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BP made 1970s board game called 'Offshore Oil Strike'

If only the risks of offshore drilling were as harmless as a game. In the early 1970s it was, when building rigs and pipelines were depicted in "Offshore Oil Strike." According to the box art, it promised to deliver "the thrills of drilling, the hazards and rewards." The obscure board game would've been left to gather dust if it wasn't for the company that endorsed it and had its logo included on the cover: British Petroleum.
Yes, that BP, which has been dealing with an all too real environmental crisis since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers and causing millions of gallons of sludge a day to gush into the Gulf of Mexico. Now, collectors and museum curators are scrambling to get a copy of the rare game. "It's a bizarre coincidence," Nicolas Ricketts, the curator of board games at the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, N.Y., said about how the Gulf spill has brought "Offshore Oil Strike" back in demand. "What a strange twist." Renewed interest in the collaboration between BP and game maker Printabox Ltd. started when a mint-condition copy of the game was donated two weeks ago to a toy museum in Stansted, Essex in England. "I was just so knocked over by how relevant this game is, made some 35 years ago, to BP's current crisis today," House on the Hill toy museum curator Alan Goldsmith said in an e-mail to The Tampa Tribune. Goldsmith's find was first reported in British newspapers this week and set the blogosphere abuzz. One blogger wrote, "BP is Beyond Parody." BP spokesman Robert Wine declined to comment on the reaction "Offshore Oil Strike" has generated on the Internet and among collectors. The company's archivists are aware the game was produced but don't have a copy of it, he said. Between two to four players can vie to become oil magnates in the game, according to the rules posted on the website Board Game Geek. Players use dice rolls to move plastic oil rigs on a board showing the United Kingdom and surrounding waters. "Players take on the roles of BP, Amoco, Chevron or Mobil in their quest for oil," the rules say. "There is also a risk that storms will reduce production on, or eliminate, one's oil platforms. The first player to make $120 million in cash is the winner." Goldsmith said the game also has "hazard" cards. One reads, "Blow out! Rig Damaged. Oil Slick Clean-Up Costs. Pay $1 million." BP has spent more than $3 billion to clean and contain the real-life spill, which has reached every state along the Gulf. Ricketts said the style of BP's logo on the box signifies that "Offshore Oil Strike" was probably made in 1973, when petroleum companies were lobbying to drill off the coast of the United Kingdom and in the North Sea. The game was probably produced as propaganda to "drum up support" for North Sea drilling, Ricketts said. The game, and the idea of offshore drilling, wasn't very popular in Europe at the time, he said. Goldsmith said very few copies of the game survived because the playing surface was made of cardboard. A copy in good condition is worth about $80, he said. One sold on eBay for 30 pounds, about $43 in U.S. currency. While some collectors search for "Offshore Oil Strike," a recently released Xbox video game puts a 21st century spin - and immediacy - to oil spills. In "Crisis in the Gulf," players use submarines to blast blobs of oil pouring from a broken deep water well. Drew Johnson, co-founder of Super Boise Games, the maker of "Crisis in the Gulf," said while no one could've predicted the spill, it was unfortunate BP decided to endorse a board game about offshore drilling. Games allow people to "let off steam," Johnson said, but BP's game is "probably coming back to haunt them." Unlike "Offshore Oil Strike," Johnson said his game has no traditional ending. "There is no end to it, like the real crisis," he said. "It just keeps going."

Reporter Ray Reyes can be reached at (813) 259-7920.

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