Category Archives: WTF Moments

WTF moments in gaming: Games Workshop

A Field Guide to the unsavory tactics of Games Workshop

Maybe you’re new to gaming. Maybe you’re Rip Van Winkle. But for some reason, you don’t know why Games Workshop draws so much ire from gamers. Don’t fret. Just use this handy field guide to spot all the less than savory tactics that Games Workshop has done over the past 20 years. There are lots of examples of why people are frustrated by Games Workshop. Let’s take a look at them before they issue a cease and desist letter to The Gaming Annex.

 

Brief History of Games Workshop

Unsavory tactics of Games Workshop banned armies opulent pricing
Games Workshop

Founded in London, England in 1975, Games Workshop was originally a manufacturer of game boards like chess and Mancala.  They would partner with the US firm TSR to become the European importer of Dungeons & Dragons. They expanded in 1979 by adding the Citadel Miniatures division. Citadel Miniatures would become the manufacturer of all (or at least their most important) plastic components. Games Workshop has published many different games over the years: Fury of Dracula, Talisman and Cosmic Encounter to name a few. But they continue to mine two IP’s almost exclusively: Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40K. One is a fantasy miniatures war game and the other is a science fiction miniatures war game. Games Workshop is noted for making some amazing miniatures and for developing several highly rated board games. They partnered with Fantasy Flight Games to make a line of games that were well received and nicely supported.

Pack of skulls from Games Workshop
Gotta bone to pick with Games Workshop? Luckily they sell molded bones!

 

Wonderful and richly themed games. Great production values. Partnered with TSR and Fantasy Flight. Sounds like a great company. So why do so many people have a bone to pick with Games Workshop?

 

 

 

 

 

Opulent Pricing

Why Games Workshop sucks
Space Marine Terminator Squad

Those amazing miniatures I mentioned? Yeah. They cost an arm and a leg. And your first born. Seen here are a squad of Space Marine Terminators. You get five 28mm scale figures (just over 1″ tall). These figures will need to be assembled and painted. The price: a staggering $50. That’s $10 per figure! And the terminators represent only one squad of your army. You need numerous squads to field a full-fledged army.

 

Muskegon loves Star Wars figures
Star Wars Rogue 1 Stormtrooper

 

When you compare this pricing to, say, new Star Wars action figures, you can see the price gouging in effect. Check out this new stormtrooper. He comes packaged in a blister pack, comes with several weapons and accoutrements, has 5 points of articulation and stands 5″ tall. He comes pre-painted and looks just like the dudes from the movies. He costs $7.99! Maybe the difference in pricing has to do with the fact that Space Marines never miss and Stormtroopers never hit?

 

Ork Warbiker Mob
Ork Warbiker Mob

 

The Ork army also costs a staggering amount. These cool looking Orks are called a Warbiker mob. They come with power axes and machine gunned motorcycles. But these green-skinned brutes won’t just raid the battlefield; they’ll raid your wallet. You get three of them in a package–unassembled and unpainted–for $41. That comes to about $14 per figure.  Maybe the Orks are called the “Green Tide” because they cost so much green?

 

Tyranid Warriors have come to Muskegon
Tyranid Warriors

Still not convinced of Games Workshop’s opulent pricing? The Tyranid warriors are the taskmasters and vanguard of the Tyranid invasion. They devour genetic material and then evolve before the next battle. They are a menace to any planet they encounter. They are also a menace to one’s personal finances. For $51 you get a squad of three figures.

 

Necron Codex
Necron Codex

 

The thing about Games Workshop is that everything is opulently priced. I’ve given several examples of their miniatures being overpriced. But they sell rulebooks for $50 a pop. Each army has a rulebook (called a “codex”). And you pretty much need it to play. This is above and beyond the regular rules (which cost $60 and up).

 

TIE Striker from Hasbro
TIE Striker from Hasbro

Vehicles and larger vehicles should cost more. But Games Workshop’s pricing has such a higher baseline, that it eclipses all others. The new Star Wars movie, Rogue One, has a line of toys with vehicles. The TIE Striker comes mostly assembled and completely painted. It also comes with a TIE pilot and other accoutrements. Its cost: $49.99. One could collect all the Star Wars toys for less money than one could buy unpainted GW figures.

