No matter how many new fads and gimmicks come down the pike, many games have stood the test of time. Monopoly, Scrabble, Chutes & Ladders and Risk, just to name a few, but these classic games all have something in common…they’ve all be reinvented over and over again. Having numerous iterations doesn’t mean they’re not fun, but there’s something to be said for the games that don’t have to change and retain their fun.
I joined Google+ a couple weeks ago with the other 20 million people and it’s a nice change from Facebook. I feels like a chance to start over with the people you follow and take interest in. My circle of people is extremely small but even with less than 20 people, one of them posted a photo that really brought back some happy memories. They posted a picture of a card from the Mille Bornes card game.
Going the distance
Like most of my childhood games, my mother got Mille Bornes at a garage sale. I’m not sure why she bought it. If I had to guess it was because it is a game about cars and, well, I like cars…and it was only 50 cents so you really can’t lose. As was done with many games during those years, we made up our own rules and it was a lot of fun. It was a game we played often, especially because I couldn’t convince my parents to play Monopoly with me all that often. However, as I would learn later in life, Mille Bornes is a pretty complicated game. There are a lot of rules and conditions that dictate when certain cards can be played, not to mention scoring in the game requires a decoder ring and a math degree. There is quite a bit of strategy involved in order to avoid car accidents and red lights while also laying down distance cards that earn you points. It’s a game that is easy to start and addicting in attempts to master.
Mille Bornes is not only a team game that can bring out the best and worst in people, it’s also a card game that is beautiful to look at. As my friend on Google+ captioned in the photo, the cards are a “great balance of style & substance,” and I couldn’t agree more. When I was young it really didn’t matter to me, all I knew is that there were cards with cars on them and some crazy foreign words I didn’t understand (but I did learn a little French), though as a I started a career in design and art, the Mille Bornes cards really stood out and still hold up after more than 50 years in production.
The lost art of playing card design
My copy of Mille Bornes is from 1966 and the mod style of the time is alive and well…and awesome. Every card has a great illustration on it symbolizing whatever it is the card does, and then both English and French text. Being a game about driving, you of course have your cards featuring cars, accidents, spare tires and the likes, but the most enjoyable aspect of the cards are the actual scoring cards. The object of the game is to be the first team to reach a thousand miles, so you have numbered cards that total up for your distance. The cards range from 25 to 200 miles (points) and each one has an animal associated with it. For example, the 25 card has a snail and the 200 has a swallow. All the animals make sense except for one, the butterfly, which is seen on the 75 mile card. Between the snail and the butterly is the 50 mile card, which has a duck on it. I’m not a zoologist, but I’d bet you a duck can outrun a butterfly…just saying.
Regardless of how well the animals match up with their corresponding speed cards, they are all perfect examples of how to use icons to convey a purpose while also being a lot of fun to play with. All the cards are printed with a limited color palette which only adds to their charm. Even when I was a kid I knew this game was old and the images on the cards were dated, but that didn’t make the game any less fun. Just because they weren’t shiny and new or embosed with holograms didn’t make me less interested in the game. The game is fun no matter what the cards look like and that’s a real testament to just how good this game is. Some things don’t need to change to continue to be fun and interesting, they just need to be experienced.
More flavors than Baskin-Robbins
I look at a Monopoly, Risk, Uno and a long list of other games from my youth and they’ve all changed. In some cases it’s just cosmetic, as you’ll see with all the licensed versions of Monopoly, but in other cases they’ve reinvented or changed the game entirely. Monopoly is not without its derivatives and I’m sure each one is fun, but what’s wrong with just plain Monopoly? And don’t even get me started on the game of Life because that board game has done a complete 180 since the 1970s version I played (and loved) as a kid and now it’s just not as much fun. They dumbed it down a bit too much.
Okay, before anyone points it out in the comments, yes, I know that even my beloved Mille Bornes went through a brief period of reinventing. The game play didn’t change but they updated the card style with more “realistic” pictures and you know what, they didn’t help the game at all. The elegance of the original deck was lost in attempts to cater to a new generation of players that they seemed to assume couldn’t understand what a card with a snail on it meant. Instead all they got was a game that looked cheap. If you need any proof that the redesign of Mille Bornes was a bad idea, just look for the game on shelves today and guess what you’ll find? The original card designs. I can’t think of a better example of simple being better than this.
Don’t forget your roots
Of course, also on toy store shelves these days are “classic” versions of already classic games. Next to Star Wars Monopoly is a limited edition, all-wood version of the game, complete with collector’s box. It is nice to have these tried and true games in more of an original and elegant form, but I fear these wonderful games in their original state are being missed by generations upon generations of children and adults. I often wonder if kids playing Monopoly Crazy Cash or U Build have or ever will play the original game? Games like Mille Bornes and others are a lot of fun as-is and have been for decades. I’m not saying variations on these games shouldn’t exist, but let’s not forget about these original games. We can enjoy them with our kids and families because they are still a lot of fun and stand on their own quite nicely…plus, if you look in the right places, you can still pick them up for less than a dollar.