Mensch Ärgere Dich Nicht
Mensch ärgere dich nicht is a simple yet addictive German board game, encouraging a culture of supremacy amid ever-changing allegiance and retribution.
What starts out as a light-hearted bit of fun, often descends into a vicious sequence of retaliatory moves where no one is safe from their neighbour.
You can read more about Mensch ärgere dich nicht below, or watch the video Bored & Upset, with German people playing the game in Berlin.
I arrived in Berlin to discover that Germany is one of the biggest producers of board games with titles such as "Die Seidler von Catan" that is but one in a long line of successes. But a game we in England know as "Ludo" (Latin for "I play") or "Jeu des Petits Chevaux" in France, has its origins in Germany.
Friedrich Schmidt invented Mensch ärgere dich nicht in 1905 for his children. He wanted to make a game that his young children could learn very quickly, without too many rules to hinder play. 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, mutilated and in great pain, 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.
There is some contention as to whether Schmidt plagiarised the Indian game Pachisi. However, even if Schmidt had known about Pachisi, he radically simplified his game to the point that it might be considered a different game altogether.
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.
Mensch ärgere dich nicht 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 finish, is the winner.
With such a simple board design and set of rules, Mensch ärgere dich nicht 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 Mensch ärgere dich nicht 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 Mensch ärgere dich nicht. 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 Mensch ärgere dich nicht.
With so many methods of player interaction being used in play, Mensch ärgere dich nicht always gives a player hope of winning even if a player has fallen right to the back of the pack. So it is very rare for a player to give up when the game can so easily turn around in their favour.
In summary, Mensch ärgere dich nicht has an extremely simple and fast gameplay style, that at the outset, 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.