We haven’t even touched on the cost of painting and sculpting your miniatures. All miniature wargames require this. It’s a feature of the hobby. I dislike painting my figures so this feature is lost on me. But to each his own. When we compare Games Workshop not to action figures but to other miniature wargames, how does it compare? Polyhedron Collider had an excellent article on this subject in 2014. While slightly dated, the gist is still the same. The author made the following estimates

  1. Warhammer 40,000: $300
  2. Warmachine & Hordes: $218
  3. Dropzone Commander: $188
  4. Infinity: $116

$300 gets you two small armies in the Warhammer (or WH 40K) universe. If you want a larger army, you will have to pay more money. If you get bored with these and want to try a new army, that is another huge investment. If that were the end of it, I would not have much to blog about. And the gaming community would not have much of a bone to pick. But, alas, that is NOT the end of it.

 

Banned and Obsolete Units

Warhammer 40K Squat
Warhammer 40K Squat

It should be painfully obvious from the above examples that Games Workshop charges substantially more for their products than other toy manufacturers or other wargame publishers. Games Workshop has done more than just gouge its customer base with its pricing: it also gouges its customer base by banning units and in some cases entire armies.

Squad of Squats Muskegon loves wargames
Squad of Squats

Consider the Space Dwarves. For every fantasy trope there is a 40K trope. High elves are called Eldar in the year 41,000. The Undead are called Necrons, robotic warriors that reanimate even after being killed. And the dwarves are called Squats: tiny humans from a high gravity world.

These tough little dudes could be fielded as a full-fledged 40K army. You could drop your coin on these various space dwarf units and go to battle against the Tyranids or the Dark Eldar, pushing back their tyranny and vile ploys.

Until the 3rd Edition was released.

All remnants of the Squats were banned. So if you had a Squat army, you were plum out of luck. You had to start all over if you wanted to play in sanctioned games of Warhammer.

And that sucks!

Necropolis Knights
Necropolis Knights (courtesy: http://battlereporter.blogspot.com)

Warhammer Fantasy has not gone unscathed. The Tomb Kings army has not been re-upped with the release of Age of Sigmar. People who spent hundreds of dollars and hours cobbling a Tomb Kings army are still smarting over Games Workshop’s decision to ban them.

Grot Bomm Launcha
Grot Bomm Launcha

When Games Workshop isn’t banning entire armies, they ban portions of armies. Take the popular Grot Bomm Launcha. This tough little ork would fire a guided missile at the enemy. The missile was guided by a gretchin (a space goblin). Each time the ork player would fire this unit, he had to lose a gretchin who would sacrifice himself to kill the enemy. This unit was banned, forcing ork army owners to buy new figures if they wanted to field 40K armies.

Indeed, that is the goal of Games Workshop. Games Workshop releases new editions of their WH and WH40K lines in order to force players to buy new miniatures. If you aren’t buying miniatures, you are not a Games Workshop customer. To help you be a customer, GW will ban units or entire armies so you have to purchase more products.

And that, folks, is unsavory.

 

Cease and Desist

Blood Bowl 3rd Edition Muskegon loves
Blood Bowl 3rd Edition

Games Workshop has released a host of board games over the years. All of these board games have been released in order to augment their WH and WH40K licenses. This means that their games will go unsupported much sooner than the gaming community is ready to let them go. Rules questions, player aids and the like are not handled by the publisher but by the gaming community. This is true of lots of game publishers. But only GW sends our cease and desist letters.

Scaven team for Blood Bowl
Scaven team for Blood Bowl

Games Workshop is a jealous overlord. They protect their intellectual properties by force. The force being their legal department. Take Blood Bowl for example. Each team comes from the Warhammer universe: Skaven, Orks, elves, etc. And each has its own set of rules and special powers. Rules questions are going to abound. But Games Workshop only released the Blood Bowl games to whet our appetites for their main games. So rules questions would not be answered.

