In 1979 XTC released their third album, Drums and Wires, which featured what would prove to be their second-most successful single, the Colin Moulding-penned “Making Plans for Nigel” (“Senses Working Overtime,” which came out three years later, charted slightly better). The content of the song sketched a familiar tale of a couple desirous that their son Nigel pursue a “future in a British steel” over any individualistic ambitions Nigel may have carved out for himself. The title phrase is so creepy that the song succeeds on little more than sarcastic repetitions of phrases like “Nigel is happy in his work.”
The first 20,000 pressings of the single came in a very special and very ambitious cover that folded out into a fully playable gameboard of Chutes and Ladders (or Snakes and Ladders, if you prefer) with the gameplay adapted to details of Nigel’s miserable life. Ingeniously, the gameboard was reproduced twice, one to be played by Nigel and the other to be played by his parents. The details of the game flesh out the narrative of Nigel with the purchase of a scooter, job interviews, a holiday in Spain, and an engagement to “a very nice girl,” to the point that it becomes something more like a short-story or an hour-long TV drama.
According to the back cover, the illustrations were by Steve Shotter and the sleeve by Cooke Key. I take that to mean that Key did the general concept and execution of the cover.
Here’s the full game board, cobbled together using separate scans of the different game areas—the different parts aren’t aligned perfectly, but they still read fine and you can still play the game successfully. Click on the image for a larger view.
The game was advertised in the September 6-19, 1979 issue of Smash Hits:
... and the October 4 issue featured a little item in which Andy Partridge explained the rules of the game (click for a larger view) under the title “Making Rules for Nigel”:
Here are the rules of the game written out, complete with additional information on Nigel and his overbearing parents.
Use two markers such as stones, pennies, buttons, etc. Decide who is to be Nigel and who is to be his parents.
If you have no dice use the spinner with a match through the centre.
The highest throw starts first. You then proceed along the course until you land on either a picture space, or an up or down space.
To finish the game you must land on 70 exactly. If you overthrow, you must go backwards by the remainder of numbers from 70.
5 parents insist you spend your pocket money on a suit for Sundays. Back 3 spaces (yawn).
9 You sell Dad’s old bike without him being told. Bit of money for the pictures. Have another throw (ting ting).
16 Parents phone up for job in bank and Dad drives you to the interview. No escaping. Miss a turn (zzzzz).
24 Your girlfriend offers to take you on holiday to Spain for a week. She’ll pay for everything. Move on 4 spaces (olé).
30 Mum and Dad decorate your room one day while you’re out. Mum rips up all your pop posters. Go back to 22.
39 Dad asks your advice on something (about time they listened to you - a good sign). Go on 2 spaces.
44 Big argument with parents. They refuse to keep you anymore, unless you accept the job they’ve found for you in the steel factory. Go back to 36 (swear).
56 Parents decide to go on holiday to Butlins without you (great eh!). Go on 4 spaces.
63 You fall in love with a girl who expects nothing of you other than to be yourself (how nice). Throw again.
66 You get in a real low mood and you need money to repair your scooter. The factory gates seem to loom nearer (gloom). Go back to 50.
5 Nigel spends his pocket money on a scooter. Back 3 spaces (vroom).
9 You find cigarettes in Nigel’s coat. You confiscate them (chuckle). Have another throw.
16 Nigel ill on day of job interview. He doesn’t particularly want to go anyway (drat!). Miss a turn.
24 A friend of the wife’s says she can get Nigel a job in her factory (respectable like). Move on 4 spaces.
30 Nigel brings home weird hippy girl for tea (too far out for the boy). Go back to 22.
39 You spot Nigel parting his hair (a good sign). Go on 2 spaces.
44 Big argument with Nigel. He refuses to accept the job you’ve found for him in the steel factory. Back to 26 (cuss).
56 Nigel agrees to take a Saturday job in a supermarket. Go on 4 spaces (stack stack).
63 Nigel announces his engagement to a very nice girl, who makes him take a nightshift job to save for their mortgage (poor Nigel). Throw again.
66 Wake up to find a note from Nigel. “Dear Mum and Dad, I’ve gone to sea. No factories for me (gasp).” Go back to 50.
Listen to the song while you play: