My Life with Games (part 25)–Jungle Speed

If I were to consult my log of games played on Boardgamegeek, I’m confident that I know the game that has logged the most plays. It’s not Netrunner or Tigris & Euphrates or Go or some other deeply intellectual game that I’ve waxed eloquent about.

Nope. Rather, it’s a small yet boisterous game called Jungle Speed. Even allowing for the short length of a game, I have logged many, many plays of this game. More than any other by a sizeable margin.

This merits some explanation, I think.

Hmm. In this case, a picture might help. This picture shows all the cards and pieces from Jungle Speed. (Except that this picture has one of the silly plastic totems, instead of a proper wooden totem.)

So, that hourglass-shaped thing is the totem. It goes in the middle of the table. Then you deal the cards out to the players, so everyone has a stack of face-down cards. Then, starting with whoever won the last game, you take turns flipping cards over from the top of your stack into a new stack in front of you. Oh yeah, an important note: you need to flip the card away from you. No fair peeking before everyone else sees.

This continues until the weird shape on top of your face-up pile matches the weird card on top of someone else’s face-up pile. Then both of you grab for the totem. Whoever gets it gives his face-up pile to the other player, then puts all his face-up cards on the bottom of his deck.

There are, of course, special power cards that mess with the rules. The “Color Match”, which makes cards match on colors and not shapes. The “All Flip”, which makes everyone flip a card simultaneously. The “All Grab”, which means that everyone can just grab for the totem.

Continue until someone gets rid of all of his cards. That player is the winner!

The space where I brag

I’m good at Jungle Speed. Really good. Like, I don’t want to brag, but I’ve played with some of the fastest players at GenCon, and I emerged victorious many times. But that’s not why I’m writing about Jungle Speed. (Well, maybe a little bit.)

Jungle Speed has become an important part of our local gaming culture. It allows us to be loud, obnoxious, trash-talking jerks in an environment where that is completely expected. Playing Jungle Speed around here involves macho posturing, bombastic trash talk, and the occasional application of physical violence. (Come to think of it, it’s a bit like professional wrestling, except Jungle Speed isn’t staged.) Players have been pulled around tables during grabs for the totem. This has broken a couple of tables. Actually, when Crystal built our newest table, it was designed with Jungle Speed in mind. It’s a pub-height table, in part to require standing play of Jungle Speed and therefore reduce the incidents of table-dragging. It worked, too. The grab struggles have now shifted to roll around the table edge. Design for the win!

Because of the ridiculous nature of the game, it has also produced the most epic stories of gameplay. Like the time that Raquel was playing after her appendectomy and was dragged across the table because she didn’t have the good sense to let go. Or the time that the table broke during play and we continued the game anyways, holding up the tabletop with one hand and playing the game with the other. Or the time that Jeff and Katrina ended up tussling on the floor in a fight for the totem–and Katrina *won*. Or Ralph’s Jungle Speed scars. Or the time that Samuel was sleepwalking and ended up joining the game. And so on and so on….

Now, Jungle Speed doesn’t actually have to be this violent and aggressive. In fact, the rules as written are a bit tamer than how we tend to roll. And, to be fair, not everyone is as keen about the intensity level of Jungle Speed, preferring to watch the insanity, rather than participate. For that matter, I don’t always have the energy to participate myself. It can be quite draining.

And here’s where I could make the deeper game design point about a game being more than the sum of its parts or talk about the role of local culture in shaping games or that kind of thing.

Instead, I’ll just reiterate that I’m the best Jungle Speed player that I know, and I accept challenges. If you want to step up, you know where to find me. Remember, you can’t leave the table until you’ve won at least once.


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