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Jane Austen's Matchmaker: Chapter Two

Shamefully, dear reader, I must admit to not having read any work by Jane Austen; since devouring Ruth Manning Sanders' A Book of Monsters at the impressionable age of six, my head has been in a mist of fantasy and horror fiction since then - Tolkien and King, so de rigueur, I know - with occasional adventures in sci-fi courtesy of Messrs Heinlein and Card. In fact, until this review, my sole interaction with her oeuvre was the delightful 2016 motion picture Love and Friendship, though that, it would seem, was based on the posthumously published Lady Susan, rather than the similarly entitled epistolary Love and Freindship [sic]; that said, I am, of course, well acquainted with the characters of Mr Darcy and Emma Woodhouse by the sheer force of their cultural reputation alone. Fortunately, my wife, an erstwhile denizen of the Isle of Wight - about which Ms Austen waxed lyrical in Mansfield Park, I am told - has much better taste (obviously) so she provided 'thematic' insight for me as we played Jane Austen's Matchmaker Chapter Two after high tea.

Realised by Richard Wolfrik Galland and fashioned by Sabrewolf, Chapter Two is a second edition that retains the original's play and much of its inherited whimsy, with two to four matchmakers taking four Ladies and/or Gentleman into their Society, their pencilled portraits by Emily Hare in full view, and either dispatching a suitable suitor or suitress to propose a pairing within another player's Society, or Hosting gatherings at their grand estates. Each Character has four attributes of potential desire, notably Charm, Virtue, Rank, and Fortune, each rated from 1 to 5; a coarse but necessary distinction reducing these storied personalities to numerical pertinences.

Proposals are a delicate balance between the active matchmaker scoring corresponding points for themselves and yet still offering sufficient incentive for the other that they would not be so remiss as to Decline the match; should such a distressing instance occur, both parties lose points but the denier profits one Influence card. Upon a happy day being agreed, dice are rolled, one for each Character, showing which of their betrothed's attributes will score, it being the preferred one half the time; if Declined, the points are instead lost, with no doubt much weeping and either a long bath or visit to the Club to compensate. A successful match is also rewarded with an Influence card for both makers, of which half are Approval cards that can double points up to a perfect ten and those aforementioned Hosting cards.

Should a matchmaker have the wherewithal to Host an event at one of the famous fictional estates, they exchange a Character in their Society with one in another player's, the target having no means of immediate redress; the reward for this reprehensible but exigent behaviour is based on the Influence card's denoted Attribute, meaning this can potentially be an eight point swing. Play continues until the supply of Influence points or one of the three decks is fully depleted.

Matchmaker is less complicated than Ms Austen's prose, crafted more as a polite pastime than a gamesman's test of intellect; which is not to denigrate it. My wife, who seldom has enthusiasm for the hobby, as we call it, was agreeable to the suggestion of playing, though waived the extra thematic touches that can be added to the rule set for which her knowledge of the novels would have been a boon - pairing Characters as 'historically' occurred, Hosting Characters in their actual abodes - and my crass ignorance a distinct disadvantage. We thought, perhaps, to add a twist to the ending and prevent any untoward targeting of players, victory points acquired might have been concealed during the game.

She commented, however, that she felt no great connection between the practice of the game and its theme beyond the inherent premise of spousal matchmaking; the arrangement of the cards and their four statistics left her somewhat confused. I was more favourably disposed, though had previously played it at three which enlivened proceedings considerably over the zero sum two-player affair. There is no mistaking that this is a lighter game, mechanically speaking, but one that yet has an audience, most likely well dressed and with practiced elocution; had I acquired it at Jane Austen's House - that is, by the way, its rather plain name - I would think well of it and harbour no grudge against its amusing slightness.

As an epilogue, I am obliged to mention that there is an expansion, Revenge, which in increasing both the depth and weight of the game by dint of duels, grudges, turmoil, and so forth, also extends the time it takes to play. However, as it has both cholera and syphilis, we did not touch it.

(Review by David Fox)

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