Thursday, 29 August 2013

Boardgame review II: “It's not a real penguin, Jack"

Antarctica - Summer at the South Pole! - Cooperative board game
Sunny Games
Ages 10 and up
2-5 Players

Go For Broke
MB Games
2-4 Players

Last year various members of my extended family gathered around a coffee table to collaborate on a board game, in which players must work together to save penguins and seals from hunters and the tangible effects of global warming. These good intentions culminated in an incident in which my nephew, Jack, made a miscalculation that resulted in either the death, or at very least, the serious inconvenience of an innocent penguin. Jack is a sensitive young man and was mortified by the thought that, through his hasty, ill-judged actions, he had caused harm to an animal and let down the rest of the team.

It's not a real penguin, Jack,” I assured him, from the comfort of an armchair which offered me a commanding view over a portion of the North Yorkshire Dales. (I refuse, on a matter of general principle, to participate in board games that do not allow me the satisfaction of either crushing, or being crushed by, my opponents).

Jack could not be consoled so easily: A fictional penguin had suffered and its imaginary blood was all over his tiny ten-year-old hands. In the absence of a competitive element to the game that would have produced a clear winner and a pool of losers plotting some dastardly real-world revenge, his fatal misstep had given rise to a deep sense of shame that isolated him from his fellow eco-warriors and their minor victory.

Overlooking this potentially emotionally-scarring episode and its long-term psychological repercussions, Antarctica - Summer at the South Pole! does at least attempt to convey a positive, educational message about the importance of teamwork and the need to live in balance with our environment.

In comparison Go for Broke's contrarian philosophy can be summed-up as: “We're all going to fucking die, so fuck everything.”

The ability to fecklessly splurge cash and the compulsion to gamble at every given opportunity, are vices that players must wholeheartedly embrace if they are to triumph in this truly reprehensible game, whose values are embodied by an archaic cartoon on the box, depicting a man dressed in a top hat and tails, gaily scattering paper money from a satchel.

The object of Go For Broke is to lose a million of the game's worthless currency. Each flimsy, large-denomination bill is labelled as a 'specimen' in several different languages, so as to minimise the possibility that somebody might mistake it for actual money and accept it in exchange for a lobster dinner or a Ferrari.

No explanation is given as to why the players would willingly choose to charge headlong towards a life of penury by forfeiting such a huge slab of money: Is the game a re-enactment of a boorish stunt by members of the Bullingdon Club? A money laundering scheme? Some last ditch attempt to claw back good karma? It is never made clear.

Nor is any light shed on what the winner gains from bankrupting themselves. On the face of it, the losing players, who retain at least a portion of their fortune, seem better off.

My assumption that I would easily win the game by investing the entire sum in an ill-conceived government I.T. project was soon dispelled by a cursory glance at the instructions, which are printed on the inside of the box, and offer a formulaic range of options when it comes to divesting yourself from your bothersome savings. These are based mainly on bad luck, rather than bad judgement. As such, Go for Broke allows only limited opportunities for smug political satire or social commentary.

As if to raise the game's inherent cuntishness to near-intolerable levels, players are represented on the board by miniature champagne bottles with removable plastic corks. Like Monopoly these game pieces are locked into an erratic clockwise orbit around the fringes of the board, where the only variety comes from occasional detours to the racetrack, the casino, the stock market and a sleazy back-room dice game.

A raised plastic dais, in the centre of the board, houses the cogs and wheels of Go For Broke's crooked financial system: a roulette wheel, three hexagonal tumblers representing a slot machine, a wheel that determines the outcome of horse races and a spindle that simulates the ups and downs of the stock market. I have successfully used the latter to predict rises and falls in real world shares and am now a billionaire who engages in white collar crime by day, and fights blue-collar street crime at night.

It is possible that both the skill-set and the lassiez-faire attitude towards the economy were learned by the architects of our current financial crisis from childhood games of Go For Broke. Rigorous scientific studies are needed to determine whether there is a correlation between prolonged exposure to the game, and being one of the hand-picked arseholes who appear on The Apprentice each year.

In summary: Antartica: Summer at the South Pole! preaches to the converted, who will enjoy the game's emphasis on cooperative play and its morally wholesome message. Everybody else will be reminded of the Modern Parents comic strip from Viz.

