to sue your town for some specious tort, and then use the money to buy yourself a copy of this unfairly forgotten classic from back when it was still morning in America.


Adrian said...

That is some quality journalism.

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