The gaming communities would craft their own FAQ’s and player aids and upload them to boardgamegeek and the like. For free you could download these helpful materials so as to play your beloved GW game.

Then the great Games Workshop Purge of ’09 happened.

The lawyers from Games Workshop issued  cease and desist letters to the admins of boardgamegeek.com, demanding they remove all such file content. In a blink of an eye, years of love went down the drain as players no longer had the fan support (or the publisher support) for Blood Bowl, Man-o-War or Warhammer Quest.

While Games Workshop has the legal right to the creation, distribution and use of its properties, this gamer is not alone in feeling Games Workshop does not have the moral right to stop its fans from supporting the games we love. Games Workshop’s cease and desist letters amounted to a collective middle finger to all us loyal fans.

Spots the Space Marine from MCA Hogarth
Spots the Space Marine from MCA Hogarth (courtesy Amazon)

When Games Workshop isn’t bullying little ol’ boardgamegeek.com, they try pushing around internet giant amazon.com. Author M.C.A. Hogarth wrote a novel called, “Spots the Space Marine”. Games Workshop makes miniature armies called “space marines”. They have a trademark on them. They were under the impression their trademark extended beyond games and applied to literature.

Amazon yanked the book from their shelves and asked Hogarth to work out the difference with GW herself. The gaming community was horrified by yet another act of overreach from Games Workshop. Hogarth got support from the gaming community. The trademark on “space marine” does not apply to copyrighted material so Amazon reinstated her book. Score one for the good guys!

 

Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here…???

Age of Sigmar
Age of Sigmar

Games Workshop’s latest releases of Warhammer and 40K seem to have a built-in scheme to ensure you keep buying minis. Most armies have a summoning ability that allows you to add extra units to your armies during a game. To be competitive, you need may need 2,000 or 3,000 points of figures ($700 to $1,250 worth of plastic). Additionally, GW filed for divorce from Fantasy Flight. Support for GW games will no longer be provided by Fantasy Flight as of February 2017.  Given everything I’ve thus written about, should we abandon all hope?

Warhammer Quest Silver Tower
Warhammer Quest Silver Tower (courtesy Games Workshop)

No. Not entirely. Hope persists.

Blood Bowl (2016 edition)
Blood Bowl (2016 edition)

Games Workshop has brought  board game development back in-house instead of having FFG do all the heavy lifting. This means we should expect some choice games from the publisher we-love-to-hate. A new treatment of their classic Warhammer Quest (Silver Tower) is in print.  A new edition of the popular Blood Bowl game is being published.

Games Workshop’s history has rubbed the gaming community the wrong way for a long time. And the gaming community has too many other publishers from which to buy products to be beholden to these UK overlords. While the news of new Warhammer Quest and Blood Bowl releases are welcome news, GW has a long road of penitence ahead of it.

In the meantime, WTF, Games Workshop!

 

 

 

 

Links for additional consideration!

 

Warhammer the Smart Way: How to Play the Game Without Emptying Your Wallet

 

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2013/02/trademark-bully-thwarted-spots-space-marine-back-online

 

http://io9.gizmodo.com/5982201/games-workshop-is-still-claiming-to-own-the-trademark-to-space-marine-time-to-get-pissed-off

 

 

 

 

 

WTF Hasbro?! A look at the publisher we love to hate

I’ve been busy lately so please excuse my lack of attention to this blog. There’s still plenty to discuss on topics concerning our hobby. I recently came across a “WTF?!” moment when I was thrifting. I haven’t bashed Hasbro in a while so I decided that this month’s “WTF Moments in Gaming” would be at their expense.

 

1. Hasbro: Go Cheap or Go Home!

Star Wars Battleship (2015)
Star Wars Battleship (2015)

Hasbro has been cutting corners. A few too many corners, in my humble opinion. One example is the newer Battleship retheme with Star Wars ships. Long time followers of this blog will recall that I mentioned this back in October. But now I see a bigger pattern.

Battleship, originally published by Milton Bradley before Hasborg took them over in the 80’s, had a 100 peg grid.

