Sunday, May 29, 2011


Jules Verne was arguably the first modern s.f. writer, with books like Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Journey to the Centre of the Earth (both of which have been made into games, if you pursue the links). The book this week's game is based on was more of a travelogue-thriller, but remains one of Verne's most popular.

It was made into a 1956 spectular produced by Mike Todd (Elizabeth Taylor's third husband and arguably the only one who could handle her volatile spirit), starring David Niven and a cast of thousands, and  re-made in 2004 with (of all people) Jackie Chan in the lead role. The original was nominated for several Academy Awards, whereas the remake...not so much. That's probably due to the former being released at the height of Hollywood's doomed struggle for television in the hearts and minds of the American public, whereas the latter was just another failed re-make in an age of failed re-makes (though it may have made back its investment in foreign markets, for all I know).

As for games based on Verne's book, there are five completely different versions in the BGG database, and they make for an interesting study in contrasts for game-design wonks. In chronological order, we have:

1957 version

  •  The 1957 version, released in tandem with the original movie, which is as traditional as you get: roll, move, and whoever gets back to London first is the winner.

1986 version.

The 1986 version, released by Ravensburger, is a modern Euro as we have come to know it. Instead of rolling dice, players play cards to move around the board (and send other players back); special combinations allow for bonus moves. It may well have served as a prototype for the 2004 version played this week. You'll note the shape of the pieces in the accompanying picture is one of several standard 'meeple' shapes still in use today.

1992 version.

The 1992 version, subtitled "with Michael Palin: The Game of the Major TV Series", which says it all. This one was released in the decade-plus after Trivial Pursuit when every other game was "roll, move, answer trivia question".

The 2003 version, a DIY project with rules and a list of cards which make up the deck Play appears to revolve around playing groups of cards representing Units of Distance, and whoever travels the furthest in 10 turns is the winner.

And finally we come to this week's game, from 2004 and currently out-of-print but with a new printing due soon. Of all the version's it's probably the most involved, as you might infer from the picture, with different markers, chits, and (not seen in the picture) cards and a die. That being said, it is still "light" by today's standards and I was able to teach it to both my Grade 7 and 8 students and my weekly boardgaming group in about 10 minutes. (When I produced the box at school, though, the first reaction of the kids was: "Oh! I want to play the Jackie Chan game!")
The game is an excellent "gateway" game for people who want to know what this fuss about "board games" is all about. There is plenty that is familiar about the gameplay, but there are enough little twists and turns to keep both n00bs and veterans interested. For instance, the chubby fellow in the lower right of the picture above is the annoying 'detective', who makes life difficult for our voyagers. The little red and blue chits next to each city are prizes for the first and last (respectively) players who reach each location. The two sets of arrows between Calcutta and Bombay (foreground) and Singapore and Yokohoma (background) mean that players occasionally have choices about how they move from city to city.
One final filip in the rules is that the game ends when all but one player finishes their circumnavigation, and that last player is out of the running for victory. Which means (as it did at our weekly boardgame evening) that a player who is the theoretical winner (in terms of fewest 'days' spent travelling) can find himself shut out if, in his canniness, he takes too long (in terms of game rounds) to return to London.
All in all, an engaging if undemanding trip around the world.

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