A Retro Board Game with Real World Roots.
By Josef J. Unfried
The game of Snoopy and the Red Baron is, of course, not even close to a true story, and I will get to my review of this well-crafted analog test of hand-eye coordination in a bit. But first…
Who Was the Red Baron?
Our “story”, such as it is, begins with two young men eager to make a name for themselves in WWI. Lothar Siegfried Freiherr von Richthofen, born in 1894, was a younger brother of top-scoring ace Manfred von Richthofen (the Red Baron) — who was a German fighter ace in the “War to End All Wars.” They were also distant cousins of Luftwaffe Feldmarshal Wolfram von Richthofen. (Feldmarshal was the highest military rank in various German armed forces of the time.) Members of a prosperous family, Manfred and his younger brother Lothar followed their father into military careers.
The Richthofens yearned for the romantic, exciting, and most-of-all young profession of aviation!
He had remained in the high school, where he was enrolled in compulsory military training at the Kriegsschule at Danzig (Gdańsk, Poland) when war broke out.
Lothar began the war as a cavalry officer with the 4th Dragoon Regiment.
In February 1915, Lothar was “rescued” by his brother Manfred, from the boredom of training new troops on the Eastern front — AND this also encouraged him to transfer to the Fliegertruppe (Imperial German Flying Corps).
Lothar won the Iron Cross 1st Class in December, and then began training as a pilot. His first posting was to his brother’s Jasta 11 on 6 March 1917.
But . . . while Lothar was no Red Baron, he did turn out to become an effective, aggressive and impulsive pilot.
During the period of German mastery over the skies of Europe (called “The Happy Time” by the Germans, and also “Bloody April” by the British), Lothar accumulated 15 more victories by May. And when Manfred went on leave, Lothar assumed command of the squadron. The German high command appreciated the propaganda value of two Richthofens fighting together to defeat the enemy in the air.
Lothar scored three more victories in that busy month of May. In a battle with deteriorating visibility, in the middle of a thunderstorm over Bourlon Wood, both sides became scattered.
The top English ace at that time, Captain Albert Ball, was seen by pilot Cyril Crowe chasing a German red Albatross biplane directly into a thundercloud! Captain Ball quickly lost control of his plane to a fatal crash.
Lothar posted a claim that he had shot down the British Sopwith Triplane. The doctor who autopsied Albert Ball at the crash site reported massive injuries to Ball, but no bullet wounds. Nevertheless, the official line was that Lothar had gained a victory over Albert Ball. Later research suggested that Ball had succumbed to vertigo in a power dive.
Lothar Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen had done his best. He was a Freiherr (which literally translates to Free Lord), and accumulated 40 kills.
Manfred von Richthofen was born in Kleinberg, near Breslau, in lower Silesia — an area that is now part of the city of Gdańsk, Poland. Like his brother Lothar, Manfred served in a cavalry regiment for a time, and enjoyed hunting very much. He was known as Le Petit Rouge to the French; but to the English, he was the Red Baron! Both sides knew him as the Red Battle Fighter! The Baron’s Albatross DC-3 was painted blood-red!
When World War I began, Manfred Richthofen served as a cavalry reconnaissance officer on both the Eastern and Western Fronts, seeing action in Russia, France, and Belgium; with the advent of trench warfare, which made traditional cavalry operations outdated and inefficient, Richthofen’s regiment was dismounted, serving as dispatch runners and field telephone operators.
Angered at not being able to directly participate in combat, Manfred considered that his orders to transfer to the supply branch of the German Army was the last straw! He is quoted as having said, in a rage: “I have NOT gone to war in order to collect cheese and eggs!”
In 1915, from the end of May to August, Manfred served as an observer on recon missions over the Eastern Front. He had a quicker fuse than his brother Lothar. In 1912 Richthofen became a lieutenant in the 1st Uhlan Cavalry Regiment of the Prussian Army. As a member of this regiment, he fought in Russia after the outbreak of World War I and then participated in the invasions of Belgium and France. When trench warfare settled in, and the cavalry became sidelined, Richthofen joined the infantry. In 1915 he transferred to the Imperial Air Service and in September 1916 entered combat as a fighter pilot.
Manfred became commander of Jagdgeschwader I (“Fighter Wing 1”), which, because of its frequent moves by rail and its fancifully decorated planes, came to be known as “Richthofen’s Flying Circus,” and he personally was credited with shooting down 80 enemy aircraft. (Including Lothar’s 40 kills, this makes a grand total of 120 kills for the Richthofen brothers.) Manfred was killed in his red Fokker triplane in a barrage of Australian enemy ground fire during a battle near Amiens. According to another account, he was shot down by Captain Arthur Roy Brown, a Canadian in the Royal Air Force. Manfred’s eventual successor as commander of the German fighter group was Hermann Göring.
Once the war ended, Lothar worked on a farm, then took a position in industry, and had always enjoyed hunting.
That such a heavy and melancholy subject matter as the Richthofens were used as entertainment fodder in a children’s comic strip may seem unthinkable today; but it is representative of the ubiquity the glorification of the world wars during the mid-20th century.
The Peanuts TV specials treated us to Snoopy’s adventures where he sneaks across streams, barbed wire, and enemy lines.
