By Bob and Lizzy
Dicks in ears: 2/10
Pairs well with: Tiny glasses of sherry or gin, fine wines, BBC radio 3’s evening concert.
Here’s a weird little story for you. For a year I lived in Germany, in a hideous Soviet-style concrete block on the edge of a beautiful eighteenth-century baroque palace and gardens. Built as a summer house in the style of the palace of Versailles by Frederick the Great, the villa is a sprawling arrangement of Roman baths, fountains, and glorified sheds covered in filigree. As a further nod to the Frenchness that was sadly popular at the time, the palace’s name, Sanssouci, translates as ‘no worries’.
Depressed, bored, and fat from a diet consisting predominantly of German pastries, I spent a lot of time strolling around the gardens so I’ll give you a run-down of the highlights. Firstly, the Chinese House. It’s a little bandstand thing covered in statues of the most Western-looking Chinese people you’ve ever seen in your life. Pretty much second only to the Brighton Pavilion in terms of shameless, state-preserved Orientalism. Secondly, Frederick the Great’s grave (and the surrounding graves, which belong to his dogs). Germans absolutely love Freddy, he’s the dude who introduced the exotic potato to the Mutterland (which for Germans is a Big Deal). Initially the locals ate the plant instead of the root and subsequently died, but they soon got over that little hiccup and came to develop the delicate stodge-based Prussian cuisine we all enjoy today. They leave potatoes on Fred’s grave instead of flowers. Finally, the mosquitoes. Now I am a fairly well-travelled lady, hell I grew up in Africa; the sight of inch-long blood-engorged mozzies will barely raise an eyebrow. But these things. These fucking things. See, Frederick the Great, in a hilarious Pythonesque twist of history, built his bloody palace on a bloody swamp. The local mosquitoes are tiny and utterly vicious, to the extent that I could barely walk after one particularly ill-advised spring day spent wearing a skirt in the park,* and spent many a summer evening McGuyvering flame throwers out of aerosol deodorants.
ANYWAY, to make a short story unnecessarily long, the moment I saw a game called Sanssouci in a discount pile at this year’s Essen it precipitated such a flood of nostalgia that I knew I had to have it. The blurb, entirely in German and describing a garden-building tile-placement game, did not put me off. Would I like to compete to create beautiful flower beds, scented herbaceous borders, and cooling fountains for aristocrats to enjoy? Hell fucking yeah I would.
The instructions were also in German, and it became a point of pride for me to be able to understand and play the game without looking up the translation. As a result the first game, played some time later with Lizzy over tiny aristocratic glasses of sherry (naturally), was a little… bumpy. We muddled through fairly successfully in the end, thanks to the game’s copiousillustrated rules examples, and Lizzy’s understanding of how a game should work. (“Bob! Do you think maybe the different sets of coloured cards might be for different players? Wouldn’t that be a neat idea Bob?”) Later, I looked up an English translation and you’ll all be pleased to know I got it mostly almost right. Undergraduate degree totally not wasted.
The game is Tokaido-esque in its chilled-outness, if not nearly as pretty. It does have adorable aristocratic meeples with tiny aristocratic meeple hats, which is a point in its favour, and it’s almost as simple as Tokaido. Each player has an empty garden grid in front of them, and in a turn will play a card and pick a tile to place in their garden. One of their noble meeples may then go for a lovely little walk around the garden to score points. Gardens gain points for their size (longer walks for the aristocrats) as well as their layout (you have a full set of pavilions? Spectacular). If you are unable to play a garden feature tile you may play a gardener tile. These do not contribute to your garden, but may bridge two garden tiles. This means that an aristocrat can walk across a gardener tile to reach the inviting vineyard tile that lies beyond. One cannot stay on a gardener tile because, let’s face it, the land workers are plebs and not to be associated with.
We’ve decided to give the game a two-dicks-in-ear rating because you need to pick up your gardening tiles from a communal tile-pool. Particularly savvy estate-managers can get a feel for what others are trying to collect and nab the exact water-fountain they need right before they get the chance. Of course, it’s far more likely that most dickery will be accidental and you will unwittingly and unjustly incur Bob’s wrath for the rest of the game anyway, through no fault of your own. I just wanted to extend my vineyard, is that too much to ask?
This game has some good roleplaying potential, particularly to the extent that you enjoy
pretending to be snobby aristocrats. One recommends pretending to talk to the other aristocrats as you walk you meeples through the garden and sip on your generous helpings of sherry. “Lady Snobbington! I didn’t expect to see you here by the shrubberies today. Have you seen the new bandstand? Splendid isn’t it. *shlurp*”
It’s a fun little game, with decent replayability thanks to its included expansions. I also found it quite absorbing, as the garden grids approximately match the Orangerie garden layout at Sanssouci. If you like your games particularly action-packed or combative then I’d give it a miss though. It’s more like a programme of rehabilitation for combat game addicts, who need to be supervised with the secateurs when they’re trimming the ornamental rose bushes in case they get twitchy.
*This episode even caused horrible bullseye-shaped rashes to appear on my legs. The local German docs were less than sympathetic to my panicked enquiry regarding Lyme disease, and told me to stop being an idiot and wear trousers next time.