Battleship is a commonly known game throughout the world. A strategic guessing-game, it was first introduced as a pen-and-paper activity where a player plots imaginary ships on a grid, and then take turns with the other player at guessing the positions of the ships of his or her opponent. While Battleship has had many different designs and title arts over the years, the 1967 version stands out as particularly significant. Along with the obvious “Battleship is fun” message, Milton Bradley attempted to sneakily convey a few subtle and not-always-wholesome messages through its choice in box design.
The first thing that one notices when looking at this image is two people appearing to have a good time playing the board game known as Battleship. Both players are smiling and making animated gestures; the older player even appears to enjoy losing. This superficial analysis probably resulted in many impulse buys and a large profit for Messrs. Milton and Bradley. For many people, the implications stop there: “Battleship is fun. You should buy Battleship.”
While delving deeper into the seas of analysis, close attention paid to the players depicted will reveal a bit of insight into a more subtle marketing scheme: This game is fun, yes, but it is also simple. It is so simple, in fact, that even a child can attain a level of mastery sufficient to overcome a far older, more experienced player. A young man—most likely older than eight, as eight is the minimum age stated not-so-subtly to the left—sits opposite an older man. It is probably a safe assumption that the two are related, as they have similar hair and facial features. This assumption will prove to be useful later.
Anyone who is familiar with the rules of the game quickly realizes that the younger man has just dealt a crippling blow to the older man's Battleship, on only the ninth turn of play. This is a rather impressive feat statistically, and it shows that the boy is either extremely lucky or quite good at inducing the position of his supposed father's ships. Also, the young man is confident enough in his ability to win that he does not keep track of his opponent's pot-shots on his own sea-chart.
Nearly everything about this picture implies that the family in question is not exceedingly wealthy: the two players sit at a small, folding-type table, the visible chair is foldable and metal-framed, the walls are made of unadorned, wooden paneling, and the dishes in the background are being washed by hand, rather than in a dishwasher; dish washers had recently been made more domestically available than they had been in previous decades. Along with ease of play, the next subtle idea that MB is attempting to implant is one of affordability.
Perhaps more obvious than any of these things, however, is the patch awkwardly placed on the older...