Seven months ago, four Booklist editors were shown up by the book-themed board game It Was a Dark and Stormy Night. Seeing how our scattered egos were approaching reassembly, it was time for another round of humiliation. That’s just how we roll.
Thus: Bookchase. The box claims as its audience everyone from “people who have never read a book” to “literati who may have read too many books” to “people in a hurry who like chasing things.” Clearly, Booklist fits into the third category–oh, man, do we ever like chasing things! Look, there goes a squirrel! So one blustery Friday afternoon, a brave assembly of thing-chasers met at the local pub to roll the bones of fate:
Ian Chipman: Associate Editor, Mime Enthusiast, Wiseguy
Ilene Cooper: Children’s Books Editor, Secretary of State, America’s Sweetheart
Keir Graff: Booklist Online Senior Editor, Former Member of Guns ‘n’ Roses, Common Thug
Daniel Kraus: Associate Editor, Archie Andrews Apologist, Dungeon Master
Bill Ott: Editor & Publisher, Land Speed Record Holder, Berserker
Bookchase, we discovered, follows the Trivial Pursuit model. You roll the dice, fill your teeny tiny book cart as you slug around the board, and depending what space you land on, you answer a multiple-choice trivia question from one of six literary categories. There are also a few chaos elements: a Library Card, which gets you a free book at the Library; vouchers for books at the Bookshop; and other wild cards that can topple your book cart faster than a lumpy rug.
The game’s chief flaw is its layout. Instead of Trivial Pursuit‘s loop, Bookchase uses byzantine cul-de-sacs that trap you in various genre ghettos. Bill, thinking he would spend but a few minutes in the “Children & Fun” area, endured nearly two hours of interrogation about topics that did not seem all that “fun.” What type of creature is Gobbolino?1 What shape are the ends of the witches feet in The Witches by Roald Dahl?2 By the time Bill stumbled upon a correct answer, his pale and trembling countenance bore little resemblance to the bold captain to whom we had (perhaps ill-advisedly?!) swore our undying allegiance.
Like most trivia games, the unbearable injustice of too-easy questions versus unanswerable juggernauts had most of the players sobbing by game’s end. A few highlights:
- After being hit with the question In theatre what is a tableau vivant?3, Ilene claimed that she could not answer the question because she “knows too much.”
- Which of these mythical places is also a genus of jumping spider? a) Blefuscu b) Brobdingnag c) Lilliput.4 After Keir fumbled, Daniel boasted that he knew the answer due to the countless youth series nonfiction books he had reviewed. Baleful glances shot around the table; knives were quietly unsheathed.
- The question What is a proverb?5 (one of the answers: “A word used professionally”) generated such fury from Ian that he was asked to leave the pub not twice but thrice. Instead, he demanded more ale!
- Who wrote The Last Man?6 Daniel was sure it was Arthur C. Clarke. Keir, ruthlessly mirthful over the blunder, reminded all present of his two blog posts that answered the question. Cruelty, thy name is Keir.
- Ilene proved that she is the only person on the planet who might hear the question What is the name of the hotel in The Shining?7 and consider going with a) The Prancing Pony.
“This game is soul-crushing,” quoth Ian. True enough. But isn’t that the M.O. of most English-language board games? Let’s be real. Monopoly? Rivals water torture. The Game of Life? Like fast-forwarding to your pitiful and friendless death. That tilty wooden-maze thing? Hand me a loaded gun already. So despite our tantrums (and our few legit gripes), you could do worse than stocking this game in your library. It might even get a few people to check out that book about the crazy man chasing his family through the Prancing Pony Hotel.
Ultimately, we realized that the best way to win Bookchase had little to do with answering questions and everything to do with drawing cards that let you steal other people’s hard-won books. This quirk (or gift from the gods, if your name is Keir Graff) drove us to irritation, then madness, and then, finally, joy, as it meant that our seemingly endless lunch break had indeed reached its end. Finally we could get back to the far less punishing exercise of cranking out 20 issues of Booklist a year.
1 Cat. That’s right: Cat.
2 Rectangular. Bill, who had answered “triangular” with a measure of confidence, sputtered, “You mean the witches just have normal feet?”
3 A motionless performance. Indeed.
4 Lilliput. The answer card does feature this fun-fact, though: “The people of Brobdingnag are over 72 feet tall.” How about that.
5 If you need the answer to this one, then you’re on the wrong blog.
6 Mary Shelley. She’s the last woman I would’ve thought of. [Rim shot.]
7 The Overlook. Although, in retrospect, Stephen King clearly didn’t appreciate the bone-chilling menace automatically conjured whenever one places together the words “Prancing” and “Pony.”