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Patriot Act– the boardgame

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HAMILTON, New Jersey - In this send-up of Monopoly, players don't pass Go and they don't go directly to jail -- they go to Guantanamo Bay.

Instead of losing cash for landing on certain squares, they lose civil liberties. And the Mr. Monopoly character at the centre of the board is replaced by a scowling former U.S. attorney general John Ashcroft.

Patriot Act: the Home Version pokes fun at "the historic abuse of governmental powers" by the recently renewed anti-terrorism law, according to its creator's website.

But while it may be fun, creator Michael Kabbash, a graphic artist and Arab civil rights advocate, is serious about how he feels the law has curtailed Americans' freedom.

The object of the game is not to amass the most money or real estate, but to be the last player to retain civil liberties.

"I've had people complain to me that when they play, nobody wins. They say 'We're all in Guantanamo and nobody has any civil liberties left,' " he said. "I'm like 'Yeah, that's the point.' "

The real Patriot Act, passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and renewed earlier this month, gave law enforcement new investigative and prosecutorial powers. Critics say it unacceptably impinges on civil liberties, but the government defends the law as a vital tool that has helped prevent another terror attack.

Mr. Kabbash decided to keep Mr. Ashcroft as the visual focus of the game, even though he stepped down in January 2005, because "he really is the icon that people associate with the Patriot Act."

In a nod to U.S. President George W. Bush's prewar comments, the Go space is renamed "Bring It On!" Players roll the dice to determine how many civil liberties they start out with, accumulating them from a variety of categories: U.S. citizens get five; non-citizens one. Whites and Asians get five; Arabs one. Ultra right-wingers get six; Democrats three or four.

Instead of landing on, say Oriental Avenue, players land on colour-coded spaces corresponding to the national terror alert. A player who lands on a red space loses one civil liberty, as do others within five spaces. A player who lands on an orange space gets to choose another player to lose one civil liberty.

Chance cards are now Homeland Security cards, with orders such as "You provide the local authorities with speculative information on your next door neighbour; Collect one civil liberty from each player."

Mr. Kabbash created a few full-board sets, but is also distributing the game free over the Internet, with the game board and playing cards all printable. More than 2,000 copies have been downloaded since making its debut in 2004.

"I wanted it to be not only a parody, but a teaching tool," said Mr. Kabbash, 38, who teaches graphics at the College of New Jersey. "This is my way of putting my political ideas forward, hoping people will wake up ... we have to realize that we're in a democracy, that we're all allowed to say something."

Mr. Ashcroft had no comment when asked about the game during a weekend crime conference in Florida, but he laughed when told "jail" had been replaced with Guantanamo Bay.


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