Famous Five Games

August 11, 2010 at 10:54 pm | Posted in Fun and Games | 3 Comments

‘”I’ve got a pack of cards in the pocket of my mac,” said George, much to everybody’s joy, and she got them out. “Let’s have a game of some sort.”‘

– Five Go to Billycock Hill

Has anyone out there ever attempted to play the 1950s Famous Five card game? Anne and I had a go on our recent tower sojourn and were absolutely baffled. I bought it before last year’s summer cycle tour and we did play it one rainy day but didn’t quite master the rules. I thought it might have just been our lack of attention that made the game nonsensical, but after the recent second attempt, I posit that the good folks at Pepys didn’t plan the rules very thoroughly.

In short, there are four ‘adventures’ depicted in episodic card form. These are all gorgeous colour Eileen Soper illustrations and follow the stories of Five on a Treasure Island, Five Go to Smugglers Top, Five Go Off in a Caravan and Five Get into Trouble. The object of the game is to start one ‘story’, collect the correct cards in sequence and be the first to complete an adventure. Along the way, you can be hindered by ‘danger’ cards, which can be specific to a particular adventure, or ‘general danger’ cards that can be used to block any player’s run. Countering these are the chirpy ‘all safe’ cards, featuring our happy adventurers once it’s all over.

There seems to be a massive flaw in the logic of the game, however, which means that if you are playing with two players you inevitably reach a stalemate/battle of wills in which one player has to decide to relinquish the all important final card and basically hand victory to their opponent. Can you imagine George, Julian or  Dick doing this? They would be playing for hours with George stubbornly refusing to give in, even though she is a girl and should be sweet-natured and happy to pacify the menfolk.

Perhaps this flaw is a hint that children should always be in fours. Anyway, Anne and I came up with alternate rules that made the game a bit more ruthless and exciting (but still with some holes, and with a relative understanding of the word ‘exciting’). We played it more like gin rummy – you could add to anyone’s story sequence thereby helping or hindering them or other players, and perhaps forcing them to put down the all-important card that would enable you to find the ingots, capture the smugglers etc. The cards are physically beautiful so when it gets too frustrating I would suggest you just look at the pictures, take another sip of ginger beer, and feel happy.

Less aesthetically pleasing, but more interesting and more like real adventures, are the game books published by Hodder & Stoughton between 1984 and 1988. Each of this series of eight books has a title that hints at the original Blyton adventure on which it is based. Many years ago I had The Secret Airfield, for instance, which was based on Five Go to Billycock Hill. These games are very George-friendly ie you can play them all by yourself if you happen to be a ‘peculiar’ only child (or should I say ‘strange’?) but they are also enjoyable to play with a friend/cousin/brother/sister. I had completely forgotten they existed until Anne produced The Wrecker’s Tower game (Five Go Down to the Sea), and I promptly squealed with delighted nostalgia.

Each adventure book comes with picnic cards and other useful items such as a map, a measuring tape card, a torch card (a picture of a torch with strategically-cut holes enabling you to read otherwise incomprehensible messages) and a code book (see the Enid Blyton Society’s game pages for images of these). Anne and I discovered that although it seems the most useless, the measuring card is actually quite helpful. Code books, on the other hand, are two a penny as characters keep throwing/giving them away.

The game books take the form of a story, chopped up into short paragraphs, with a general problem/choice/dilemma at the end of each section. You can throw a Famous Five die to see which character decides what happens next, or you are expected to deploy one of your useful supplies. If you don’t have the required item you have to guess. You set off with three picnic cards in your knapsack and when these are gone the adventure is officially over (as we know, the Five can’t survive for long without food). Apparently there is more than one way to complete each adventure so you can play time and again. Hurrah! If only the game aspect of these books could be combined with the Soper illustrations…



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  1. fine but you could have done something better -the famous five books are much more interesting than the games.

    • I don’t understand the first part of your comment (Do you mean this post could have been better? We could have spent our time better?) but agree with the second – of course the books are more interesting than the games!

  2. got the famous five advertures card game and thinking of selling…how much?

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