Jane Austen isn’t just the author of half a dozen witty novels that are popular to this day. She’s also the inspiration for a number of games, from card games to RPGs to board games. Recently, I had the chance (or rather, the chance was forced upon me by circumstances, which I’ll relate in a moment) to try out three Jane Austen games. Were they any good?
Let’s find out!
1. Lost in Austen
Alas, this is not a drinking game based on the romantic TV mini-series. This is a 2007 game-play book that owes something to the Choose Your Own Adventure series, something to Dungeons and Dragons, and an additional something else to Trivial Pursuit.
I attempted to play along with Lost in Austen, whose subtitle is “Create Your Own Jane Austen Adventure,” one bleak winter’s evening, when I found myself trapped indoors by excessive ice and snow. The book’s description promised, “The journey begins in Pride and Prejudice but quickly takes off on a whimsical Austen adventure of the reader’s own creation. A series of choices leads the reader into the plots and romances of Austen’s other works.”
After what felt like hours (and probably was), I was still stuck in Pride and Prejudice. I’d had the opportunity to make very few choices, had answered a couple mildly infuriating trivia questions about early 19th-century vocab words, and had been so thoroughly tyrannized by the arbitrary points system that I tossed the book aside.
As a game, I’d give it one standoffish Mr. Darcy at the ball. To paraphrase Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, “I remained with no very cordial feelings towards it.”
2. The Tarot of Jane Austen
Days later, still imprisoned by ice and snow, with no end in sight and nothing but mindless shrugs from the local weathergal, I turned to the Tarot of Jane Austen for insight and, it was fervently to be hoped, an enjoyable distraction.
I found both the tarot deck and a book explaining how to use it a few years ago at a used book store. “Wow, this is so weird!” I was heard to mutter, before eagerly buying both. I never got around to doing anything with either the book or the cards between that exciting day and the present, however. But the uncertainty of when this rotten cold snap would end finally drove me to seek supernatural advice.
As an edgy teen, I’d dabbled in the mystic arts of the tarot. The spreads in the Tarot of Jane Austen guidebook aren’t conventional by any stretch, and all but one are designed to give advice only to the lovelorn. My question, “Will this blasted weather ever end?” was not suitable for any but the “Power of Persuasion” spread.
I shuffled. I cut the deck. “Will this blasted weather ever end?” I inquired of the cards. This is what they informed me:
Card 1: My thoughts on the issue
Four of Coins (Mr. and Mrs. Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility)
Meaning: “Receiving this card in a reading is a reminder to ask yourself, ‘Am I feeling on solid ground?’”
My interpretation: I’d answer that question thusly: “Hell no, I’m not feeling on solid ground — there’s a sheet of ice coating my driveway!”
Card 2: My partner’s thoughts on the issue
Lord of Coins (Colonel Brandon from Sense and Sensibility)
Meaning: “When you receive this card in a reading, it indicates that you are utterly loyal once you bestow your affections. … The last thing you need is the advice of an impoverished spinster.”
My interpretation: My husband did think the snow was fantastic, and still does. He’s very loyal to the snow. Maybe this is all his fault, somehow? In any event, it sounds like he should avoid listening to the meteorologist on Channel 13. Her forecasts are useless.
Card 3: Influences on my opinion
The Empress (Anne Weston from Emma)
Meaning: “The feminine principle, in all its variegated forms, is being activated in your life. … You could be making lavish meals for your unattached friends — or catering a low-carb meal for one who is on a diet.”
My interpretation: “WTF?”
Card 4: Influences on my partner’s opinion
Lord of Candlesticks (Captain Frederick Wentworth from Persuasion)
Meaning: “This card signifies someone to whom people are proud to give their trust, loyalty, and allegiance. … If the Lord of Candlesticks appears in a position regarding a situation, it signifies a positive, high energy response.”
My interpretation: Are they saying my husband can control the weather? Or knows someone who can? Did he lose a bet with some ancient pagan weather god? Is this all his fault? I think it is.
Card 5: What can keep us apart on this issue
Four of Quills (Marianne Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility)
Meaning: “When you receive the Four of Quills in a reading, like Marianne, you may be feeling rather listless and apathetic. Someone or something has drained you dry. … Rest and respite are called for in serious quantities.”
My interpretation: Yeah, listless and apathetic, drained dry—that’s me, for sure. This weather is to blame — and the one who caused it; the ol’ Lord of Coins himself. That husband of mine had better go settle his debt with Old Man Winter right now, dammit!
Card 6: What will bring us together on this issue
The High Priestess (Jane Austen herself!)
Meaning: “Great clarity and even a sense of the absurd permeates the present situation.”
My interpretation: Well played, Jane. Well played, indeed.
As a divination tool, I’d rate the Tarot of Jane Austen one Empress card. (So, when exactly will this blasted weather end? When???)
As a game, one High Priestess card (Jane herself!) In the end, the conclusion of the spread was mighty clever.
This one isn’t an original creation based on the life or work of Jane Austen; it’s an authentic relic from her era. This quintessentially British card game figures in nearly every Austen novel.
“When the tea-things were removed, and the card tables placed, the ladies all rose, and Elizabeth was then hoping to be soon joined by [Mr. Darcy], when all her views were overthrown, by seeing him fall a victim to her mother’s rapacity for whist players.”
“Elinor was obliged to assist in making a whist table for the others. Marianne was of no use on these occasions, as she would never learn the game.”
“That poking old woman, who knows no more of whist than of algebra.”
“Mr. Weston is rather an easy, cheerful-tempered man, than a man of strong feelings; he takes things as he finds them … playing whist with his neighbours five times a week.”
Only in Persuasion and Northanger Abbey are we left whistless.
This predecessor to bridge uses a regular deck of cards and is remarkably easy to play and highly addictive. If you don’t have three well-mannered friends loafing around your drawing room at the moment, you can try your hand at whist online.
This game rates a satisfying 13-trick sweep.