Go for Broke ably predicts, and then gleefully celebrates, our fuck-witted descent along the slippery slope towards personal debt and national bankruptcy. It is a bleak message – one that is hard to swallow, which is why I recommend that every roll of the dice should be accompanied by a hearty swig of gin. None-the-less I applaud MB Games for their staunch commitment to realism. More please.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Boardgame Review: Game of Life

MB games
2-8 players

Last week I was coerced by my niece and nephew into playing the Game of Life.

Despite billing itself as an accurate representation of a human life (from the sweaty, anti-climatic grind of conception, through to the foggy no-man's land of end-stage dementia) this nauseatingly optimistic game omits any possibility that you will develop an incurable disease, that is likely to kill you before you reach the age of 50. Furthermore there is no option to die in a joint suicide pact because your cunting Victorian parents have made you so ashamed of your homosexuality that you cannot live with yourself.

When will MB get up off their arses and design a game that accurately represents both my lifestyle and the lifestyles of my prematurely deceased friends? Does our demographic count for nothing?

The cars in which you undertake your monotonous, materialistic trawl towards retirement resemble the Lincoln Continental stretch limousine that John F Kennedy was assassinated in. I like to think that this is a comment on the death of the American dream. There were times during the Game of Life when I prayed that Lee Harvey Oswald would shoot me from the 6th floor of a book depository in Dallas.

For some fucking reason, dying alone in a dingy, one-room apartment, reeking of cat urine is not encouraged in the Game of Life. The pegs used to portray yourself, your tedious spouse and your insufferable brood of children, are featureless and unremarkable. What MB Games seems to be saying is that there is nothing to separate you from the other 7 billion souls who are currently clogging up the planet. Your lives are meaningless and god is dead.

Dice are too real for this game. Instead your progress around the board is determined by a plastic wheel, bordered by some kind of fake rock garden, which is presumably there to protect it from being rammed by players who have decided to take their cars off road.

In the interests of providing parental guidance, I explained to my niece and nephew that if the Game of Life was real, then every few turns somebody would sweep the board and all its contents onto the floor. You would have to crawl around looking for them, occasionally banging your head on the corner of the table. By the time you had put everything back the way it was, you would be 30 and all your hopes and dreams would have died.

In summary: Go fuck yourself MB Games.

Next: I review the Barbie Fashion City Board Game - a fun and entertaining game for all young Barbie fans, aged 5 and up!

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Spanish Jigsaw Puzzle

Spanish Jigsaw Puzzle

by Mark Sadler

Yesterday evening, in a moment of boredom, exacerbated by a lack of anything even remotely interesting on TV, I broke the cellophane on the jigsaw puzzle that has occupied the lower tier of our coffee table for the past two decades. If memory serves I won it in a raffle at a church fête in 1993. The photograph on the box depicts Queen Elizabeth II (dressed in a pale green woollen coat and hat) and her husband and Prince Philip, staring at some zebras in a paddock at Whipsnade Zoo.

As soon as I removed the lid, the reason why the puzzle had been donated to the church became clear: The jigsaw pieces were in Spanish. Neither me, nor my wife, speak more than a few words of the language and we found ourselves unable to fathom how they fitted together. A rudimentary translation, courtesy of google, enabled us to match a few of the edge pieces, however we quickly became frustrated with it and decided to go for a walk instead.

Before we went to bed that night I swept the puzzle pieces back into the box. When I go for my doctors appointment on Wednesday, I will drop it off at the charity shop near the surgery.

This morning my friend Roger dropped round while we were having coffee. He mentioned a former work colleague who orders Swedish jigsaws over the internet. Apparently the pieces make very good fishing lures.

Monday, 12 August 2013

The Diminished Wardrobe of Julian Assange

Today's blog entry is a fictionalised account of the moment when WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, learned that his leather trousers had been deported to Sweden.

The Diminished Wardrobe of Julian Assange

For almost seven days there was no news. The white haired man stayed in his room. He wrote down his thoughts in a journal. He conducted interviews over Skype. He exercised. He ate three modest meals a day, and spoke to the few people who visited him in person.

When, at last, the news came, it was bad.

Mr Assange?”

