I'd been browsing through the events to celebrate the bicentenary of "Pride and Prejudice" this year when I came across a board game which my inner Janeite couldn’t resist. A couple of weeks later a copy arrived from Julienne Gehrer, creator of the game and regional co-ordinator of the Jane Austen Society's Kansas branch.
In "Pride and Prejudice: The Game", four players each have a romantic couple as their playing pieces (Elizabeth and Darcy, Jane and Bingley, Lydia and Wickham, Charlotte and Mr Collins). With a roll of the dice they move around the board through the countryside and locations in the novel (Netherfield, Longbourn, Pemberley, Meryton). The cardboard counters (which you have to pop out yourself) and detailed illustrations in muted tones are delightfully nostalgic. Elizabeth's eyes lack her characteristic sparkle but Mr Darcy looks appropriately dashing. The aim is to collect Regency Life tokens, which represent the accomplishments of any respectable gentleman or lady (music & dance, taking tea, writing letters) and answer questions about the book to win Novel tokens. The winner is the first to collect all the tokens and navigate their couple to the Parish Church.
I played with three colleagues. One of them, Kassia, is also a Janeite, and the others—Simon and Georgia—are not. We soon discovered the power of the chance cards (which should be enunciated in a theatrical Regency voice). One card sends Darcy and Bingley "to London immediately because it is the height of the social season"; another sends the ladies "to Longbourn to help trim hats".
After 40 minutes, Simon was the least accomplished having only collected his tokens in writing and music. While the two who were less familiar with the plot still managed to keep up, Kassia—the "Pride and Prejudice" devotee—was triumphant, and almost as giddy with pleasure as Lydia Bennett.
Jane Austen would probably approve—her novels are thick with games and riddles. Next month, as part of Jane Austen Regency Week in Hampshire, John Mullan, an Austen scholar, will discuss Austen’s use of puzzles, tricks and games to push characters together and manoeuvre others away. More strikingly, a new book by Michael Suk-Young Chwe claims that Austen used Game Theory 150 years before the concept was even developed. In her sweet, provincial land—more hazardous than a board game—strategy prevails.