Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Road to Canterbury

Designer: Alf Seegert
Publisher: FRED/Gryphon
Players: 2-3
Ages: 10+
Time: 45-60 minutes
Due: Summer 2011

One of my useless skills is the ability to read and recite Middle English, the language of Chaucer (The Canterbury Tales) and Langland (Piers Plowman). It's an ability that serves absolutely no purpose whatsoever other than giving me pleasure, and those are the things that tend to make life worthwhile.

I am an unapologetic medievalist. Civilization started to go pear-shaped with the Renaissance and really went to Hell in a handbasket (or perhaps Sheol in a sackbut?) with the Enlightenment. Medieval literature, art, history, and theology are fascinating to me. So, naturally, I was thrilled to see all of them converging with my love of gaming in Alf Seegert's upcoming game The Road to Canterbury.

Seegert is the designer of Trollhalla and Bridge Troll (both from Z-Man Games) as well as an English professor at the University of Utah. When I read Seegert's discussion of the game in his interview with Dice Hate Me, I wrote to him asking for details. 

"It might sound weird considering that it's based on Chaucer and I'm a literature professor," he replied, "but it's not too heavy on narrative--it's a more Euro-style design with different cards (Pilgrim, Sin, Pardon, and Relic cards--with art largely drawn from the Ellesmere Manuscript of the Canterbury Tales) that all interact together with a main gameboard that tracks the progress of the journey to Canterbury and shows which sin is currently denounced by the Parson, and which Pilgrims are currently available to tempt with sins and then pardon for ready cash. The board is itself based on Hieronymus Bosch's 16th c. tabletop of the Seven Deadly Sins."
Bosch: The Seven Deadly Sins and the Last Four Things
Here's the official description of The Road to Canterbury.
Greed, Pride, Gluttony, Wrath, Luxury, Idleness, and Envy—the infamous “Seven Deadly Sins.” For the faithful, they instill horror. For you, on the other hand, they present a wonderful business opportunity! In The Road to Canterbury, you play a medieval pardoner who sells certificates delivering sinners from the eternal penalties brought on by these Seven Deadly Sins. You make your money by peddling these counterfeit pardons to Pilgrims traveling the road to Canterbury. Perhaps you can persuade the Knight that his pride must be forgiven? Surely the Friar’s greed will net you a few coins? The Miller’s wrath and the Monk’s gluttony are on full public display and demand pardoning! The Wife of Bath regales herself in luxury, the Man-of-Law languishes in idleness, and that Prioress has envy written all over her broad forehead. And the naughty stories these Pilgrims tell each other are so full of iniquity they would make a barkeep blush! Pardoning such wickedness should be easy money, right?

Not quite. For you to succeed as a pardoner, you’ll need to do more than just sell forged pardons for quick cash. To keep your services in demand, you will actually need to lead these Pilgrims into temptation yourself! Perhaps some phony relics might help? There is also one big catch. The Seven Deadly Sins live up to their name: each sin that a Pilgrim commits brings Death one step nearer, and a dead Pilgrim pays no pardoners!

So much to forgive, so little time. Will you be able to outwit your opponents by pardoning more of these Pilgrims’ sins before they die or finish their pilgrimage to Canterbury?
Chaucer in the Ellesmere Manuscript
The game is due from FRED/Gryphon this summer, and Seegert is working with the publisher to finalize the art for the board and cards. I'm guessing the "Last Four Things" part of the painting, with Bosch's typically vivid depiction of the torments of Hell, will probably not appear in a game intended for family play. The Ellesmere Manuscript, which is the other artistic inspiration for the game, is the most famous and elaborate illuminated manuscript of The Canterbury Tales, with illustrations of the pilgrims and Chaucer himself. 

(Pointless Digression: As an added bonus for conspiracy theorists, the Ellesmere Manuscript was owned by John de Vere, the 12th Earl of Oxford, who wound up at the wrong end of the headsman's ax for his loyalty to the House of Lancaster in the Wars of the Roses. He was the ancestor of Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford and the man some people believe wrote the works of William Shakespeare, despite the inconvenient fact of his being dead when Macbeth, The Tempest, and Henry VIII were actually written. However, I think these connections prove incontrovertibly that Geoffrey Chaucer actually wrote the complete works of William Shakespeare! Alas. the whole Oxford/Shakespeare debate is about to go massively mainstream thanks to a big-budget movie from crap-auteur Roland Emmerich.) (These rambling asides are bonus content, and are added free of charge.)

I'll write some more about The Road to Canterbury as it gets closer to completion.

Other games by Alf Seegert:



3 comments:

Karen LH said...

Are you familiar with the Tolkien Professor? He has been posting the lectures from his Faerie and Fantasy class on his podcast. The initial readings for the class are in Middle English.

Thomas L. McDonald said...

Good find! I'm downloading the podcasts now. Funny, since I just finished rereading Tolkien's translations of Pearl and Gawain. (The originals are written in a really difficult form of Middle English--West Midlands--on which Tolkien was an expert.)

Karen LH said...

Make sure you go to his website also. He's got links to the text so that you can read along.

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