The white haired man was sitting bolt upright in a rattan chair, positioned so that it faced away from the door. In moments of depression he imagined this as the pose he would be found in, following his assassination. The chair had a sloping backrest that was designed to encourage a more recumbent posture. The man resisted the temptation to slouch. He did not regard himself as defeated and was reluctant to appear as such, even to himself.

A hand emerged from behind one of the steep armrests and pushed a half-eaten meal, consisting of maize and Ecuadorian potatoes, into the centre of a small, low table.

Mr Assange: I am afraid that the Swedish consulate has been successful in their attempt to extradite your leather trousers.”

The bearer of the bad news was called Jarvin. He was a recent graduate from Oxford University who had worked at the Ecuadorian Embassy for six months. He paused for a moment, waiting for a response, or some acknowledgement, from the man in the chair. When none was forthcoming, he resumed his monologue. Assange realised that he was was reading from a communiqué:

The trousers were removed from an address in South Wharf Road, in Westminster. They were taken to Paddington Green Police Station. Following a closed session of the Supreme Court they were driven to Heathrow Airport where they were escorted onto a plane to Stockholm. The flight departed London Heathrow at 06:19am and arrived in the Swedish capital at 12:34pm. The trousers have been remanded in custody at Hall Prison outside Södertälje, pending their trial.”

Julian Assange made a mental note of the unusually long flight time between London and Stockholm. He assumed that, at some point along their journey, the trousers had been informally interrogated. The thought troubled him and he pushed it to the back of his mind.

He had sought refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in the summer of the previous year. It was a desperate last measure, following his legal team's failure to quash an extradition order to Sweden, where he was to stand trial for sexual offences, and face possible onward deportation to the U.S. on espionage charges. The days following his successful application for asylum in Ecuador had been marked by much chest-beating from the British, Swedish and American governments, all of whom had expressed frustration that their target lay within such easy reach, and yet could not be seized without sparking a major diplomatic incident.

The restrained, yet strongly-worded, rhetoric and legal back-and-forth had eventually lapsed into a sluggish stalemate, which had seen the Swedish Government opting to chip away at his former existence, by systemically laying claim to those possessions that he had failed to carry with him into the embassy.

Every week Assange would add a few more items to an inventory of his belongings that had been extradited to Stockholm to face criminal charges in his absence. In the past month he had lost a complete set of ZZ Top albums, and a Goblin Teasmade. Most distressing of all had been the discovery and subsequent arrest of his copy of the Milton Bradley board game – Guess Who? - which had been tracked down to a left-luggage storage locker in St Pancras Railway Station.

He could replace it, of course, however he noted that the most current version of the game omitted several of his favourite characters. Reports, which had filtered back from Sweden, indicated that his Guess Who? set had already been broken down. The individual character cards had been separated by gender and locked-up in jails across Sweden. Some, fearing for their lives, had already joined prison gangs. Others, such as the clean-shaven, sandy haired man with thick glasses, were in the process of being extradited to America, where they would face charges of being accessories to espionage and endangering the lives of Americans from ages 6 and up.

The loss of the leather trousers came as a further blow. In time they too would be deported to the United States. Assange privately dreaded the moment when they would appear, as part of a carefully orchestrated televised press conference, stretched out of shape by the ample buttocks of the Secretary of State, John Kerry.

The Americans were doing their best to break him, but they would not succeed.

A man is not the sum of his possessions,” he said. His knuckles whitened until they were the same colour as his hair. The tips of his fingers digging into the tight, unyielding weave of the rattan armrests.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Tonight, I will fight a Giant Owl!

Tonight I will make myself available to fight, bare-handed, against a giant owl, should there one be available.

1. The window for the fight will be between 9pm and 11pm. If no owl challenger has emerged by 10:30pm, I will open myself up to challenges from members of the audience who have come dressed as owls.

2. Any giant owl wishing to challenge me must be no less than eight cubits in height. If you are wondering why giant owls are measured using the same biblical scale that was employed during the construction of Noah's Ark, then you clearly know nothing about the sport of Giant Owl Fighting.

3. Although, technically, I will be fighting bare-handed, I will be wearing my owl fighting gloves.

4. If a fight is still in progress at 11:00pm, it will be declared a draw.

5. The fight is for display purposes only. The outcome will have no effect upon my standing in either the UK Giant Owl Fighting league, or on The International Over-35's Circuit.