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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

Player of Games, #9: The Uncle Wiggily Game

You sort of had to be there, I guess

You want vintage? Well, buckle up. It doesn't get more vintage than this. Initially conceived as Uncle Wiggily Longears by children's author Howard R. Garis in 1910, this titular lapin is elderly, lame, and suffers from persistent rheumatism. I have to admit, as a small child playing this game with my family, I had no idea what rheumatism was. I still sort of don't. Anyway, Uncle Wiggily is a crafty rabbit, sort of a grizzled Bugs, inhabiting a world of casual threats to his existence that he evades through his superior intellect. He's also something of a woodland Batman, relying a variety of equipment to win the day, either his crutch or some vaguely defined "thing-a-ma-bob" in his satchel. And who were these antagonists bent on ruining Wiggily's day and - chillingly - "nibbling his ears"? A rogue's gallery of names Seuss himself would be proud of: the rhinoesque bully Pipsisewah, the skeletal crow Skeezicks, and lesser bad chaps the Bazumpus, the Crozokus, and the Scuttlemagoon. My favorite? The Skillery Skallery Alligator. There's something Lewis Carroll meets Br'er Rabbit in it all, a fin de siècle whimsy tinged with vague racial undertones.

The Uncle Wiggily Board Game began manufacture in 1916, but the version I know best was released in 1971. It's a child's game, a first-past-the-post exercise. Uncle Wiggily wants to visit his pal Dr. Possum (that rheumatism must be acting up), but the good doc lives inconveniently across the board. To reach him, Wiggily must navigate the Wibble Wobble Duck Pond, tjhe Bow Wow Dog House, the Cluck Cluck Chicken get the idea. The various trails he can follow consist of numbered spaces, and his movement determined not by a die roll but by drawing a card and following the rhyming instructions. Maybe Jimmie Wibblewobble the Duck boy will help the rabbit gentleman forward two hops. Maybe he'll lose his glasses and go back five hops. That sort of thing. It's essentially Candyland with less sugar and more molasses.

This is unquestionably the first game I have clear recollection of playing as a child. I think it's still in the attic at my parents' house. I might have to excavate it and help the old hare from his Bungalow to see Dr. Possum one last time. I'm sure his rheumatism must be bothering him. Whatever that is.

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