Snoopy first assumed the guise of the World War I Flying Ace in a Peanuts comic strip from October 1965, donning vintage aviator hat, scarf, and goggles to take on the Red Baron from atop his doghouse. The concept came to creator Charles Schulz after a discussion he had with his son, Monte, about Manfred von Richthofen.
In many of Snoopy’s fantasies of World War One heroics, he is fighting against the nefarious “Red Baron”. Snoopy also actually holds conversations with imaginary characters of a dramatic storyline in his imagination. These were released in the form of specific episodes of the Peanuts syndicated comic strip.
TOP 5 Snoopy and the Red Baron Peanuts Moments:
- Singing with a group of other “poor blighters” in a cheap French or English tavern, where everyone is singing It’s a Long Way to Tipperary. Snoopy quaffs a lot of drinks, but they are always specified as being mugs of root beer, or other non-alcoholic drinks.
- Snoopy’s WW1 daydreams both include Sopwith Camels, as well as Snoopy himself. Snoopy is a beagle — a dog breed domesticated in Great Britain — and the Sopwith Camel airplanes were also manufactured there.
- In at least one of Snoopy’s imaginary WW1 adventures, he becomes enamored with an imaginary French poodle who takes a very bright shine to him. If I remember correctly, Snoopy’s necessary parting (i.e., his required orders to leave the tavern and report to the front), was a very sorrowful occasion, and Snoopy believes that he will surely never see this (imaginary) poodle again. The thought bubbles in this comic-strip storyline end with him struggling with his good-byes, as Snoopy tries to comfort the poodle, ending with “Do not cry, little one . . . Do not cry . . .”
- OCTOBER 1965was the Red Baron’s debut as Snoopy’s nemesis!
- Here’s the weirdest thing: I remember a specific Peanuts comic strip (from one of the expanded Sunday newspapers that I habitually read on weekends), that begins with Charlie Brown’s little sister, Sally, apparently at dusk. She calls to him, warning him that he let the entire day go by, forgetting to go out to Snoopy’s doghouse and fill up Snoopy’s food and water bowls. Charlie Brown’s assigned chore of putting the dog food out near the doghouse, while having to go outside at night, has made him frazzled. The final panel of the strip ends with a tired, dirty and haggard Charlie Brown, bringing Snoopy’s dog dish. As he trudges back to his front door, carrying the dog dish, Snoopy assigns a specific WW1-style cameo to Charlie Brown! The resulting thought bubble (from Snoopy, of course) contains the following line of imaginary dialogue:
“Poor fellow . . . Probably some poor blighter fresh from the trenches!”
So . . . what’s a “blighter”, anyway? According to the Macmillan Dictionary, it means: “Someone you feel sorry for”.
The effect of the Red Baron’s mere presence can change Snoopy’s irrepressible nature in the blink of an eye, leaving him fresh out of his usual panache.
The Charles Schulz Museum is in Santa Rosa, California. Although some of his work was destroyed, most of the works contained there survived the fire that took place in 2017.
In 1917, Manfred von Richthofen’s “Flying Circus” was promoted to leader of his own four-squadron fighter wing, officially called Jagdeschwader I.
Monty Python’s “Flying Circus” literally didn’t take off until 1969!
SNOOPY AND THE RED BARON BOARD GAME.
The Milton Bradly 1970 Board Game Snoopy and the Red Baron is self-dubbed “A Skill and Action Game”. Well there is certainly action, I am not so sure about skill. This two-player game pits Snoopy’s alter ego, WWI Flying Ace, against the Red Baron in a contest of aeronautical combat. The combat is represented by an elaborate plastic vista that the players assemble ahead of time. Snoopy is made of cardboard and sits atop his plastic doghouse, where he will try to outmaneuver the Red Baron’s bullets as they come flying at him in the form of white and red marbles careening down a chute (decorated to look like the Red Baron’s Albatross.) Unfortunately, the cardboard Peanuts gang propped up as onlookers around this mortal combat look unimpressed, an odd choice of expression. Each player takes turns playing either Snoopy or the Red Baron. The Red Baron Player hides 5 white marbles and 5 blue marbles in their hand, dropping them surreptitiously down the chute one at a time. At the same time, the Snoopy player opens and closes Snoopy’s doghouse at the bottom of the chute, trying to catch the white marbles inside while keeping the blue marbles out.
Mechanically, this game works astonishingly well. If assembled correctly the marbles go down the chute smoothly and get trapped easily in the enclosure around the doghouse. It is rare that one escapes to roll across the dining room floor. The large cardboard barrier at the top of the chute provides ample hiding space for the Red Baron to drop down marbles without Snoopy seeing what color marble is coming.
Initially, gameplay can be fun. The agony of playing Snoopy and catching the wrong color marble in the doghouse is palpable (and likely loud), while simultaneously, the glee of playing the Red Baron watching from on high as Snoopy struggles to guess what color marble is coming next is also a thrill. You may think that with only 10 marbles per turn (5 white and 5 blue), it should be easy to calculate how the last few marbles are likely to come down — but it will likely surprise you how easy it is to lose track of which marbles have already come.
After a while of this back-and-forth, however, excitement gives way to tedium as the repetitive nature of the combat wears thin and you begin to understand why the Peanuts gang surrounding the game look so bored.