James Wallis levels with you

"But surely Baron…!"

Evidently I’ve mentioned my 1998 game The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen enough times to build up sufficient Googlejuice to bring search-queries to this blog, so I should probably talk about what’s happening with the new edition of the game.

First of all, a bit of history. My name, as you know, is James Wallis. Around the turn of the nineteenth century there were quite a few Wallises doing engraving and printing in London. My namesake James, a cartographer, created maps of all the English counties and collected them in a charming small book which I have never been able to afford. William Wallis did large engravings of notable buildings, two of which are in the Government’s art collection. Henry, Robert and Richard all did engravings in different forms—try searching for them on Abebooks if you’re interested. And John Wallis, together with his son Edward, made jigsaw puzzles and board games, some of the first ever released in the UK (link goes to PDF, for those interested in the history of English games publishing).

When I started Hogshead Publishing in 1994 I had no idea about any of this: it wasn’t until the Victoria & Albert Museum published a facsimile of Every Man To His Station (Edward Wallis, 1825) that I learned I had a forebear in the same trade as myself. A couple of years later the opportunity arose for me to go through some old family papers. I had hoped for some more information about John and Edward Wallis but I struck gold: an unpublished manuscript, commissioned by John from Baron Karl Friedrich Hieronymus Munchausen, concerning his travels and surprising adventures, and which John had never published. Or so it appeared.

I published the manuscript as ‘The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen’ in 1998, and was gratified by its success. It was nominated for an Origins Award, it was translated into five languages, it’s one of the three games ever published by MIT Press, and I know that Terry Gilliam has a copy. And I thought that was an end of it.

However, it takes a lot to kill the Baron. The game kept going, whether or not it was in print: at conventions, online, in wikis, and elsewhere. In one incident, my friend Yoz was at a Jewish education conference and heard an exclamation of, “But surely Baron…!” from a crowded table. They were playing Munchausen.

A year or so ago the eponymous games publisher Steve Jackson asked me if he could release a PDF of Munchausen through Warehouse 23, and this inspired me to go back to the family archives to see if I could find something to add to the existing volume—perhaps some biographical information about John and Edward Wallis. Lighting did not strike twice: it struck twice more. First I found a description of some rules for a Middle Eastern variant of the game, with a description of a trip the Baron took to Baghdad in the early 1800s and his meeting with the venerable member of that city, Es-Sindibad the Sailor. And secondly… secondly I hit the motherlode.

I’d been preparing to do the new release of Munchausen with early C19th typography, and so had spent a couple of happy afternoons in the British Library, poring over very early editions of the Munchausen tales with a type rule. I knew the Munchausen section of their catalogue inside out, I’d done external research, I knew that John Wallis had never published the game. Yet there I was, in an attic surrounded by dusty papers, with a printed 8vo copy of it in my hand. An 8vo copy with a chapter I’d never seen before, containing the rules for ‘My Uncle the Baron’, a variant of the game intended for play by, and I quote, “children, the inbred and the very drunk”.

I pieced together the story from fragments of Edward Wallis’s later correspondence. It turns out that after the Baron sent him this final section of the game John Wallis did publish it in book form. However he had not checked it properly—he was a games publisher, not accustomed to the ways of the book-trade—and it contained a libel so gross that the entire print-run of the book was destroyed before it could go on sale. This is why there is no record of the game’s publication, and why the British Library does not have a copy. It’s possible that the copy in my collection is the only one left in the world, and that’s why I am taking extraordinary care in having it digitized.

The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen will be re-released in the next two months, through my new imprint Magnum Opus Press. There will be a limited-edition hardback for collectors, a regular hardback, a regular softcover, and a PDF—which will be available through Warehouse 23. Previous offers I’ve made to send out PDFs of the original game (a game I now realise is woefully incomplete) to interested parties are withdrawn, with regrets and apologies. And as previously noted, a shorter version of the game appears in the recent MIT Press anthology Second Person.

If you’d like to be added to a mailing list to be sent more information when the new edition is released, or if you have any enquiries about it, please click here.

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  1. Alas, the mailing list address doesn’t seem to work at the moment.

  2. james says:

    Sorry about that. Works now.

  3. Craig Young says:

    Wallis’s New Game of Wanderers in the Wilderness
    came accross this page whilst researching info on the above map game of South America.
    one of Edwards last map games 1844 – British libruary/Museum has copy and instructions
    can you help with any more info


  4. james says:

    I don’t know anything about Wallis’s New Game of Wanderers in the Wilderness, I’m afraid, and I’m not aware of any online resources that could help either. In the late 90s I had a great morning talking to one of the Museum of Childhood’s experts about early boardgames; you could try them. I’ll make sure I look out the BL’s copy of the game next time I’m in there.

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