IF THERE is ever a board game for our times, it is surely Snakes and Ladders: a version with especially punitive snakes and diminutive ladders. But if you want something more explicitly topical, then you could try Pandemic: a board game designed by Matt Leacock, in which participants bestride the world like medical Colossi, locking down ignorant, querulous civilians while a cure is found for whatever ghastly plague has been loosed.
Board games, Dr Reiner Knizia said on The Cultural Frontline (World Service, 19 December), provide us with “a cultural space” in which we can indulge in healthy role-play, build social skills, and preach ethical values. It seems that there are people out there who agree — such as the inventor of World of Work, in which players collaborate to keep everybody in a community in employment while earning social benefits for all.
Unlike the games of old, which are all about land-grabbing and property development, this new breed of game is non-combative and didactic: Mr Leacock, for instance, is currently working on a game about climate change.
With no evidence quoted in this programme to support assertions of the corrupting or improving nature of board games, one can only assume that they are enjoyed primarily by those already enlightened in whatever cause is being espoused. For the rest of us, we are quite happy to indulge the dream of owning a hotel on Park Lane, even if we know we can hardly afford to spend even a single night in one.
If your problem is resistant to the catharsis of game-play, but not so serious that you are prepared to spend money lying on a couch, then hope may be found in Arthur Cares (Radio 4, 14-18 December). Originating in a one-off documentary last year, in which 11-year-old Arthur attempted to cheer up his melancholy father, this charming mini-series had the life coach dealing with problems phoned in by adults: such as how to overcome a fear of dancing in public, or how long should one properly spend looking at a masterpiece in an art gallery.
Arthur is amusingly self-aware. His advice is inflected with mock seriousness: “I — as a 13-year-old — have no children,” he reminds Kash, whose problem involves broaching the news of a career change with his domineering father. The unanswered question is, now that Arthur has become a teenager, whether the generous consideration will now be reduced to a surly “Wha’ever”.
At a time when the two stories dominating the news may be making us feel more than ever cut off from the world, it is some reassurance that BBC Radio continues to utilise its international networks: on Radio 3 in EBU Christmas Around Europe (20 December), and, on Radio 1, with British Forces Takeover (Christmas Day). Somehow, it didn’t seem to matter that the tunes played were so similar. These were not celebrations of localism, but of internationalism.