Saturday, 11 May 2019

Boardgames for one 2

My previous post about solo boardgames only got one comment and that was negative, which is easily a sufficiently enthusiastic response for me to quickly return to the subject. I do so because I have subsequently remembered that I own a further two games of the type. I can understand why I chose to forget the first, 'Field Commander: Napoleon', because I paid quite a lot of money for it and have hardly ever played it. Indeed I've never got past the opening moves of the 1796 campaign before returning it to the "life's too short" pile. The only solo games that get played in the Casa Epictetus - and then not very often - are of the fifteen minute variety.

I have been slowly reading through the short stories of Somerset Maugham (highly recommended) and his characters are occasionally prone to whiling away long boat journeys with a game or several of Patience (Solitaire to anyone speaking American English), and it's that niche that these games seek to fill. Indeed the second game which I have recalled owning, 'Friday', definitely shows itself to be a derivation of Patience: you lay out a tableau of cards and cycle through the pack (actually packs in this case) trying to succeed before some end criterion is triggered. In the game one plays the part of Friday attempting to help Robinson Crusoe to fight off his enemies. It's rather hard to win and I haven't ever done better than losing to the first pirate crew. One reason for its difficulty is that Crusoe is remarkably stupid at the start, and needs an awful lot of assistance from his sidekick to get up to anything like the skill level required for life on a island full of wild animals, cannibals and pirates.

It's been a timely rediscovery because, as you may know, it is the 300th anniversary of the publication of Defoe's novel. Reappraisals of the book in honour of its tercentenary have generally been more favourable to its legacy (including the cartoon trope which became so ubiquitous that the New Yorker banned it) than to its intrinsic value.

One article that I read recently described Crusoe as a 'callow dullard', so full marks to the designer for thematic accuracy. Karl Marx, in Das Kapital, uses the castaway's period of isolation as an example of some sort of economic Garden of Eden, and rather surprisingly to modern eyes chooses to ignore his previous history as a slave owner and trader. Marx is, however, very complimentary about the fact that almost the first thing that Robinson (whom the philosopher refers to throughout by his first name in a very un-German manner) does following the shipwreck is to start keeping accounts, like 'a true-born Briton'. It is strangely comforting to find that in the view of the founder of Communism those apparently best suited to the isolation of a desert island are dull British accountants.

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