The NBC Peacock Game and TV Wars
- Board Games Based on TV Networks
The box cover for the NBC Peacock game. The following article is brought to you in living color by The Journal of Antiques and Collectibles.
At some time or another, every successful television series also had a play-at-home board game of some sort. TV game shows such as "Jeopardy!" and "Concentration" have existed for years, and there was even a TV game show, "Video Village," whose whole motif was built as a board game - and, yes, there was even a board game for that TV show as well.
I'm actually talking about TV shows that you wouldn't normally consider as part of a board game - shows like "Laverne and Shirley" or "All in the Family" or "Desperate Housewives." Yet those shows have appeared either as dice-and-token games, or as videogames. Want to solve a mystery with the CSI team? There's several computer games that will allow you to do that. Want to ride along with Paladin on his travels through the Old West? Yep, there was a "Have Gun, Will Travel" board game.
I suppose even today there are game designers working on electronic play-along games to today's popular programs. My imagination is running wild on this - how about a Tudor electric football set modeled to play characters from the TV series "Friday Night Lights." Or maybe a retrofitted version of Operation themed around the series "House" (which would probably buzz on the first three items you pulled out of the body, no matter what was wrong with the patient). Or maybe a series of fishing vessels moving along a game board, hoping to earn "crab points," just like in the Discovery Channel series "The Deadliest Catch." Me, I'm holding out for a board game based on the Cartoon Network series "The Venture Brothers," because if they do, I get to use the Brock Sampson playing piece, for sure!
But for this column, I want to discuss TV-themed board games. In fact, a while back, I came across what appeared to me to be the ultimate TV board game - a board game based not on a television series, but actually on an entire TV network.
And thus begins a tale.
In 1956, the NBC television network began broadcasting selected shows in compatible color. An art director at NBC, Bruce Graham, designed a colorful logotype to demonstrate the huge spectrum of color available to a home viewer with a brand new RCA Victor color television set. Essentially, in 1956, Graham developed the ubiquitous eleven-feathered NBC Peacock. In 1957, an animated version of the NBC Peacock appeared at the start of that network's broadcast schedule, commencing with shows like "Your Hit Parade" and "Today." The Peacock remained as the opening plumage of NBC's schedule, undergoing subtle modifications in 1962 and 1967, until its retirement in 1977. The Peacock returned off and on for several years, and today, more than 50 years after its creation, a six-feathered NBC Peacock appears in the lower right corner of every NBC show from "Law & Order" to "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," from "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" to "Law & Order: Brimfield Week."
Follow the path through the NBC studios and earn puzzle pieces to build your own Peacock. Contrary to popular belief, there are no tokens for Donald Trump's hair, Matt Lauer's whereabouts, or the true identity of the Springfield Slasher from "Days of Our Lives."
In 1966, NBC commissioned the game company Selchow and Righter to build a board game based on their popular Peacock icon. Thus was born the NBC Peacock game, complete with a colorful game board, player tokens, and collectible puzzle pieces.
Now with most TV-themed board games, there really isn't any detailed strategy - not so much that there would ever be a Welcome Back, Kotter: According to Hoyle book, or national coverage of the Mork and Mindy Board Game World Tour. You simply roll the dice, follow the path, obey the directions of a turned card, gather special pieces or tokens, and go to the finish line. A nice diversion for a rainy day.
The NBC Peacock game follows those same rules. You travel along a path, and if you land on a certain themed space, you get one of five puzzle pieces. Once you have completed your puzzle, you return to the center of the game board and win.
Interestingly, though, the puzzle pieces are actually sections of the NBC Peacock's tail feathers. You are, for all intents and purposes, re-attaching the peacock's plumage. And if you land on one of the "studio" spots (news studio, music studio, sports studio and Western studio), you can either get any missing puzzle piece or make one of your opponents remove one of their puzzle pieces.
Okay, so it's not Trivial Pursuit…
As much as I wanted to really like this game, part of the NBC Peacock game left me cold. 1966 was a banner time for NBC. It was the network for "Bonanza" and "The Virginian," for "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color" and "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." Heck, in 1966 The Monkees and "Star Trek" made their television debuts for NBC.
The front box cover for TV Wars, showing a mélange of iconic imagery from 1980's TV shows. Photo from boardgamegeek.com.
Unfortunately, we don't see any sign of cross-promotion between NBC and their television shows in the NBC Peacock game. The limited graphics show pictures of children pretending to operate a TV network. It's almost as if the only star in the NBC lineup was a bird with multicolored plumage.
Still, the game did have some interesting variations on the standard TV board game concept. Instead of rolling dice to determine how many steps to take, you actually rolled a marble down a plastic chute; the marble could stop in one of several spots, and you moved your token accordingly. Yes, the chute also had the NBC peacock logo on it.
Today, the NBC Peacock game is desired by pop culture aficionados who want a board game where the goal was to reinforce the image of a trademark. Near-mint copies of the game can sell for $20 and up.
Twenty years later, the Avalon Hill game company, famous for their Squad Leader line of military board games, created TV Wars, a board game in which you could run your own network and try to drive other networks out of business. Yes, kids, you too could be your own Fred Silverman or Brandon Tartikoff, or even William S. Paley or Garth Ancier.
In this game, players bid against each other to earn several TV "shows" (actually parodied names of real TV series), and set up their own prime-time grid. Eventually players compete in "Ratings Wars," in which the lowest rated show gets "cancelled." Now if you're thinking you get shows like "M*A*S*H" or "Rawhide," well, instead you'll get programs like "M*U*S*H" or "Tenderhide," which is probably a nod to Avalon Hill avoiding any copyright infringement.
There were some bonus nights available for players - one network could acquire the rights to an Academy Award-winning blockbuster film, or for the rights to the Super Bowl; television "specials" would be either flops or hits depending on the roll of the dice.
I played the TV Wars game a few times when it first came out. It was a nice evening diversion with a few friends, but eventually we got tired of reading the punny names of Avalon Hill's TV shows and replaced them with either the real names of the shows - or shows that we enjoyed. That might explain why anyone in our house who got the Max Headroom card, with a 100 point value, almost never lost the game.
Also, the game could take FOREVER to finish off - if four people were playing and one was quickly eliminated (for purposes of this column, let's just call that person "UPN"), that person would just sit and wait while the other three people continued for another couple of hours.
One time when we were playing TV Wars, I actually got eliminated about 45 minutes into the game. After watching my buddies play for another two hours, I decided it was time to call in my chips and use the "Howard Beale Finishing Maneuver." I walked back into the room where the game was STILL going on, opened up the window, and shouted to the populace below, "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!"
After everybody figured out what cultural reference I had made (and after an acknowledgment that the game had gone on for WAY TOO LONG), we all had a good laugh, and the game was boxed up and put away. I don't know where my copy of TV Wars is today; but if I ever want to get another copy, still-sealed versions of the classic game are available on eBay for $20-$35.