Subbuteo Tribute Website.
Peter Adolph's Space Games.
Journey into Space and By Spacecraft to the Moon.
For those of us who were introduced to Subbuteo in the 1970s, the company's range was pretty sensible. We had football, rugby, cricket, with the occasional foray into snooker and angling. However, the earlier ranges were full of quirky things. Inventor Peter Adolph was not one to sit on his laurels, and was always looking for the next big thing. Some things, like the speedway and motor racing games at least tied into the "Subbuteo Sports Games" tag. However, Adolph was also paying attention to the crazes of the time, and was quick to authorise figures of The Beatles as they broke in the early 1960s. Likewise, these 1950s games were attempting to cash in on both the beginnings of the Space race, and the interest in UFOs. They don't seem to have been a huge success, but those who owned them at the time generally report on how entertaining they were.
Journey into Space Promotional Leaflet.
Part of the joy of 1950s Subbuteo is the care that Peter Adolph put into his paperwork. This promotional leaflet and order form for "Journey into Space" is a case in point. The leaflet is printed in dark blue and silver. The front page explains that patents and registered designs are pending. It explains -
"Played with rotator space craft, launching ramp, model planet - all within the area of an ordinary sized room - by boys of all ages."
"Journey into Space is the first all-action space game ever invented, and is of course an imaginative peep into the future, but the special patented ROTATOR SPACE CRAFT manufactured for the game do give a practical demonstration of space flight powered by a simple, effective and controlled form of propulsion based on a principle of self-contained IMPULSE POWER DRIVE."
Open the leaflet, and more is explained...
"The object of the game, which can be player by two or more players (or even singly) is to... PILOT THE ROTATOR SPACE CRAFT TO THE PLANET SATURN.
The rules of Journey into Space are introduced by a new fictional character - Murph Under. Space-Craft leader Murph Under is quickly establishing popularity amongst juvenile space craft travellers, and presents a badge decoration to all pilots upon their very first successful landing on Saturn."
On page three, Adolph decides to give his own hype a rest, and instead borrows a quote from a UFO book, never a place for restrained descriptions.... nevertheless, the quote does seem to match Adolph's game action surprisingly well
"The following extract from the book "Flying Saucers have Landed" by Desmond Leslie and George Adamski, is likened to the flight of the Rotator Space Craft:-
Immediately the outer rim began to glow... and a faint humming was heard... the appearance of spinning round like a top.... then the dark conning tower disappeared. It was a simple and ingenious arrangement: just what one might expect to answer the question of how a whirling disk can take off from the ground. The saucer rose up its own conning tower until it resembled a flat mushroom on a stalk. This enabled it to whirl until it had obtained enough rotation to become airborne. Slowly at first it rose in the air, then gathered speed."
On the back of the leaflet Peter Adolph finishes his sales pitch....
"THIS ATTRACTIVELY BOXED GAME! when opened, provides hours of enjoyment and entertainment by taking the players into the future - around the YEAR 2955 when war was a thing of the past and all nations had combined their energies to the task of interplanetary travel. Journey into Space enables the players to become pilots of Rotator Space Craft journeying the distance from Earth to Saturn in the period of a few seconds of earthly time, re-living the experience of the space flight pioneers who at first so often failed in their efforts to reach and land on Saturn."
Convinced? Then tear off the order form and send 30/- to Subbuteo Sports Games in Tunbridge Wells.....
So lets look at the set, and see how things measure up.
Pilot the Rotator Space Craft to the planet Saturn.
Although this was a non sporting boxed game by Peter Adolph, it was still sold under the Subbuteo logo. The box calls it a Subbuteo Space Game, but the advertising brochure does tie it under the "Subbuteo Sports Games" branding. The game came in a large flat square box, most of which was taken up with the plastic rings, which represented the most famous bit of the planet Saturn. The rest of the "model planet" promised in the advertising, was simply a red balloon, which was tucked into one corner of the box.