Hasbro disappoints Muskegon
Star Wars Battleship (close up)

You would call out an alpha-numeric code from A to J and 1 to 10 (10X10=100). The new Star Wars Battleship features a peg grid that goes from A to I and 1 to 9 (9X9=81!).

The conclusion I draw from this is that Hasbro can save money (albeit very little) by doing this.

But one game is hardly a pattern, right?

Well I was at the local thrift store, rescuing games for our community.  I came across a near mint copy of the latest Risk game (2014). It looked unplayed. Some Muskegonite will undoubtedly want this.

Risk with only 5 players
Risk with only 5 players

Then I noticed it: Risk is now a 5 player game! They removed the grey pieces.

Risk, since 1959 (when it was published by Parker Brothers) had always been a 6 player game. The only conclusion I can draw is this was done to save money.

When I was a kid, I was fascinated by Milton Bradley’s The Game of Life. You moved your car around a 3D board, earning money, getting married, having kids and finally retiring. Hasbro is now calling the shots. And in Hasbro’s wisdom, the 3D board has been replaced with an ugly 2D board.

Game of Life 2D
Game of Life 2D in 2013
Game of Life 3D board
Game of Life 3D board

In Hasbro’s estimation, people’s lives nowadays do not require them to go over 3D bridges or traverse hills.

And that sucks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Hasbro Spam

Monopoly World Football Edition
Monopoly World Football Edition

Hasbro took over Milton Bradley in the 80’s and Parker Brothers in the 90’s. But Hasbro has not shown the same creativity for their new games that these two predecessors did.

Milton Bradley came out with lots of new games. Individual titles like 1974’s Chopper Strike or

Milton Bradley's Chopper Strike
Milton Bradley’s Chopper Strike

Milton Bradley’s Chopper Strike 1971’s Voice of the Mummy.

Parker Brothers, while not quite as prolific as Milton Bradley, also created many unique board games such as 1991’s Tornado Rex or 1972’s Airways.

These new offerings weren’t always the most well received

Parker Brother's Airways
Parker Brother’s Airways

games to ever hit the mass market. Most are rated about 5.5 to 6 on BGG. But these games looked really cool to kids of that day. And this would inspire new gamers to the hobby. Take a look at Chopper Strike and Airways. If you were a kid in the 1970’s, wouldn’t you be excited about getting these for your birthday?

Hasbro now has the rights to Parker Brother’s and Milton Bradley’s extensive catalog of games. King Oil? Check. Dark Tower? Yep. Dungeon? You bet. So what is Hasbro putting on the shelves at Meijer and Target? Try Monopoly, Risk, Battleship, Sorry and Trouble.

In. Every. Possible. Configuration.

Star Wars Monopoly editions
Star Wars Monopoly editions

There is a Monopoly for every possible IP or taste. Star Trek, Star Wars, Frozen, Scooby Doo, The Simpsons etc. According to BGG, there are 147 versions of Monopoly.  Doesn’t that seem like 146 too many? There are seven (count ’em seven!) different Star Wars Monopoly editions. There are three different Simpson’s Monopoly.

While it should be obvious that Hasbro has milked the Monopoly teat dry, they have other classic games that haven’t been suffocated yet.

Enter Clue.

Clue: Harry Potter Edition
Clue: Harry Potter Edition

Hasbro, since 2008, has been spamming us with every IP iteration of Clue they can think of. And what Hasbro lacks in new game design skills they more than make up for in acquiring new licenses. I mean, did the world really need a Harry Potter Clue game? These pedestrian efforts do more to damage the hobby (and Hasbro’s brand) than they do to help. Will some gamer 20 years from now reminiscence about how he got Harry Potter Clue for Christmas and that is what got him involved in gaming?

 

3. Hasbro “Risks” New Game Designs

Risk: Star Wars Episode VI
Risk: Star Wars Episode VI

When Hasbro comes out with a fresh design (which is about as often as Nick Sima beats Tasha in any given game), it’s under the Risk label. Take the latest Star Wars Risk*.

This new Risk game is actually a neat 30-45 minute game. It recreates the finale of Star Wars the Return of the Jedi where Admiral Ackbar exclaims “It’s a trap!” It’s a nifty little game. A dice fest to be sure. But nifty.

