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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

Player of Games, #44: Mille Bornes

La Canasta de la Route

A thousand milestones is the approximate distance on Route Nationale 7 from Paris to the Italian border. It's not a hundred and six miles from Chicago, but it was sufficient inspiration in 1954 for Edmond Dujardin ("Ed of the Garden") to rip off the earlier 1906 American card game Touring. These things tend to happen in game-making world, it seems. It all worked out in the end when Parker Brothers, which held the license to the original Touring, acquired the rights to Mille Bornes in 1962. This led to a surge in the game's popularity in the United States. At one point, it outsold Monopoly in America. Hey, it was the 60s, and Americans loved their cars.

Speaking of affection, my exposure to this game came like many other suburban kids taking French class in junior high. It didn't take a lot of heavy translation to figure out that Accident meant Accident or Stop meant Stop. I can, however, recall being drawn to the elegant French phrasings of Pneu crevé (Flat tire) or Fin de limite de vitesse (End of speed limit). I have never stopped loving that Gasoline in French is Essence. So yeah, let's call this an educational game. Never mind that it's a ruthless, cutthroat exercise in which your Spyhunteresque goal is to win the race by going faster than your opponents while hitting them with obstacles like accidents, depleted gas, and the well-timed Pneu crevé. The most gorgeously frustrating flourish of this game was that unless you had a Roulez card (that's "roll" to all you fracophobes - it's a green light), you were stuck in place, no matter how many 200 km/h speed cards you had in your mitt.

Maybe it's the inclusion of the foreign words that gave this a vaguely exotic, cosmopolitan feel back when we were kids. But there's something ineffably wonderful as a thirteen-year-old learning that our French friends have produced the word Increvable, which means puncture-proof. It's one of the special cards you can play that protects you from the ill fortunes of the road, in this case flat tires. In a bit of perfect linguistic convergent evolution, Increvable also means "capable of going on forever". Or, as the translators would have us believe, "tireless". What's not to love about that?

Let's roulez.

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