I've not managed to play with a set, so I'll turn this entry over to Peter Ford, a website visitor who owned a set in the 1950s....
"The main character was called 'Murph Under', and the game (impressively boxed) consisted of a large clear plastic ring into which fitted a balloon. This assembly was fitted onto the picture rail of a room on a wire clip.
Also supplied were four twisted wire 'launchers', along which plastic flying saucers like three-bladed sycamore leaves were propelled using short lengths of plastic cubing. These flew very well, and the object of the game was to land them on 'Saturn' - the planet formed by the balloon and plastic rim. If the saucers hit the balloon, they bounced off quite impressively, so it was essential to keep the fireguard on the open coal fire.
A tally book with Capt. Murph Under was supplied to record successful landings on 'Saturn'. A surprising degree of skill was needed, and the game was enthralling."
The three blade flying saucers were supplied in five colours - black, white, red, yellow and blue.
In the years since I first used Peter Ford's reminisces to describe this game, various further details and paperwork have come to light, and I've been struck by how accurately he remembered the game and its small details. When the details of "By Spacecraft to the Moon" arrived in May 2020, I was amused by a very important comma, that changed the name and role of the lead character. In the later game he is "Space-Craft Leader Murph, Under Commander-in-Chief of the World's Space Ship Interplanetary Expedition Force." However, now the original brochure has appeared it is obvious that the strange "Murph Under" moniker is indeed the hero's name.
Above, I have illustrated the paperwork supplied with this set. These booklets match those found in other Subbuteo sets of the 1950s, so you have a rather impressive rules (and setting) book, a Peter Adolph style logbook, an instruction sheet for assembling your "model planet" (frankly that's a bit grand for a balloon), and finally a send-away for the badge that was promised in the original advertising brochure. The sheet explains - "I will send you FREE a replica of the WORLD MEDAL OF MERIT immediately you have made your INITIAL LANDING on Saturn. This handsome badge will convey to your friends that you are a skilful pilot of ROTATOR SPACE CRAFT". Your achievement needed to be witnessed by a friend (so no cheating) and obviously added two addresses (you and the friend) to Peter Adolph's marketing database. The little badge is also illustrated.
A final detail from this set. 1950s collector Luca Genzano points out that the ring comes in both brown and clear plastic. I'd seen both, but assumed the brown one was just the plastic showing it's age.... You can see the red balloon in the bottom left corner of the box here.
By Spacecraft to the Moon.
As with the 1950s Racing games, why produce one box set from an idea, when you can produce two? By Spacecraft to the Moon was essentially the same game as Journey into Space, but instead of landing on a balloon, you had to land on a "moon" inside the box.
This rarely seen game was mentioned in Richard Payne's book "Fifty Years of Flicking Football" back in 1996 (un-illustrated), and ever since collectors have puzzled over it. It doesn't appear on any of Peter Adolph's advertising leaflets as far as we know. When was it produced? Was it a prototype? Was it the original version? I had lost the original (bigger) copy of the above photograph in a hard drive crash, so for years this was the only picture I had of the set, and I didn't know any collectors who had one.
Then in 2020 a set was sold at auction with a nice big picture, which has allowed a bit more study. Richard Payne states that this set followed Journey into Space, and that looks spot on. It also looks like it was produced for a particular reason. The blurb on the box states "A game of skill to commemorate Space Year One!!" For those of us too young for this to have significance, Space Year One was the year the Russians launched the first artificial satellite, and therefore commenced the space age. That year was 1957. Always one to try and cash in on a craze, Peter Adolph produced this more simplistic set. Perhaps Journey into Space was not selling as well as he had hoped, and he had lots of spinners to shift....
The box and the story card show the existing picture of Under Commander Murph, along with the picture of Saturn, although this isn't relevant here. The story card makes clear that Murph is looking back on the moon landings as if they were a history lesson.
If Journey into Space is a far future Science Fiction tale, then By Spacecraft to the Moon is presented much more as "Science Fact".