I arrived in Berlin to discover that Germany is one of the biggest producers of board games in the world. Here I have found a game called Mensch Argere Dich Nicht, which loosely translates as Don't Get Too Upset.
It could be said that Mensch Argere Dich Nicht (MADN) reflects a part of German culture in its forcing players to achieve total supremacy through a continual flow of ever changing allegiance and retribution.
Fredrik Schmidt invented Mensch Argere Dich Nicht in 1905 for his children. In 1914 Schmidt made 3000 copies of the game for German soldiers recovering in the hospitals of World War 1. It's somewhat sardonic to imagine wounded soldiers playing a game titled Don't Get Too Upset. Nevertheless the game was a hit with the soldiers and those that survived the war returned home with their copies, where it was popularised and eventually became a worldwide success.
The title of the game is particularly interesting and is different in almost every country that it is found. The original name is perhaps the most indicative of the game's underlying appeal, to witness opponent's torment and frustration as they are knocked back 39 steps or more to the start of the game.
MADN has an extremely simple set of rules by which players can quickly pick up and play the game. Each player has 4 pieces that must travel around the 40 steps of the board before reaching their safe destination. Players roll a 6-sided dice that determines how many steps they may move a piece each turn. A player must throw a 6 before a piece may start to travel around the board. Any time that a player rolls a number that would mean their piece landed on top of another player's piece, sends the opponents piece back to the beginning of the game. The first player to send all 4 of his/her pieces to the end of the route is the winner.
With such a simple board design and set of rules, MADN is open to a lot of interpretation or rule bending. Players are easily able to add and twist the rules to create a new game experience. This malleability of the rules allows players to evolve the game in a direction that they find more appealing and ultimately gives MADN a longevity that many other board games can never hope to emulate.
Allegiance & Retribution
Players naturally develop their skills of diplomacy during the play of MADN. If one player is perceived to have the lead in the game the other players will often form an alliance to level the leading player's chances of winning. However, the game has a very fast turnaround, no sooner has one player been knocked down a peg then another player may be perceived as having too much gain. As the game progresses several allegiances will have been formed and broken within minutes. Soon players begin to react, not only to the position of pieces on the board, but also to each other's personality. A player that gloats over another's demise will often feel the retribution of the other players as vendettas are formed. As the game grows to a close the tensions between players rise in a culmination of taunts and paybacks that build up a calamitous crescendo. It's at these points in the game that players begin to show the true wrath of their character, unleashing some surprising emotions that don't always rise to the surface in everyday life. The desire to win the game becomes so strong that players will stoop to all manner of trickery to take first place. Cheating, bribing and emotional blackmail are all traits found in MADN. With so many methods of player interaction being used in play, MADN always gives a player hope. There is always hope of winning even if a player has fallen right to the back of the pack and so it is very rare for a player to give up hope when the game can so easily turn around in their favour.
In summary, Mensch Argere Dich Nicht has an extremely simple and fast gameplay style that requires very little mental effort to access. The game parameters are extremely versatile allowing players to easily modify the rules to suit their own personal style of play, thus creating more depth and longevity. The most alluring aspect of the game is the emotional tension that it brings about in the players through allegiance and retribution. This fascination for emotion is reflected in the title of the game, Don't Get Too Upset, showing the game designer was very close to the most common reactions of the players, understanding their frustrations with each other was the greatest source of entertainment. Taking pleasure in the demise of opponents may not be unique to the German psyche, but it certainly does take a commanding role in this very German board game.