But We Do Wish for Cards
On a summer afternoon not too long ago, a party of five ladies from The Jane Austen Society of North America’s Greater Chicago Region, some in bonnets, gathered to play a game of cards. No, it wasn’t whist, loo, vignt-et-un, or any of the other card games popular during Austen’s time and played by the upper classes after dinner.
This card game, cleverly titled Marrying Mr. Darcy, had naturally drawn an eager crowd from my friends at the Jane Austen Society (JASNA). We chose to play an hour before our summer meeting, where we would partake of a lecture about Regency-era food, a cooking demonstration and tasting featuring “Pease Soup” and “Rout Cakes” followed by a lecture on tea. And, of course, we would be drinking tea, too. (Consider joining JASNA if you find such an event appealing!)
But, I digress. Despite the game box’s claim that playing time would last 30 minutes to an hour, 45 minutes turned out to be far too short a time to indulge in this delightful game. Spoiler alert: to say we didn’t finish and not one of us married Mr. Darcy would be accurate; to say we had a laugh and wanted to spend more time with the game would be equally true.
While any one of us “eligible” and accomplished ladies, namely, Lori Davis, Molly Miles, Linda Reinert, Laura Whitlock, and I would have happily “married” Mr. Darcy, there is always so much more to things than just a happy ending, as any Austen fan knows.
No one in our group mentioned the irony that the creator of Marrying Mr. Darcy had conceived a card game based on Pride and Prejudice, but they no doubt thought it. Entire scholarly papers have been written, and lectures given, on how Austen used card-playing to define character and deepen themes. Often, Austen’s card-loving characters are immoral or stupid, in contrast to the ones who don’t play. In Persuasion, heroine Anne Elliot “is no card player.”
Indeed, in Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet famously declines to gamble on cards with her social superiors because she couldn’t possibly afford to lose—and we learn of the vast social gap between her world and Darcy’s. She opts to read a book instead. In a subsequent scene, Mr. Darcy “did not wish for cards” for her benefit, but chose to read instead, and, well, he was the King of Hearts for putting an end to the card playing.
Harder Than Pokémon?
When I broke out the game in our little nook at Counter Coffee in Forest Park, Illinois (they were kind enough to reserve a private room for us), we all liked artist Erik Evensen’s smart and even snarky design for both box and cards. Happily the art doesn’t take its cue from any of the Austen film adaptations but offers up a fresh, graphic-novel style look at our favorite characters.
“I’m already liking this game,” said Lori. We all agreed and bon mots flew, as they tend to do with Austen enthusiasts.
We laughed in Lydia Bennet fashion as we read the premise of the game by creator Erika Svanoe:
Marrying Mr. Darcy is a role-playing game where players are one of the female characters from Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice. Players work to improve themselves and become more desirable as potential wives for the available Suitors. Our heroines attend events and build their character, but extra advantage can be gained by strategic use of cunning. But be warned—though you can turn down a proposal from a suitor you do not admire, you will run the risk of becoming an old maid! All of our heroines’ efforts are in hopes of securing the husband that will make them the most satisfied character at the end of the game.
We did struggle with some of the game’s set-up directions. In a room full of very talented and accomplished ladies—a milliner, an editor, and a high-school English teacher among us—we could not at first discern whether the three Character Cards dealt to us should be exposed to other players, kept in our hands, or set face down as with the Cunning Cards. The directions stated we needed to hide these from other players, yet diagram B in the instructions shows the Character Cards face up. As it turned out we need to play our Character Cards from our hands and then accumulate them face up for all players to see. It took us a while to figure that out. Perhaps we weren’t as smart as Elizabeth Bennet after all?
“This is harder than Pokémon,” joked Laura Whitlock as I read the directions in their entirety.
Playing and learning how to win for the first time proved layered and complicated, but worth it, rather like Mr. Darcy himself. MarryingMrDarcy.com has a video demonstrating how to play the game and it would have been helpful to view that before we read the instruction booklet. We all agreed the instructions might benefit from further clarification.
We enjoyed rolling the die to choose our heroines, and Linda Reinert chose first—taking Elizabeth Bennet of course. “I hope I’m witty,” she said.
The complications of choosing Georgiana Darcy or Caroline Bingley and marrying their brothers struck us, but there is a variation of the rules that states both ladies were adopted . . . it takes a bit of an open mind to accept this deviation from the book.
The game is divided into two stages—Courtship and Proposal. This made complete sense to us Austen aficionados. We began play and each one of the Event Cards elicited a smile or a laugh from the group.
We all found the writing and game concept by Erika Svanoe to be on point (pun intended). What fun it was to draw Event Cards such as:
Nosy Old Lady
You are confronted by Lady Catherine. Roll the die . . .
Your rich Aunt settles some money on you . . .
Your rival is caught pretending to read a book to capture your suitor’s attention . . .
When it came to discussing the game’s writing, the word “charming” was bandied about, and that speaks volumes from a discerning Austen crowd!
Play the game and you, too, may be so lucky as to Flirt With Officers, Host a Ball, Paint a Portrait, navigate Scandals such as your sister’s hasty elopement or even Discover Your True Nature after you read a letter that reveals your prejudices.
One of our party didn’t like the cutthroat aspect of the game in which you could remove another player’s Cunning or Character cards, but then again, modern JASNA members tend to be extremely polite and might never survive a day (or ballroom night) in Regency England’s marriage market.
We enjoyed the Events and collecting Character Cards so much that we nearly forgot about the Proposal stage of the game and our time had nearly run out. We did agree that the Proposal stage would be great fun. Personally, I would opt for the “Ladies’ Choice” variation and try for Mr. Darcy. I had met his “requirements” of at least five Wit points to gain a proposal from him even though I was Jane Bennet.
Although we all thought the directions could use some fine-tuning and the myriad of Rule Variations proved confusing, we all generally enjoyed the game. Spend an afternoon or evening, not merely an hour, playing Marrying Mr. Darcy. It’s a card game that perhaps even Austen herself might enjoy.
Or, at least, we would hope she wouldn’t judge us for playing.
News flash: An “undead” expansion of the game is due to be released on July 11th. Austen purists may take a pass, but I always say anything that inspires newbies to read Austen is welcome.
Editor’s note: Karen Doornebos is the author of the novels Undressing Mr. Darcy and Definitely Not Mr. Darcy. A lifelong member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, she lives in the Chicagoland area with her husband, two teenagers and various pets—including a bird. Speaking of birds, you can find her on Twitter. Her website is karendoornebos.com.