We’ve all been there. One minute you’re idly glancing over a 17th Century map of East Asia in Oxford University’s Bodleian Library, the next you’ve spotted some faint lines which mark it out as the oldest Chinese maritime merchant map still in existence. Hurrah! But what to do with such a find to capture the attention of people around the world? Step forward discoverer Robert Bachelor, a British History professor, who knew exactly what – he’s only turned it into an effing board game.
Fujian Trader has the sort of beige box art that risks it being stuck on a shop shelf until another history professor brushes off the dust in about 300 years, but cracking it open reveals a much lovelier bunch of bits. Wooden ships, little tokens representing rice and silks, and that lovely map, which has been tidied up and recoloured to emphasise the trading lines which form the core of play.
The game, which can be backed on Kickstarter until March 19, looks like a case of players vying to control ports across East Asia to supply them with goods, which they race to sell at other ports for silver before the Ming empire comes crashing down. That’s what that dragon’s for! Brilliantly it represents the Manchu dynasty, who sweep in towards the end of the game and grab territory to kill off any bonuses players were receiving from them.
Sounds like there’s plenty of opportunity for grabbing other players’ ports and such, while events like famine, blockade and war also creep in each turn to change up everyone’s priorities and tactics. Publisher Thinking Past describes it as a “gateway strategy game”, so there shouldn’t be too much mind-numbing maths to stress everyone out.
Like plenty of Kickstarters the shipping costs are way steep unless you live in the US, where you’ll be paying $76 all-in for the game. The rest of the world is looking at $106 (£69), so any ancient Chinese silver you already happen to have will come in handy. Thinking Past are on to that though, and have produced a digital download version for $20 if you don’t mind whittling your own wooden sloops.
Here’s the original watercolour map in all its glory – it was listed in the Bodleian’s contents in 1721 as “A very odd mapp of China”. How rude. Bits of Korea look like they’re on fire though, and Christ knows what’s going on with Japan so maybe they had a point. Click to go big.