It’s been a while since we had a Nostalgia post. Yep, much too long since we had one. Wait… am I actually going nostalgic for Nostalgia now? Please ignore my meta-nostalgia, let me tell you about my first deduction game: Jadekönig (Jade King). Although it’s from 1986, almost 40 years younger than the first edition of Clue, I didn’t get my hands on the latter until much later and Jadekönig was my first. I was 12 at the time, give or take a year, and with my education in logic still being far in future I was pretty horrible at it.
As the legend goes, when the conquistadores came to South America, one of the things they stole was the Jade King, a life-size statue of a mighty king made from a single block of jade. Little did they know that the statue was cursed – why the king would own a cursed statue of himself in the first place is left unexplained, my guess is he had some kind of Dorian Gray deal – and so their expedition never made it back to the coast. The king, instead of retrieving the statue, had his priests create eight oracle statues all over the empire, and only for the one to solve three riddles one of the statues would turn back into the Jade King – leaving him stranded in the jungle with a very heavy and still cursed statue. The story may not be the most logical, but as deduction games go it’s not so bad. Clue is a game about an amnesiac killer, after all.The players in Jadekönig each take control of one expedition in search for the Jade King. Each of them knows from a mystical fount of information – a deck of cards – which oracle statue is willing to listen to him and only him. Three remaining oracle cards are on the board to give some information where the other expeditions will not be heading. Good to know when you want to block their way.
On their turn, each player may move from one to three fields in the jungle and consult their oracle if they arrive there. Or they may stay were they are and rest. Resting is helpful more often than it sounds because of the move counter: every time you move you go down one point on the move counter. The only way to move back up is to reach your oracle statue or, if the worst happens and you go to zero, trade in one of your question markers to go back up to ten. This is a worst case scenario because losing one of your question markers means you can ask the oracle one less question when you get there. Since you only get three markers to start with losing one is a big deal. No need to be scared though, going to zero moves happens less often than one might think.
But of course, moving through the jungle still sounds much too easy, doesn’t it? That’s why the other players are allowed to interfere: every time a player decides to move, someone else may put a danger stone in his way. The danger stones represent the two most dangerous obstacles in that part of the jungle: snakes and jaguars. Anyone attempting to cross a danger stone has to guess which it is. If he gets it right, he can not only move on unharmed, he also doesn’t go down on the move counter. If, on the other hand, he gets it wrong he stays where he is, but his move counter still goes down. Trying to drive off a jaguar with the snake repellent spray makes you feel very silly for a painfully brief moment.
Moving around the jungle is a fun pastime, but the important part of the game happens when someone reaches their oracle. This is the moment for which every expedition to the jungle has a Mastermind champion on the team. I bet you didn’t know they all had one. We’re very educational. The big riddle that you have to solve before you can obtain the Jade King is actually: which three items need to be taken to what three places. So you rearrange the item cards on the locations on the game board, and then mark three of them with your question markers – or less if you had to give up a marker – thus asking your question. For example you might ask “Do I take the Inca Crown to the Ruins of Chimu, the Stone Bird to the Arruak Forrest and the Sun Amulet to the Swamp of Serpents?” Then the oracle – who turns out to be the player on your right who received a card with your riddle at the beginning of the game – then tells you how many of those places are the correct ones, how many of the items and how many items are already in the right place.
Afterwards all players receive new oracle cards and suddenly find themselves at the wrong end of the continent and the running around starts anew. As soon as a player reaches the oracle and asks all the right question, the game is over and that player won. To make things a little more interesting, when another player reaches his oracle but you are certain that you know the right solution to your riddle you may have an attempt at solving it first, jumping out of the bushes and yelling your question to the oracle while the other player is still clearing his throat. If you get it right, you win, just like that. If you don’t, you’re eliminated from the game and the nights designated ridicule target.
I remember that, as a kid, I used to enjoy Jadekönig a lot. Since I wasn’t very good at it and I was a very bad loser at that age, I’m not entirely sure why that was. Probably the story fit well with my preferred style of “literature” back then. I also remember that I loved the illustrations of the items and places, and I still think they are very well done.
When we played Jadekönig again recently, we decided it doesn’t quite measure up to modern standards. It’s still fun, but the Indiana Jones setting doesn’t hide that you’re basically playing Mastermind in the jungle. The random oracle statues introduce a nasty element of luck to the game: if you keep getting the statue at the other end of the board from where you are, you’re damned to eternally walk back and forth in the jungle. Maybe that is the original curse of the Jade King. And the danger stones do not cover up the fact that they are the only interaction with the other players in the game. With everyone getting their own riddle to solve, you can’t even profit from the guesses of the other players, unlike Clue or Tombouctou.
So objects in the rear view mirror may not be as awesome as you remember them. That doesn’t make Jadekönig a bad game, just one whose time has passed. It doesn’t change the memories of playing with my family on a rainy Sunday afternoon. And isn’t that what nostalgia is all about?