Much more than Monopoly – TIC’s new game Hra o Brno is a cool remix of Brno’s twisted history
Many an expat has dreamed of buying a house, or a small apartment, or even just some charming little strip of zahrádka in Brno. But with real estate prices the way they are (see the disheartening statistics in my last blog), for most of us the dream of owning property here has remained exactly that – a dream.
But – my dear landless ladies and indigent gentlemen – I’m excited to tell you that now, for a mere 650 Kč, you too can own property in Brno!
And not just a tiny flat. If you’re fast enough, you can snap up whole neighborhoods, like Bohunice or Lesná. You can claim some of Brno’s most famous properties, like Lužánky Park, or Vila Stiassni. Heck, if you feel like it, you can even end decades of debate about where the main train station should be – by buying it up and moving it wherever you wish – to Bystrc, maybe?
Ok, you’ve probably caught on by now that I don’t mean all this literally. These sweet deals can only happen in the world of Hra o Brno, a new board game put out by the Tourist Information Centre (or TIC for short).
But what a lovely world it is! Besides helping us 99-percenters live out our landlord fantasies, Hra o Brno is a visual treat, and a brilliant tribute to the city’s weird, twisty history.
When I first heard about the game, I assumed it was just some cheap knock-off of Monopoly, with the property names like Boardwalk and Park Place switched out for local equivalents. Every American city (and every American baseball team, apparently) has its own tacky version of this. But recently I had a chance to play Hra o Brno, and I discovered that it was something much, much cooler.
It’s a work of art with a wink to Brno’s quirky edges
It’s true that the main arc of the gameplay is similar to that of Monopoly – the goal is to buy up properties, charge your opponents outrageous fees when they land on your turf, and eventually cap off a lovely game night by driving your friends into bankruptcy. (At which point you can stand up and shout Bolek Polívka’s famous line at the end of Kurvahošigutntag: “Now I will buy you all!”)
But the superficial similarities with Monopoly end right from the moment you unfold the game board and unpack the cards. The game has a bright, retina-buzzing color palette, and a fantastic visual style.
The board divides Brno up into ten different sections of three neighborhoods each – so every lap becomes a tour of Brno’s outlying areas. If you live outside the center, like I do (Husovice pride!), you’ll want to race the other players to claim your own hood before they do.
Each neighborhood has its own landmark, which you can buy to increase the “rent” your unlucky opponents have to pay if they land on your property. And if you make enough money in the game, you can buy premium landmarks from the city center (like Špilberk and Petrov) and move them out to the suburbs to get even more rent.
The cards that represent each property and landmark are really beautiful – they elevate the game into a work of art.
They were designed by the artist Filip Hauser, who told me that he wanted to design each card “so that its owner would be proud to display it in front of them” and so that each one “makes fun of itself, but doesn’t trash the place it depicts.”
He definitely succeeded. In fact, when I played the game, my main motivation for getting more properties and landmarks wasn’t money – I just wanted to have bragging rights to the cards.
Many of Hauser’s drawings are clever riffs on (and remixes of) well-known Brno elements. They show familiar places and monuments from different angles, juxtaposing the historical with the modern.
For example, on the card for Tuřany, we look down on the Baroque pilgrimage church of the Annunciation of Our Lady from the window of a jet plane that’s just taken off from the airport. And on the card for Brno-jih (home to the city’s biggest malls), a shopping cart holds a box labeled “ÖRLØJ” in Swedish-looking letters, as if Brno’s most notorious clock were just another IKEA product.
You can look at some of the cards, as well as Hauser’s other projects, on his Tumblr page.
It’s a great way to learn about (and laugh at) Brno’s weird history
My favorite aspect of the game – and what makes it truly “jako Brno” – are the Event cards which each player must draw at the start of every turn.
Each card describes a real event from Brno history, going all the way back to 700,000 BCE (the first evidence of settlement here) and continuing through 2020 (Brno’s windiest day on record).
For every event, there are consequences for the player who draws the card. Usually this is gaining money or losing money, but some of the cards have more surprising effects based on what properties you own in the game, or what you roll next on the dice. And some events have no effect at all – they are just fun to read.
Like the drawings, the Event cards show a deep love for what makes Brno so…Brno. A few of them are events from the “big” history of the city, like the Swedish siege or the World Wars, but many of them are more obscure, like the opening of the first gambling hall in 1704, or an exhibition of police dogs in 1923.
My favorite cards are the ones that twist a happy event for the city or a country into a negative consequence for the player, or vice versa – like when the arrival of the first two polar bears to the Brno Zoo means you have to shell out your hard-earned money to feed them. Or when war sweeping through the city ends up making you a pretty penny, since you manufacture army uniforms for the enemy soldiers. These moments turn the game into a darkly funny commentary on the whims of history.
Most of the Event cards were written by Milan Vocílka, who told me that he and fellow game designer Tereza Kalábová originally planned to create just 200 of the cards, but after weeks of diving through old city chronicles and the Encyclopedia of Brno History, they found so many bizarre and profound moments they wanted to put into the game that they ended up making 400 cards. Their labor of love means you can play the game for hours and keep getting surprised by the crazy stuff that’s happened in this town.
It’s only in Czech for now – but is an English version in the cards?
If you’re intrigued by the game, but not so confident in Czech, I have two suggestions for you: 1. Buy the game anyway; and 2. Encourage TIC to put out an English version!
The Event cards are really the only element of the game that requires an understanding of Czech; everything else is fairly obvious once you start playing. And actually, if you’re studying the language, playing the game with some Czech friends would be a perfect opportunity to practice – they can help you with some of the trickier words.
Milan Vocílka, the main author of the game, hinted to me that he and TIC are considering making an English translation – but they need to clear up some storeroom space by selling off the Czech version first! So let’s help them out.
And while we’re talking about TIC, here are some of the other cool things they are up to in 2023:
- There are new sights to see in the Brno Underground – like the spectacular water reservoirs under Žlutý kopec, and the Denis atomic bomb shelter. And in the spring, a new exhibit of Brno medieval history and legends and myths will open in the cellars under the New Town Hall.
- A new, fourth edition of the guidebook TO JE BRNO will be out in April, featuring some favorite stories and walks by experienced Brno tour guides. It will be in Czech and English (you can get the third edition here).
- And as always, there’s a huge variety of tours available, many of them with English guides. The coveted “1 weekend, 4 villas” tickets have just gone for sale, here.
One of the funniest Event cards in the Hra or Brno game just says “V Brně se vůbec, vůbec, ale vůbec nic neděje” (“In Brno, nothing, I mean nothing, really nothing – ever happens”).
It just shows that the game’s creators at TIC have a great sense of irony. In fact, they are doing quite a lot to make interesting things happen in Brno – and to make all the things that have happened here over the centuries into a funny and lovely work of art.
You can order a copy of Hra o Brno here: darkyzbrna.cz/en/enjoy/the-game-of-brno
About the author
Joe Lennon first came to Brno in 2006, and every now and then he thinks up a new story to explain his continued presence here. He is an assistant professor at the Masaryk University Language Centre, where he teaches English and Writing. You can read more of his writing about Brno on the Brno Daily website. You can also watch this space for more of his blog posts about what’s happening with (and for) expats in Brno.
Pictures courtesy of the Tourist Information Centre Brno, Polina Davydenko.