Retro Review - Bermuda Triangle by MB Games (1976)
Antony Brown is a games analyst and inventor who writes regularly on board games. His Retro Reviews take a nostalgic look at games of the past. This article looks at Bermuda Triangle, a family board game by MB from the 1970s.
If you remember the skateboard craze, Starsky and Hutch and Concorde's first commercial flight then you'll probably recall media fascination with The Bermuda Triangle, a region of the northwestern Atlantic Ocean in which a number of aircraft and ships have disappeared without a trace. Popular culture, especially in the 1960s and 1970s, attributed these disappearances to the paranormal, a suspension of the laws of physics, or activity by extraterrestrial beings. Perhaps the most infamous incidents were Flight 19, a training flight of Avenger bombers that went missing on December 5, 1945 while over the Triangle and the disappearance of the USS Cyclops in March 1918, with the loss of over 300 lives.
The Bermuda Triangle Game by Milton Bradley is a piece of popular cultural history, reflecting the media hype of its day. It's box artwork proclaims: "Bermuda Triangle, the legendary area in the Atlantic Ocean, where dozens of ships and planes have disappeared without explanation, is the setting of this exciting game of suspense. The sinister mystery cloud hovers, weaves and sweeps, swallowing some ships as it passes."
The 'cloud' moves over a well presented and detailed board showing the northwestern Atlantic Ocean featuring the eastern coast of Florida, Cuba, Hispaniola and Puerto Rico. A trail of ships is marked out on the ocean, connecting four ports. There are sixteen ships (of four different colours), each having a small magnet as a funnel. These are moved around the trail by a throw of a singe die. A 31 x 21 grid overlays the ocean marking the potential positions of the eye of the cloud, which is a kidney-shaped plastic device that is raised above the board by a circular base. The upper surface of the cloud shows artwork of a storm while its underside has two magnets that will attract any ships that may happen to be underneath it.
The cloud moves at the end of each round by an ingenious spinner that tells the players how far to rotate the cloud on its base, its direction and how many grid marks to move. It is a simple but elegant mechanism. When the cloud rotates and then sweeps across the board there is often potential to pass over a ship. The 'click' of a ship attaching itself to the cloud never fails to delight younger players.
The object of the game is to ship £350,000 worth of freight by landing your ships at the ports. Each port deals in a commodity - oil, sugar, timber and bananas - and a small pile of upturned cards beside each port (not shown in photograph) reveals the various amounts a player can earn by docking one of his boats at the port. Once docked, the card is taken by the player and another amount will be uppermost.
There is scope for judgement and tactics in the game play. Players need to consider which ship to move each turn bearing in mind (i) the risk of moving near the cloud (ii) the chance of getting to a port which has a high freight value (iii) the opportunity to block other players from a port and (iv) the chances of landing on other players at the end of a turn and sending them back to a port (freight cannot be landed if you are sent back to a port).
The game is well designed and well produced. Indeed, the game was expensive in its day - my copy of the game has a price label of £5.99 - in real terms this would be about £35 now. You can pick up a second hand copy on e-Bay today for as little as the original price plus postage.
But what of the legend? The marine insurer Lloyd's of London has determined the Bermuda Triangle to be no more dangerous than any other area of ocean, and does not charge unusual rates for passage through the region. United States Coast Guard records confirm their conclusion. In fact, the number of supposed disappearances is relatively insignificant considering the number of ships and aircraft which pass through on a regular basis. Nevertheless, the legend has spawned a interesting and unique family game.
Verdict: Bermuda Triangle has a strong 1970s theme and is good family entertainment.