Jolly and Instructive Games

May 27, 2018

I love vintage games: the look of them; the language on the box and in the instruction booklet; the fact many others have already loved them. Occasionally you get a glimpse of a certain era not only the game but its accoutrements. 

 

As you unpack them for the first time you might remember the scarcity of board games 30, 40 or more years ago. The game you are holding was carefully chosen to join precious other games on a shelf. You can feel that magic, a link to the memories that someone else has cherished. 

 

Trek

Trek is a jolly game of mountaineering. Be the first to reach the summit to win. Trek is a delicate balance of resource management and luck. Run out of either supplies or luck  and you're scuppered. You buy resources and as supplies dwindle the price increases. You can gain money as you advance up the mountain but in order to do so you need the correct cards and equipment. This will test your decision making capabilities as well as your luck. Restrictions on the hand limit mean you need to discard cards in order to try to get the one you need but which to discard? There's the rub! While you are mobilised you are penalised by paying money into the bank thus remaining still for too long diminishes your chances of ever reaching the summit. It's a clever game: fun and frustrating in equal measure.

I imagine this is a lot like actual mountaineering. I wouldn't know for sure as there are no mountains in Leeds and I've never understood the attraction of risking life and limb to achieve anything. So for me the risk of splashing out on a jeep rather than playing it safe with a donkey is quite sufficient excitement for me. 

I discovered it in a charity shop. It was an absolute gem of a find with all the pieces carefully stored and perfectly intact. It had clearly been enjoyed many times and then packed away for a later time that never came.  

 

Jolly: rejoice as your opponent watches the card that stands between advance and certain doom cast onto the discard pile.

Instructive: experience the thrills and spills of mountaineering without chewing your own arm off. Or, indeed, having to stand up.

 

Touring England

 

Like a much simpler version of Ticket to Ride, in Touring England you plan your circular route around England taking in as many cities named on your route as possible. In common with many roll and move games popular in this era, there is not a great deal of strategy involved here. But it is an entirely pleasant game and surprisingly engaging. The version I have is a loyal reprint of the original, complete with a 1930 map of Britain. The art work and cars are charming and evocative of the period, although the original came with tin cars which would be even better. The game is perfect for playing with younger members of the family. 

 

Jolly: What could be more jolly than putting the top down on your Roadster, packing a picnic and having a leisurely Sunday drive around England.

Instructive: It's better than that - it's educative. Oh, yes - it says so on the box. Perfect for little ones to learn a little English Geography and some bizarre new vocabulary.

 

Tell Me

The first time I saw Tell Me in a charity shop, I dismissed it. It was plastic and came in a garish 1980s box. It is such a simple premise for a game that having already been put off by the packaging, the modern description didn't sell it to me at all. Spin the wheel to get a letter, answer a question and the answer must begin with that letter. 

 

I should know by now that the box isn't everything. Don't Panic is one of my most popular games and the box is awful. But I'm glad I did pass over the plastic monstrosity because the next time I saw it, it was the 1960s version. The box boasts that it is 'The Grand Quiz Game'. The spinner is tin and the cards, inexplicably, in both French and English.

 

I bought it mainly for the tin spinner and how retro it looked. I wasn't sure that it was a game that would get any love at all or whether it really was too simple. How wrong I was. 

 

Tell Me is a great party game that any number can play, in teams or individually and as long as you know your letters, you are the right age for it. It requires fast thinking - if you've enjoyed Anomia, Don't Panic or Dobble then you'll know what utter rubbish one* comes out with when under pressure. 

*By one, I mean you but I'm being polite. I'll even make you feel better by telling you about my recent dim wittery: 

I spin the spinner, it lands on Y, I turn over card 'Musical Instrument' ..."Yazoo" I shout gleefully and take the card. 

There is a pause... silence...

Everyone else stares with "What are you on about?" eyes...

My partner, sympathetically removing the card from my hand: "She means Kazoo"

But the next time we got Y, guess what the category was? Drinks! So, the moral of the story is, I'm a winner.

 

Jolly: Mock your friends as they struggle to remember what letter words begin with.

Instructive: Honestly, you're not going to learn anything new here, but it will make your brain work which is pretty much the same thing. Right?

 

Hearts

Hearts is a game that is almost as pointless as Shut the Box or Yahtzee. And yet, you will pass many hours repeatedly trying to get the right combination of dice - in this case to spell out the word hearts. All of these games are strangely addictive to many relatively sane people.

 

The main charm of hearts lies in its age. This is my oldest game - made in 1914 during World War 1 it speaks to us of a different time. A simpler one in many ways but one fraught with loss. A game of love in a time of national mourning. I always wonder who owned it, perhaps children or a young couple. The dice are faded and worn but still usable. Unless it is a specifically requested game at events it stays at home in it's own special place on top of the shelves where it won't get battered or knocked. Over the last 100 years it has been loved. Generations have rolled and re-rolled those dice, determined for them to fall in that winning word.

 

Jolly: It is jolly if you are a lover of the Shut the Box or Yahtzee mechanic: the pretence of strategy as you select which dice will be re-rolled to spell out Hearts. 

Instructive: What can we learn here beyond how to spell Hearts? Something about our own addictive nature? Or something less tangible perhaps - a glimpse into a parlour so very long ago where small hands reverently removed the lid and the dice - bright gold letters on a blood red background spilled onto green baize again and again.

 

Kan-U-Go

This is a childhood favourite. It was one of the few games we owned and one of even fewer games that my Mum would agree to play. Like Scrabble but with cards, you play your cards onto a shared grid making 4 or 5 letter words. There is a solo variant (an essential part of any childhood - I'm making a massive assumption here that even children with siblings close to them in age sometimes just craved solitude). Despite its compact box, to play Kan-U-Go requires a large space so it doesn't always come out at events. It's a perfect game to pack for the holidays though.

 

 

 

I was surprised when I realised it dates back to 1943. I'm a child of the 70s and had always just assumed it was from that era as it was a popular choice even then.

 

Jolly: this is a very serious word game requiring verbal dexterity and an impressive vocabulary. Until someone plays "knob".

Instructive: it's definitely educational. I've always been good at spelling and I attribute it to the amount of word games I played as a child. Take it from me, employers don't want someone who spells knob without its silent k.

Kan-U-Go lived in the cupboard under the stairs with a spring trap game that you removed pieces from without disturbing the other pieces; a copy of Mastermind, Picture Lotto, Perfection, Monopoly and years later a much loved copy of Escape From Atlantis (still one of my prize possessions). Mouse Trap was soon consigned to the attic on the grounds that it took ages and infuriated all of us (more than Monopoly - but that's another story...)

 

So, if you imagine the shelves of your past, the cupboard under the stairs or the space on top of your childhood wardrobe and the sparse selection of games there - what do you remember? More importantly what did you keep? Or what do you regret losing?

 

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