Sunday, 20 March 2011

Going For Broke

The credit crunch is coming to influence every single sphere of our lives. Utility bills are up, taxes are rising to cover national debts and even the humble 99 flake will now requires a down payment of 75p upon order, just in case you become insolvent in the time it takes to make and flake it.

But the current inflation is hitting some people in the place it hurts most: board gamers. It’s not just a simple matter of having to play Connect 9 in order to achieve what was a Connect 4 in 2007, nor that the Game of Life now has squares marked “Wonga.com revokes your loan – you have three minutes to vacate your premises before the heavies come round.” Inflation has damaged some of our most beloved board games irreparably.

Scrabble has become virtually unplayable since all the vowels are now worth the same as a letter ‘K’, whilst ‘J’s, ‘X’s, ‘Q’s and ‘Z’s have all been commandeered for Bankers-Only versions of the game. There is now an illicit black market in these premium letters, with some maverick dealers offering a ‘!’ for twenty points if anyone is daring enough to use a sub-Saharan click in a championship match. Monopoly has been similarly ravaged by the economic instability of the day. Old Kent Road is now so dilapidated that once you have four houses on it, you don’t buy a hotel, you are just the owner of a dangerous council estate. Meanwhile any hotel on Pentonville Road is actually rebranded as a brothel, Free Parking isn’t any more and is patrolled by ruthless Nigerian traffic wardens and anything built on Mayfair or Park Lane is immediately populated by a homeless man slumming it in style. The pieces have also been replaced, so that instead of a top hat, a Scottie dog and an iron there’s now a beanie hat, a pit bull and a syringe.

But perhaps the game that has been hit hardest by these turbulent times is Risk. Reflecting as it does the international nature of the financial meltdown, this once much loved parlour game has fallen into disrepair as players roll the dice to see if they have enough money to move their armies beyond their borders, only to find them ill-equipped, demotivated and suffering from battle fatigue. Ultimately it just becomes a bitter war of attrition to stop your own pieces revolting against you and plunging your already pitiful empire into civil war. Roll anything less than a three and you’re Ceausescued, whilst anything between a four and a nine means that your power relies solely on intimidation by your secret police. Your only hope is to keep rolling double figures and gently spread your tendrils of doom into surrounding territories until you finally grind out a miserable North Korea-style one-party state over the entire face of the earth. If you’re losing the only real tactic is to hope for a natural disaster (luckily, this being a board game, tectonic activity is fairly easy to simulate by just picking it up, as is attack by a radioactive monster if you own a pet.)

Right, I’m now off to play Cluedo to see if it’s possible to murder a rural vicar armed with nothing more than a giro book and some broken NHS spectacles.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Mormon Basketball

An American basketball player has been banned from his university team for having pre-marital sex, because this contravenes the strict Mormon 'honour code' of his university. All students have to agree to refrain from fornication, swearing, alcohol and drugs, including coffee and tea. Any breaking of this code can lead them to be barred from competing in university teams and participating in any other sphere of university life.

Whilst this may seem an incredibly harsh example of religious belief gone mad I actually think it's an inspired idea and should be replicated over here. I suspect if the English Premier League adopted Sharia law it would stamp out so many of the disciplinary problems that currently blight it. The next time John Terry is booked for dissent the opposition defence can stone him to death, if Wayne Rooney decides to lead with the elbow when going for a header an FA disciplinary committee will sever the offending limb and Carlos Tevez has to wear a burkha. At all times.

Obviously there is a great risk in imposing this extreme version of Islam on the Premier League. An astute manager like Sir Alex Ferguson could radicalise his players into becoming footballing jihadis and motivate them with the promise of 72 virgins - only this time they won'y be photographed by the Daily Star afterwards. And any time a team set up a defensive wall against Newcastle there would be the latent threat of suicide bombing from Joey Barton.

Perhaps a better answer would be to encourage ascetic Buddhism for these young millionaires. One can imagine the cerebral Arsene Wenger encouraging his charges to try and commune with the infinite as they reach for footballing perfection and attempt to score the goal that will help them achieve transcendence from the mundanity of everyday league football. Mere trophies are not what drives Arsene, but a genuine desire to connect with the Brahman. One feels that he is searching for that one glorious 154-pass goal that will result in his entire team exiting their bodily forms and being absorbed into the ever-living ether. Apart from Nicholas Bendtner, who is as capable of transcendence as a starfish is of gaining a degree in economics.