And it shares virtually nothing in common with 1959’s Risk save the trademarked logo.

Risk Europe
Risk Europe

2015 saw the release of a game called Risk Europe. This game looks amazing. But it shares little in common with its eponymous 1959 forebear. Hasbro is so desperate to make money they cannot break away from its established brands. They must really by afraid that if they released this game under the name of, say, Europe: For the Crown, that it would be flop. They are relying so much on their brand that it’s almost a hindrance to them. If someone played Risk and said, “That game is mediocre” would they give a different Risk iteration a chance?

*Why the “latest Star Wars Risk? Because there are three different games with that title, all with different pieces and rules.

 

4. Desperately Seeking Avalon Hill

Orion Picture's Desperately Seeking Susan
Orion Picture’s Desperately Seeking Susan

I didn’t pay much heed to Hasbro buying Milton Bradley. Probably because I was in junior high at the time. I also didn’t pay much mind to Hasbro taking over Parker Brothers. Although I was college aged at the time, I didn’t care about Parker Brother’s offerings. I figured Hasbro would make things better.

But I was very dismayed when I heard that Hasbro was buying out Avalon Hill. Hasbro was buying the longest running, best designed games of the day. Hasbro had no intention of continuing Avalon Hill’s proud tradition. They were only interested in buying their competition. At least that was my opinion.

History has vindicated my opinion. Hasbro has left AH’s considerable game catalog in the dustbin of time. Hasbro has reprinted Acquire and Diplomacy. Other than that, I don’t believe Hasbro has reprinted anything that Avalon Hill published.

And Avalon Hill was a prolific publisher. There are 35 pages of games credited to Avalon Hill on BGG. Not 35 games…35 pages of games. Numerous classics like Civilization, Republic of Rome and Squad Leader would languish. Hasbro would eventually sell a few of these games off to new publishers. But the great bulk of AH’s work is left untapped.

With the board gaming renaissance that we are currently in, one might wonder why Hasbro hasn’t reprinted any Avalon Hill games. Hasbro only seems interested in the Avalon Hill “brand” and not the games. Hasbro has been spamming Axis and Allies versions. Axis and Allies is published under the “Avalon Hill” brand of Hasbro (despite the fact that Axis and Allies was published by Milton Bradley originally).

Hasbro could publish numerous out-of-print games. Some old AH games have after market prices several times their original price because they are so sought after. Certainly Hasbro could sell out on a print run of one of these title.

Doing so would redeem them in my eyes.

 

Epilogue

Hasbro's Merry Milkman
Hasbro’s Merry Milkman

I don’t like bashing publishers. But when I saw how Hasbro had reduced Risk from a 6 player game to a 5 player game, I decided to have fun at their expense. I would much prefer Hasbro to shut up and take my money instead of their current practice of cluttering Meijer’s shelves with outdated spam-branded games. Is it too much to ask for Hasbro to reprint their 1955 Merry Milkman Game?

 

Where (non-Hasbro) Games are Played

Muskegon Area Gamers

Muskegon, MI
132 Muskegon Area Gamers

This group is for anyone interested in playing board games, card games or any table top game. This group learns and teachs new games all the time. We welcome fresh players. We…

Next Meetup

Tuesday Night: Nick picks the games

Tuesday, Aug 2, 2016, 6:00 PM
7 Attending

Check out this Meetup Group →

 

 

 

WTF Moments in Gaming: Free air with your board game purchase

There has been a growing trend in games lately. Games are coming in larger boxes. And the larger boxes are not filled with components. There have been several instances of publishers doing this. And the trend doesn’t seem to be stopping. There are a few reasons for this. One is that the publisher sells you a base game that will be big enough to hold the expansions that are on the horizon. But many of these instances are where the publisher wants the game to command a higher price tag. I won’t spend too much time condemning publishers for this practice. Why should I? Let’s instead have a hilarious look at some ridiculously large boxes for games.

 

 

 

1. Splendor

Splendor by Space Cowboys
Splendor by Space Cowboys

2014’s Splendor (from Space Cowboy Games) took the gaming world by storm. It’s a family game that plays quick and has some meat. And there’s much to praise here.

