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Sophie’s World: The Boardgame!
Chris Bloor spends a Summer afternoon wisely with white wine, some friends and a pair of dice.
Can you offer a working definition of hermeneutics? Could you guess which German philosopher had a poker brandished at him by Ludwig Wittgenstein in a Cambridge common room? Can you talk entertainingly on the subject of animal rights for one minute without faltering?
If so, you would enjoy Sophie’s World: The Boardgame, produced by Sophisticated Games Ltd. It is a spinoff from Jostein Gaarder’s novel, but don’t let that put you off if (like me) you have mixed feelings about the self-styled ‘history of philosophy that thinks it’s a novel’. Lacking its big sister’s pretensions, the game doesn’t think it is anything other than an enjoyable way to pass time among friends, and is all the better for it.
Sophie’s World begins when the player whose name is closest to ‘Sophie’ rolls the dice, but after that there are no references to the characters in the book. It soon emerges that the game is an entertaining combination of Snakes and Ladders, Trivial Pursuit, and pub philosophy (pub optional).
The object is to roam the board visiting various epochs in Western thought (the Middle Ages, Myths, Enlightenment) while successfully answering questions in order to amass ‘Degrees of Wisdom’. Players have to negotiate various obstacles and frustrations (such as ‘Oblivion’) and are aided by rabbit holes and gadflies.
While the questions are fairly difficult even for those familiar with philosophy, the multiple choice answers are given in threes, one of which is usually a bit of a howler. ‘Big Questions’ get players out of peril, and require them to talk for one minute on an assigned topic.
We had the chance to road-test the game at the recent Philosophy For All picnic. Several of our party were younger than twelve, the minimum age suggested by the manufacturers. They appeared to enjoy themselves, and were given the responsibility of reading the questions aloud. This went well, apart from some confusion about whether the ancient Greeks worshipped Dionysus or dinosaurs. Nietzsche himself was rumoured to have made a similar error in his later years.
Sophie’s World is mercifully free of the competitive imperatives characteristic of Trivial Pursuit, which in my experience tends to turn leisure hours into a snarling frenzy of natural selection. Players could wander away, fill their glasses, have a chat, and return to find it not quite their turn again yet.
The rules are probably not as confusing as they appeared to be late on a hot afternoon. In any case, Sophie’s World is one of the few games in which rules can be ignored or freely interpreted without ending the game in chaos or upsetting players. This is because play focuses on the entertaining questions rather than strict obedience to rules. Wittgenstein would have loved it.
Philosophy Now editor Rick Lewis asked several times “How do we know when it’s over and how do we know who has won?”, but as no one could answer him we continued to enjoy ourselves for several hours. Perhaps there is some parallel here with the activity of philosophy itself.
© Chris Bloor 2000
Chris Bloor runs a pub philosophy group called the Bloomsbury Set.
Sophie’s World: The Boardgame is available at Hamley’s in London’s Regent Street for £29.99, or contact Robert Hyde on 01223 871717.