I recently had a very special occasion pass in my life and one of my friends celebrated by giving me The Great Penguin Bookchase game. “The family board game for anyone who loves books.” Sounds like a great game for me and most if not all of my friends. And it is. Let me tell you about what I love about The Great Penguin Bookchase and what I don’t love so much about it.
The Great Penguin Bookchase is based on Trivial Pursuit. If you don’t like Trivial Pursuit, keep reading anyway, because neither do I. In fact, although I love games in general, Trivial Pursuit is not a game you will ever see me play unless it is under duress. This is not because I generally lose, although I do. It is because the game is too random for my tastes. There are an enormous amount of questions about topics that I have absolutely no interest in and consequently no knowledge about. No knowledge = guesswork for the answer = randomness. I don’t mind a certain amount of randomness, or chance, or luck in games and in fact you will happily see me play games that are (almost) entirely based on say the roll of the dice. The difference is that those games don’t have the underlying idea that you win based on knowledge. You win or lose based on luck. Fine, let’s play with luck. Trivial Pursuit is based on knowledge, it is based on knowledge about topics I have mostly no interest in, so I don’t particularly like the game.
So I like The Great Penguin Bookchase because it is about books and I do have an interest in books, right? Well, yes and no. Let me tell you a little more about the game.
Like Trivial Pursuit, The Great Penguin Bookchase is divided into categories. In this case, each category relates roughly to a genre:
- Children and fun
- Arts and science
- Mystery and crime
- Plays and poetry
- Sci-fi and adventure
- Classics and modern
The board is similar, although not identical. You cannot go all the way round and the categories are kept together. That is, all the ‘Children and fun’ are in one section, all the ‘Mystery and crime’ in another. They aren’t mixed. In fact, the only way to get from one category to another is to go back up through the middle and back down again. The rules are pretty similar. I am not going to point out all the similarities and differences, because after all, this is not about Trivial Pursuit.
So here’s how you playThe Great Penguin Book Chase. You throw two dice, you end up on a colour, you answer a question. If you get a question right, you get a book. Yes, a book. This is pretty cool. The books have actual titles too and no two books are the same. In the mystery and crime section, you can choose between, for example, ‘A Study in Scarlet’, ‘The Woman in White’ or ‘Hannover Square’. You put the book in your book case and it’s the next person’s turn. Every second square is grey and titled ‘award or sentence’. You end up on one, you pick up an ‘award or sentence’ card. They can be good, bad or neutral. You gain a book, you lose a (or several, or all) book or you move a couple of places. Then, there are the library space, the bookshop space and the book corner space. In the library, you get to borrow (i.e. get) books (depending on age, kids get two, adults one), in the bookshop you get a book, and in the book corner you get any book that has been left there (by an unfortunate player who lost one due to an ‘award or sentence’ card).
So, what do I love about The Great Penguin Bookchase? Well, obviously it is about books. I am relatively well-read, so I don’t have to feel like the complete idiot I usually do when playing Trivial Pursuit. Each colour covers two genres and they are brought together in such a way that although they are related, there is still a good chance that you might know more about the one than the other. So even if you are not particularly interested in sci-fi, you might have read your share of adventure novels. You may not be well read in modern literature, but you might know your classics. That is not my only or even main reason for loving it, however. There are still plenty of questions I cannot answer and have to guess, so that element of chance is still there. It just doesn’t annoy me as much. And the reason it doesn’t annoy me as much is because Penguin took that element of chance and added to it with those ‘award and sentence’ cards and the bookshop. This game really is partly about knowledge and partly about chance. Making the chance aspect this bit larger also means you can play it with those who aren’t particularly well-read because they can still get their books. Last time we played it, I got almost none of the questions right and still got two book cases full (yes, you only need one, no, that didn’t stop me. Your point is?), before I eventually hit the finish.
Another great thing is that it can last as long or as short as you want it to. The simple version as I just explained it generally lasts us, two players, less than half an hour. But if you want to make it longer, and more frustrating, you can make yourself lose books very easily (every time you get a question wrong, for example).
Now for the things that I don’t love as much. First, unless you alter the rules, it could take you a very long time to end up on the finish point (in the middle). Enough to end up with another book case full, if that’s your thing. Or lose all your books again, if you want to be really cruel about it. But, you know, you can alter the rules for that and solve it that way.
The really frustrating thing? Whoever wrote the questions has no idea of interpunction. Commas and quotation marks are especially lacking. This is a game aimed at book lovers. No, not everyone who reads books will care about punctuation. But many of them do. The lack of it grates. Also, you read these questions aloud, so these errors are not just the bane of the grammar Nazi’s life, they actually hinder game play. You want examples? Here are some examples.
Oh, the first example brings out the rarer issue of grammatical errors:
- “What is an Printer’s Devil? ” (the article an should be a in front of a word beginning with a consonant)
Not a particularly grating one, but still:
- “What is the name of the gardener in The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies?” (titles should come between quotation marks – this happens all the time)
- “In the Tale of Squirel Nutkin what is the owl called?” (the quotation marks as mentioned above, and maybe a comma before “what”? Also, I would change sentence order.)
Where the lack of quotation marks actually causes ambiguity:
- Whose birthday is known as Inventor’s Day in Argentina?
I did not have to search long for these errors. In fact, I quickly read through about 20 cards or so.
Now, I know that my writing is not free of errors in grammar, spelling or style. But guess what? My writing has not gone past an editor. Although I do try to edit myself, any writer knows that true editing needs to be done by a foreign eye. How did this game ever get past an editor? Does Penguin not have editors? Have the questions in this game not been extensively proofread? I really hope that when the next version of the game comes out, this will have been rectified. Several of my friends are excellent editors, I can recommend them.
Don’t get me wrong, I do recommend this game wholeheartedly to anyone who loves books. The game play is excellent, the questions are interesting and fun and if you pay attention, you can learn a lot from it too. Fix the writing and we have a great game.