akunguakungu akungukarungumazungu mazunguwhat the hell are you talking about
Paul: A thing you should definitely know about Ugg-Tect is that, the very first time we started playing it, Brendan almost immediately began whacking himself over the head with a large club, really pounding at his own skull with a very singular sort of determination. He was going at it full speed, full strength, and looking at me with a particular sort of sadness in his eyes.
It’s important that I add that Brendan wasn’t wearing any sort of protection when he did this. Yes, the club was only inflatable, I will concede this, but I’m not sure this mattered much given the intensity of his self-inflicted blows. He was grunting one thing over and over again, one thing in the language of Ugg-Tect, and that was “Ignore me.”
Put yourself in my position for a moment. There is a man standing in front of you who is hammering away at his own head with an enormous inflatable weapon, grunting with great insistence that you ignore him. What do you do?
I have no idea how Stonehenge was built, but I imagine that, because it actually was built to quite a precise standard, the principles of Ugg-Tect weren’t involved at any stage. While Ugg-Tect seems, on the surface, to be a game about prehistoric construction, about architecture in the time before people wrote things down, it’s really a game about terrible failure. It’s about standing up in front of your friends and being a little bit of a disaster.
You and your friends divide into two competing teams of cavepeople and you do your very best to build a pretty rudimentary structure out of a handful of different building blocks, something like Civilization’s First Temple to the Sun by way of Fisher Price. All the blocks are colourful and simple, things like triangles or cylinders or rectangles. One member of your team holds the design in their hands but the rest of you don’t get to see it and have to try to assemble whatever it is they hold according to the instructions they give you. All those instructions come via grunts, gestures and generous clubbing.
You see, you and your prehistoric buddies can’t communicate by talking. Language isn’t very well-developed yet. What you do have at your disposal is a dozen phrases that all mean quite simple things, things like “Take” and “Turn thingy” and “Make lower.” There’s also six different movements that correspond to the different game pieces, movements like swinging your hips, which indicates the green piece, or stamping your feet, which indicates the white one. You can probably guess that a swing of your hips and a grunt of the “Take” phrase (“Ugungu,” for the record) means your team should pick up the green piece and be prepared to put it somewhere according to whatever you’re going to say next.
Simple, right? No. No, not in a million years.
For a start, the simple caveman language you use doesn’t really have a great deal of context. While it has words for “Upper” or “Lower” or “Turn” or whatnot, it doesn’t have anything more. There’s no word for “Between” for example. Then there’s the problem of constructing sentences, where trying to say something like “Take Green, Put Lower White” turns into something that, at best, makes you look like a gorilla at a disco or, at worst, an orangutan in an earthquake. All your communication devolves into total nonsense, a sort of spasmodic semaphore, while your team stare blankly at you, very carefully trying to put coloured blocks where they think you’re telling them to. Then, you hit them.
There’s that club, you see. The club is for telling people that they’re right, but also that they’re wrong, but also that you’re wrong and they should ignore you. A tap with your club tells someone they’ve done the right thing, while two taps tells them they’re wrong. Tapping your own head tells everyone to disregard what you just said. Sorry, just tried to say.
So you see where this is all headed. Of course you do. Ugg-Tect is a game about hitting your friends when they don’t do what you tell them to, as well as hitting them when they do do what you tell them to. Maybe when you play it you’ll calmly, gently tap at your friends and slowly, carefully perform all the right grunts and gestures to gradually maneuver one block on top of another until you’ve formed a three-legged building. I doubt that, though. I give you five minutes until you’re bellowing “AKUNGU AKUNGU” at somebody and hitting them everywhere you can with a massive inflatable club, while they shout “AKUNGU” back, in a desperate attempt to remind you that “AKUNGU” means “Put,” while “AKUNGU AKUNGU” means “Lay.”
It’s almost like the people making this game wanted to confuse you.
Your reward for finally, finally finishing whatever incredibly rudimentary thing that you were supposed to build before the other team is appreciative grunts from both sides, as well as a few victory points according to how complex the design was. Then you’re off again with another new design. It’s worth noting that there are sometimes quite subtle considerations in piece placement and it wasn’t long until we discovered, to our great dismay, that the flat, grey piece is actually a slightly different colour on each side.
Do you understand my position now? I understand Brendan’s and I understand how the life of a caveperson can be a sad one, a sad one of disappointment and dashed dreams, of unfulfilled visions and of dismal failures, a life that quickly leads you to bashing yourself repeatedly upon the head with an inflatable club in the vain, vain hope that everything will work out for the best.
Ugg-Tect is a silly game, but it’s quite a tough one too. That’s because it’s a clever little thing that’s been deliberately designed to cause you a lot of confusion and miscommunication. It’s tremendous fun and, while I’m sure it’s not for everyone and you probably know right now whether you’d enjoy hitting your friend/spouse/mother/parole officer with an inflatable club for an hour, I enjoyed it an awful lot more than I first thought I would. There’s real satisfaction to be had in what I’ll call aggressively persuading people to successfully put one thing on top of another.
We tried Ugg-Tect on a level playing field, all of us new to the game and none of us knowing what to expect, but I imagine that, in time, it might lose some of its freshness. Some players will get a lot better at it, memorising designs or finding better ways to communicate the unexpected subtleties of a particular structure to their team (something our Mike was already getting very good at). If you’re competitive about your board gaming, Ugg-Tect could get pretty intense and you might become a very efficient architect, something that could take the edge off the humour.
With all that in mind, I’d still recommend Ugg-Tect. It’s a terrifically silly game of slapstick and stupidity that just about anyone can play after ten minutes of rules explanation. I wouldn't suggest you break it out as often as you might your very favourite games, just to make sure nobody becomes too good at it or too familiar with it, but make sure you have it on standby for whenever you want to blow off some steam, play something light or, heaven forbid, actually do something constructive.