Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Battleship: It's All in the Game

I love Battleship. No, not the movie extravaganza that’s apparently dead in the water after a slower-than-expected domestic opening. I’m talking about the original game, which dates from World War II. It’s a game to which I was introduced by my parents, and it couldn’t be simpler. All you need is two players, two pencils, and two special spiral-bound game pads. Your pad gives you a grid on which you block out your fleet: cruisers, destroyers, a battleship. Then on a second grid, you get a fixed number of chances to take potshots at your opponent’s unseen navy. You call out your coordinates, and your opposite number must admit to the number of times you’ve struck his various sea-going vessels. The goal is to locate and sink his entire fleet before yours heads down to Davy Jones’ locker.

The low-tech nature of Battleship appeals to my Luddite sensibilities. But my kids played the more energy-intensive electronic version that first appeared in 1977. Same game, but with lots more bells and whistles. Electronic Battleship was followed a decade later by Electronic Talking Battleship, and then a plethora of video spin-offs. And now, of course, the 2012 film, which somehow introduces romance, a complex backstory, and an attack by critters from outer space. And – I’m sure – enough death and destruction to satisfy Hollywood’s insatiable appetite for blood and guts.

I love movies, and I’m not opposed to blood and guts (or even alien attacks), so long as these are confined to a movie screen. But I wish Hollywood would leave my favorite games alone. Years ago it was Clue that underwent the Hollywood treatment. And now this.

Not to sound impossibly old-fashioned, but I have fond memories of my childhood, when the family would assemble around the dining room table to play a game. I’ve tried to pass that enthusiasm on to my children. For me, anyway, card games are a little too mentally taxing to be a source of relaxation. (After a round of Hearts, my father -- the numbers whiz -- had a maddening tendency to point out to me where I’d gone wrong.) My kids and I like word games (Boggle, Bananagrams), knowledge games (Trivial Pursuit), and silly games that rely on chance as well as strategy. I consider the children’s game Sorry, with its maddeningly sudden reversals of fortune, the perfect light-hearted pastime (as well as a great metaphor for life, come to that.)

But today it’s all about computer games, and the various electronic goodies that a tech-savvy generation finds entertaining. It’s true you don’t need to play computer games in complete isolation. Through gaming you can actually interact with friends who live halfway around the globe. But sitting at your computer can also be a most solitary form of fun. I’m also pondering how so many young people (and their older relatives) now watch movies on a personal screen, thus sidestepping the communal experience that for me makes film so compelling. (If you’ve seen the original Rocky in a theatre, you know what I mean.)

When my daughter was a middle-schooler, she made a new friend. Jessica surprised me with her in-depth knowledge of my entire Roger Corman output. In her household, it seems, no one gathered around a table, either to play games or even to eat dinner. You took your food to your room, where you could watch TV in privacy, at any hour that suited your fancy. That’s how a twelve-year-old girl came to be an expert on Body Chemistry and Stripped to Kill. Someday will she be Sorry about what she’s missed?


  1. This post brings back so many memories -- like the electronic Battleship game that made exploding noises when you got a hit! And can't believe you still remember Jessica.

  2. Who could forget her? I wonder what she's doing now. Thanks for reading, Hil!

  3. I don't plan to see the movie - not much on the idea of a movie based on Battleship. I kind of liked Clue - at least that game had a "plot" that could be expanded into a film - sort of.

    I played the interim game between your grid paper version and your kids' electronic one. Mine had two cases - each with grids, ships, and pegs - but unlike the electronic ones - the cases were separate so you could sit anywhere in the room and play. Now I play it on my smartphone.

    Speaking of the movie - did you hear about the Asylum's "mockbuster" version - American Battleship? Taking a page from Mr. Corman's book - and amping it up - The Asylum put Carl Weathers (crusty admiral) and Mario Van Peebles (stalwart captain) on the real USS North Carolina - permanently docked here in Wilmington NC on the Cape Fear River - and had them battle CGI beasties that were a little more...cost conscious, shall we say...than those in Peter Berg's extravaganza. From conception to video release? Approximately one month. And it was directed by Fred Olen Ray's son too!

    I didn't know they were here - or I would have been down there bugging them all five or ten shooting days (guessing)

    And sadly, for the first time The Asylum backed down when the bigger company (Universal in this case) came after them for the similarities in poster, logo font, and movies - and the film is now title American Warship. It's probably still more fun than the real movie.

  4. Fascinating, Mr. Craig. Tell me more about The Asylum. Of course I remember Fred Olen Ray (he was one of many small-time movie entrepreneurs who hung out at Concorde-New Horizons), but I'm afraid I don't know the rest.

  5. The Asylum have been around for a while now - they have been mockbustering for several years. Paranormal Activity became Paranormal Entity. The Day the Earth Stood Still became The Day the Earth Stopped. Transformers? Transmorphers. The Terminator? The Terminators. Thor? The Mighty Thor. Each made in a few days - and often using the same sets over and over again (sound familiar?) They have also cut out a chunk of the market in Sy-Fy critter movies - they've produced MegaShark vs Giant Octopus (starring Debbie Gibson); Megapiranha (starring Tiffany); and Mega Python vs Gatoroid (starring Debbie Gibson AND Tiffany)!

    They get the mockbusters on video shelves (or the Redbox equivalent) the same week the bigger production hits theaters. Of course, the unwary might rent the lesser movie thinking they've got the other one, which is why TV movie trailers now have to say "Only in theaters!"


  6. My older brother and I played this a lot, but even more low tech. ;-) We used blank paper and drew our own grids. Many years later, my brother got the electronic version. That was cool.

    I can't recall if I taught my kids the game. Thanks for the memory.

  7. My pleasure, Marijke. Wow -- I'm impressed you went through the effort of drawing your own grid!

  8. Haha, Beverly, was that an in-joke to the game Sorry in your last sentence?

    I didn't see this film, but before I read it was supposed to be a movie version of the game, I assumed it was a re-working of the Japanese monster movie REIGO: DEEP SEA MONSTER VS. THE BATTLESHIP YAMATO from 2008.

  9. I absolutely love the game Sorry, even mow. Its combination of suspense and silliness really can't be beat. And yes, I couldn't resist sneaking it into that final line. Thanks for noticing, Brian!