'80s, BACK IN '90s? Controversial game-maker plots return CENTRAL COUNTY -- Arnold * Broadneck * Severna Park * Crownsville * Millersville


June 24, 1993|By Angela Winter Ney | Angela Winter Ney,Staff Writer

This time, Bob Johnson plans to market his board games as "the games that were banned in the '80s."

A decade ago, he and Ron Pramschufer, a friend, designed two controversial games, Public Assistance and Capital Punishment, spoofing welfare and the criminal justice system.

The initial 135,000 copies of Public Assistance, subtitled "Why Bother Working for a Living," quickly sold out in toy stores and department stores throughout the country, but Mr. Johnson, of Cape St. Claire, never got rich.

Those stores stopped carrying the game after complaints from the New York City Human Resources Department, the Maryland Department of Human Resources, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Organization for Women.

Now, hoping the political climate is more sympathetic to his brand of conservatism, Mr. Johnson is planning to market the games again with help from a group of South Carolina investors.

"The public is frustrated over the government spending and spending," says Mr. Johnson, 49. "People ask, 'How did you invent the games?' I say, 'We didn't. Government liberals did. We just put it in a box.' "

Indeed, it is what's in Mr. Johnson's game boxes that caused the uproar.

The welfare game pits the working person against the welfare recipient, circling the board's "Working Person's Rut" and "Able-Bodied Welfare Recipient's Promenade."

The welfare recipient starts off with $500 and gets more for each illegitimate child. The working person starts off with a $150 paycheck. The welfare recipient tries to stay out of work; the working person tries to keep out of the poorhouse.

Mr. Johnson's depiction of a "typical" welfare month includes four Saturday nights spent in one of four "alleys": drugs, prostitution, armed robbery and gambling.

Board spaces offer instructions, such as "Hit sub shop. Collect $50" and "Special [sexual favor] for police chief. Collect $300". Others suggest: "Play pinball machine all day," "Lie on job application," "Buy case of wine" and "Snowstorm immobilizes police. Loot $2,000."

There are references to "ethnic" lawyers and secretaries "alleging" sex discrimination.

When Mr. Johnson's game first hit the market, Edward T. Weaver, then executive director of the American Public Welfare Association, called it "callous, racist, sexist and a vicious brand of stereotyping" in a letter to his members.

"This game plays out the basest forms of mythology; we must not let it go unchallenged," he wrote.

Mr. Johnson says the game is an exaggerated parody.

"We're not saying everybody on welfare is a certain way," he says. "I think people take it personally because they're profiting from the system. A lot of people make money keeping a massive underclass that doesn't believe working will improve their lives.

"Besides, it's just a game. If you don't like it, don't buy it. Suppose it does misrepresent? So what? It's a spoof."

Capital Punishment provides capital criminals, liberals and innocent citizens as game pieces.

Players maneuver their game pieces along the Path of Justice into Life Imprisonment, Death Row or the Electric Chair, or they bring liberals out of their Ivory Tower and use them to "spring" their opponent's criminals, who are then sent back onto the street, where they turn innocent citizens into crime victims.

Mr. Johnson says the game "highlights the unfairness of the criminal justice system." He believes both games could have political impact.

When the campaign against Mr. Johnson's games was effective, he filed suit -- unsuccessfully -- in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

A Baltimore native, Mr. Johnson graduated from West Point in 1965 and served in Vietnam. He returned to the Annapolis area and co-wrote a book, "West Point: America's Power Fraternity," published by Simon and Schuster. The book criticized the Vietnam War as violating U.S. military principles.

Mr. Johnson has now turned his literary efforts to producing a free monthly magazine, Broadneck Baloney, filled with local gossip, ethnic jokes and stories by "Elvis Presley Jr."

And he works on the games.

A month ago, an attorney contacted Mr. Johnson with the news that some Southern businessmen wanted to back the games financially.

OC Though elated at the prospect, Mr. Johnson is wary of those who

opposed him before.

If stores won't carry his games this time, what will he do?

"I don't know," he says. "We'll sell them somehow. We'll sell them on late-night TV ads."

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