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.

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