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African jewel
by Asa Butcher
Issue 5
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Afrikan tähti
Kari Mannerla
Peliko Oy, 1951
Board games, we are all familiar with them. We all have our favourites. When I was growing up I loved Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs, Escape from Atlantis, Game of Life, Go for Broke, Heroquest, well you get the idea that I enjoy a good board game. Each of these games requires little skill, thought or time, unlike Risk and Monopoly that my brother enjoyed kicking my arse each time.

Huge amounts of brainpower and patience are not found in abundance on a rainy Sunday afternoon, which is when I first met the board game Afrikan tähti. The day was like the aforementioned rainy Sunday, except this time I was in Finland and my wife suggested a game of Afrikan tähti, later revealed to mean African Star – I could have worked that out.

Designed by 18-year-old Kari Mannerla in 1951, it’s has to be the most-loved board game in Finland – not that there are many – and has sold over three million copies. The game has also remained unchanged since its creation. You may ask why it is important to mention that it has not changed, well the board features some politically incorrect imagery for the 21st century, such as black dancing tribesmen and white colonial explorers, but, hey, it is just a game!

African Star is a luck-filled roll and move race for the elusive and valuable Star of Africa jewel. Players begin in either Cairo or Tangier and start exploring Africa in an attempt to find the jewel and return home first. Naturally, there is a twist or the game would be rather boring. At each city you flip over a token, there can be other gemstones that give you money, gangsters that rob you, nothing at all or a horseshoe.

A horseshoe is a bolt from the blue and not very African, if you don’t mind me saying. Upon the discovery of the single Star of Africa, a race begins to find a horseshoe (prior discoveries do not count). If you quickly find a horseshoe, you can attempt to get home first and snatch victory. Exciting stuff!

One of the beauties of the game is that it can last until the final token is turned over or the Star of Africa is found immediately – these have both happened to games in which I was involved. Since the tokens are randomly distributed at the start of the game, no game will ever be the same. On occasion, there can be no winner if the jewel is on an island and nobody has money to fly or sail there, plus a player can be stranded should a gangster appear on an island token.

African Star has found a place among my board game loves and copies have even managed to find homes in English cupboards. One word of warning: always check the Star of Africa token because it may be subtly marked with a nail. My wife never realised that was the reason her brother used to win every time. Cheeky boy!

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