Splendor was the Golden Geek Board Family Game of the Year, Tric Trac de Bronze winner and nominated for about every other accolade they bestow on board games nowadays.

But the one award they won’t be bestowing on Splendor will be 2014’s Most Efficient Use of a Game Box. The components take up about 15% of the game box.

Components from Splendor
Components from Splendor

 

 

 

 

 

 

The size of the box most likely was chosen to add perceived value. Splendor retails for around $40.

Splendor components
Splendor components

 

 

2. Core Worlds from Stronghold Games

Core Worlds from Stronghold Games
Core Worlds from Stronghold Games

 

Core World is one of many Dominion clones: a rethemed deck builder. Players have virtually identical starting decks and then go on to play solitaire until the game is over.

Our group tried it out a few years ago. I “missed out”

Components for Core Worlds
Components for Core Worlds

because I was at another table. But the game was so bad Mongo traded it forthwith. I think the game mechanics and lack of player interaction were the biggest reasons for the game’s lack of success with the

Muskegon Area Gamers. But certainly the non-environmentally friendly game box was not that endearing either. The game comes with 27 chits and 210 cards and 5 player aids. Oh, and a refrigerator box.

 

3. El Caballero from Rio Grande Games

El Caballero from RGG
El Caballero from RGG

The board game renaissance we now enjoy is in part due to the genius of Wolfgang Kramer and Richard Ulrich. Their 1995 release “El Grande” did as much for us hobbyists as Settlers of Catan even if most do not recognize this.

So in 1998, when word was uttered that this same design team was releasing a follow up game to “El Grande” called “El Caballero”, many in the gaming world were thrilled. Their enthusiasm probably waned when they opened the box and discovered this:

Components of El Caballero
Components of El Caballero

The game box seems to be about 20x the size actually needed.

Most people have forgiven the publishers for this since El Caballero enjoys a decent rating on BGG. But we won’t let stop of from having a laugh at the suckers who paid retail for this.

 

4. Race for the Galaxy from Rio Grande Games

Race for the Galaxy from RGG
Race for the Galaxy from RGG

Race for the Galaxy is a game that has an intense following. We’re talking Twilight Imperium/Diplomacy level of intensity. Those who like Race for the Galaxy seem conjoined with it.

I’ve found this intensity to be curious. I like Race okay. But it’s a bit of a filler that’s mostly solitaire in nature. When I wrote a review of the game saying it was slightly better than mediocre every fanboy on Amazon rose up to chastise me.

Components of Race for the Galaxy
Components of Race for the Galaxy

But the one thing they couldn’t refute was the box-size-to-game-component ratio. Once you discard the player aids (which are nigh unusuable–a point conceded by the fanboys), one is left with lots of Chinese air.

 

5. Res Publica from Queen Games

Knizia's Res Publica
Knizia’s Res Publica

Reiner Knizia makes some good games. Res Publica is his take on a trading/negotiation game. The theme? Totally tacked on. Like most of his games (I’m looking at you Ra!)

His games can use simple components to make a deep and fun game. Res Publica, for example, is only 140 cards plus a page of rules.

Queen Games has been making what can only

Queen Games Res Publica
Queen Games Res Publica

be described as cash grabs. They keep publishing games that are high in cost but low in quality. It’s unfortunate because Queen Games used to be a top notch publisher.

Queen Games got the rights to Res Publica. They added their own house art work. And then they packed it into this. The box is 7.5″ by 8″ by 2.8″. This seems like it’s about 5″x5″x1″ too large. The price is also a bit higher than you might expect: $40 retail.

 

6. Poison from Playroom Games

Poison from Playroom Games
Poison from Playroom Games

Another Knizia entry on my list, Poison is a trick taking game with a bit of a twist. You are trying to NOT take a trick.

The theme is totally pasted on. The game was called “Baker’s Dozen” in its first iteration and is called, “Friday the 13th” in its most recent iteration.

