Dutch shuffleboard cultural classic

Games which I would term culturally significant have always been of interest.

There is something about a game which becomes so ingrained into a particular culture almost everyone has played it at some point, or at least is aware of it.

You think of Mancala in terms of Africa, Go in terms of China and Japan, and if you happen to be from The Netherlands Sjoelen or Sjoelbak.

An indication of how significant Sjoelen is in The Netherlands came recently as I attended a small reception for Johannes Vervloed, Consul General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands here in Yorkton.

After the short presentation by the Consul General it was time to mingle, which brought me into a relaxed conversation with Vervloed's wife, as well as a couple who have recently immigrated to Canada from The Netherlands and now farm in the Wroxton area. I mentioned I was going to be reviewing Sjoelen, and in spite of my tongue having no idea how to properly pronounce the name, the three immediately knew about the game.

So what is Sjoelen?

Simply put it is a form of shuffleboard. Be aware as a game related to shuffleboard the board itself is huge. The board I have is from Dutch Games (www.dutchgames.us) and even though it folds, it's big, being six-feet when in play position, and of course half of that in its folded storage position.

The game is said to date back to the late 19th century, with its roots like in the English game of 'Shove-a-Penny' another one I'd truly like to try one day.

In Sjoelen a player takes control of a pile of 30-discs, think crokinole pieces, only larger. The pieces are slid one at a time down the table in an attempt to get them through the arches numbered one to four at the other end.

The neat twist for Sjoelen is that a player is attempting to get an even number of disks through each arch because each set of disks in all four compartments scores double. It is this aspect of the game which lifts Sjoelen above other 'shuffleboard-style' games.

Dutch Games has a video to help new players, a real bonus for any game. Check it out at; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wf22S8U-Qqs

Boards are not available in every store of course. Jackie Heyden with Dutch Games said they are one of only a few suppliers in North America.

In terms of sales, Heyden said the good news for the game is that the buyer is changing.

"We see steady growth in our business and a shift from mainly Dutch customers to more and more American buyers," she said.

So why the interest in Sjoelen?

"The key element to its popularity is the competitiveness of a well thought out game," offered Heyden. "The level playing field (players of all ages can compete against each other) makes it a great family game."

Certainly anyone can slide disks down the table, although there is skill to big scores. And that to me is a big aspect of the game. Practice will make you better as this is a game of skill, with no imposed luck.

Now back to the board from Dutch Games. It is all wood construction and should be in the family for generations if looked after.

There is a nice compartment built into the board to hold the disks between games, a great touch.

If two things are missing it would be that a handle of some sort to aid in moving the board once folded to store would help, as would a fastener to hold the board in its folded position.

Still this is a well-made board, as is really required with a game as large as Sjoelen.

In terms of game play, Sjoelen is easy to learn, but mastering, well like most games of skills, that is another story.

For more information check out www.dutchgames.us

If anyone is interested in this game, or other boardgames feel free to contact calmardan@sasktel.net

Past reviews are collected online at calsboardgamemusings.blogspot.com

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