Tired of city smog, traffic jams and the 9-to-5 mentality? Well, before you chuck it all for the peace and quiet of a 40-acre spread, play a few rounds of The Farming Game. After that the asphalt jungle might not look so bad.
The fate of the farmer is fraught with frustrations, and George and Ann Rohrbacher -- former city folks who chose the farming life eight years ago -- would not have it any other way for players of their creation.
"This isn't just a game," explains the 31-year-old George. "It's a statement. It's an entertainment medium that vents the frustrations of the farmer.'"
The Rohrbachers learned about those frustrations firsthand as farmers in Washington state's Yakima Valley. Ann had to work 40 hours a week in a nearby town while George was trying to keep up with 16-hour workdays, six crops, unpredictable weather and perennial loan payments.
Much of George's time was spent atop a tractor, and it is there that The Farming Game was conceived.
"Working the field requires only about 20 percent of your concentration," he explains. "So for mental exercise I'd spend most of my working hours writing a farming novel in my mind.
"Last July 7 at 5 a.m. while I was swathing hay, the concept of The Farming Game hit me like a ton of bricks. And all the complexities of farming that I was having trouble including in the novel were perfect for a game about farming.
"I worked it out mentally until noon, and finally I got so excited I hopped off the tractor, went inside and sketched the gameboard out on a piece of sheetrock. By 4 p.m. that afternoon the board and most of the concept behind it were worked out."
Ann has always handled the farm's and family's accounts, so her contribution was engineering details of how players can borrow money and buy land and livestock.
The Rohrbachers were anxious to market the game in time for this year's Christmas trade, but they also wanted to "maintain editorial control." So they decided to produce The Farming Game themselves, and formed The Weekend Farmer Co. of Goldendale.
Soon afterward George was in Portland, Ore., having his trucks transmission repaired. "I grabbed a fistful of dimes and started phoning all over town, trying to find someone who could put the game together for us."
His search put him in touch with a Portland commercial artist who was reared on a 5-acre "weekend farm" and was willing to draw the board. Goodwill Industries of Portland agreed to collect and box the game components.
The first game rolled off the assembly line Nov. 16 and was sent to President Carter.
"The past two winters farmers from all across the nation have gone to Washington, D.C., to express themselves," the Rohrbachers wrote Carter. "They wanted to be heard by you, the Congress and the American people. We farmers feel that most of those in this country . . . have lost touch with just what it takes to grow their breakfast, lunch and dinner."
The Farming Game, which retails for $14.95, represents the Rohrbachers' effort to put city folks and suburbanites back in touch with American farm life, and educate them on its complexities and risks.
The playing board is a colorful depiction of the Yakima Valley, with ranches owned by Toppenish Tom, Sunnyside Sidney and Wapato Willie, all named after valley towns.
The perimeter of the board is divided into the weeks of the year, and as the players roll a die and move around the board they encounter various "Farmers Fates." A tractor may get stuck in the mud. A windstorm might force a player to replant his corn. For added realism, a "fate" such as rain may hurt one farmer's crop while increasing the yield of another's.
And some Farmers Fates benefit everyone. For instance, dear departed Uncle Bert may leave a harvester worth $10,000. ("We originally planned more Farmers Fate cards," George says, "but we couldn't afford to have them printed.")
From two to six persons may play, and each starts the game with 20 acres of cropland and a $5,000 debt. Players borrow as much money as possible while trying to avoid bankruptcy, rainstorms, truckers' strikes and various other unpleasant Farmers Fates. The objective is to be the first to earn $250,000 in cash and assets.
"That's how much we still owe the banks after eight years of farming," George explains.
And with close to 5,000 games sold and another 5,000 ordered, the Rohrbackers may be closer to "winning" than they thought they would ever be.