No worries in German; Mensch ärgere dich nicht

Literally „Mensch ärgere dich nicht“ means don’t get stressed about it, man! which Aussies say all the time; „no worries, mate“. Isn’t it funny that the most German of all games carries such an Australian name?

It resembles the English game Ludo and American Parcheesi. First published over one hundred years ago, it was a favourite among German soldiers in World War I. The clever inventor Josef Schmidt got injured soldiers hooked with free copies in the hospitals – upon returning home, the soldiers bought games for their families. To this day, it is the most popular and common board game in Germany and Schmidt-Spiele is one of the biggest board game manufacturers.

It is the first one children learn to play. At beginner’s level, you can consider it a mere game of luck. Rolling the dice, you try to get your four pieces (that for the first time looked like little men) around the 40 fields. Someone moving their piece on a field with yours on it, you get relegated to the starting area. But hey; don’t get stressed about it.

Miss Five is just starting to realise that there is another dimension to it. As you have four pieces, you can chose which one to move – and follow a strategy. Keep moving the same piece to get it to the finishing area as fast as possible? Hold pieces back to ambush other players?

The game seems to be the gateway to board games or more precisely German-style games with simple rules and which are played in families and among friends. In the mid-1990s and at the same time as video games took off, “Catan” got young German back to toptable games and became an international bestseller. In 2010, 80 million Germans spend nearly half a billion euros on them; while 315 million Americans spent about 100,000 euros. There are about 500 new games published every year in Germany – and “Game of the Year” Award is the industry’s Oscars. I am sure that the honourary award for all-time favourite would go to “Mensch ärgere dich nicht!”

And these are the rules

At the start of the game, the player’s four pieces are placed in the starting area (A) of their colour. Their goal is to move them to the finish area (B).

Players take it in turn to throw a dice. A player must first throw a 6 to be able to move a piece from the starting area onto the starting square. While all four pieces are in the start area, the players have three tries of throwing a 6. After leaving the start area, you have to move on from the first space so you can move out your next piece with the next 6.

In each subsequent turn the player moves a piece forward 1 to 6 squares as indicated by the dice. It is not possible to move more than one piece at a time and if moving is possible you are obliged to do so. If a player throws a 6, the player has to move a new piece from the start area A. If there are no more pieces in the start area, other pieces may be moved. The player is also granted another turn as a bonus for throwing a 6.

If a player’s piece lands on a square containing an opponent’s piece, the opponent’s piece is captured and returns to the starting area. (By strict rules you are obliged to throw out your opponent – and can even be taken back to your start area by a third player if you don’t. But that may not be child-friendly…) A piece may not land on a square that already contains a piece of the same colour.

Once a piece has completed a circuit of the board it moves up the home column of its own colour. The player must throw the exact number to advance to the home square. By strict rules, you may not jump over your own pieces within the column. The winner is the first to get all four of their pieces onto the home column.

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