 

Components of Poison
Components of Poison

 

What you are waiting for with bated breath is: how much extra packaging did they use? The answer is: about all of it. The game comes with so much extra packaging one marvels at Playroom’s design choice. All the game fits in a small card holder about 1/10th the actual box’s size.

 

7. Steve Jackson’s Munchkin

Munchkin from Steve Jackson Games
Munchkin from Steve Jackson Games

Munchkin is the poster child for take-that games. You play cards against your opponent (take that!) while trying to achieve level 10 for your character.

Munchkin is also the poster child for why I don’t like Steve Jackson’s games. I find his designs to be both not funny and not serious. I cannot abide games that are neither. Munchkin is not serious. And games of it can last up to 90 minutes making it not funny.

Components from Munchkin
Components from Munchkin

And finally Munchkin is also the poster child for this list. Lots of air from whatever Chinese printer Steve Jackson is using these days.

The game comes with 168 cards, a rules sheet and a birdcage lining that says “something…something…buy Steve Jackson Games”.

The box is about 5x the necessary size. This affords the publisher the ability to sell these 168 cards for $24.99 retail.

 

8. Machi Koro

Machi Koro from IDW Games
Machi Koro from IDW Games

Machi Koro is a nifty little game. The game takes the resource gathering mechanic of Settlers of Catan and adds it to a card drafting mechanic of Dominion. When taking inspiration from other games, Settlers and Dominion are good ones to choose.

But boy did they screw the packaging pooch. The game comes in box that could have been about 80% smaller. The game comes with 108 cards, two dice and some coins. Amazon lists the dimension of this box at 9.2″x9.2″x2.8″. That’s lots of air. I hope it’s refreshing. Because the game retails for $39.99.

Components of Machi Koro
Components of Machi Koro

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8. Epilogue

There has been a couple of areas of push back from the gaming community because of this. One is the cost. Gamers don’t like being bilked for lots of packaging. But the other is physical room. Gamers have constrained areas for their hobby. And if publishers keep making games with overly large boxes, gamers will have to be choosier in their game purchases.

The trend doesn’t seem to be subsiding. But many gamers have been noting it. Once the publishers realize we are onto them, they will change course. And find other ways to separate us from money.

And I’ll be there to put my ironic spin on it.

-Chris, a slightly amused Muskegon Area Gamer.

 

The Food Court Gambit

There’s a chess club in Vancouver, British Columbia that meets at a local shopping mall. They’ve been meeting there for a while now. How long? Fifty years. Recently, the management of the mall issued a letter to the club stating the food court was only for paying customers not chess loiterers. The chess club was told to pack up their rooks and rent space at a library. That was on April 1st. Here is what happened next…

 

Park Royal Shopping Center, West Vancouver, BC

Park Royal Mall
Park Royal Mall

The Park Royal Shopping Center is Canada’s first covered mall, having been open in 1950. The mall has 1.4 million square foot floor space, 280 stores and two stories.  This makes it roughly twice the size of our own Lakes Mall.

It was here that a rag tag group began their five decade long tradition of meeting to play chess.

 

A 50 year tradition

Muskegon needs a chess club
E.S. Lowe’s Chess Set

The mall has been home to an informal chess club. With no official newsletter or website, the club simply showed up to the mall pretty much every day since the  Lyndon Johnson administration. Or the Lester Pearson administration if you’re Canadian.

George Ingham has been going there for the better part of 50 years. Indeed, he even met his wife there while playing chess. (Note: I wish I met my wife while playing Twilight Imperium).

Inuvik
Inuvik

Another chess playing comrade is Terry Fellows. Terry was living in Inuvik back in 1983 when rumors of a chess club in Vancouver reached him. Don’t know where Inuvik is because you’re a Yankee?  Well Inuvik is in the arctic circle, due east of Alaska’s northern coast.

Terry took a vacation in West Vancouver in 1983 to see what the chess scuttlebutt was all about. He was so enamored by the group, he moved to Vancouver. I’m sure the difference in weather (Vancouver’s weather is like Seattle’s) played only the teensiest part in his decision.

The rag tag group isn’t just for geriatrics and retirees. Ashley Tapp, a 16 year high school student, meets with the group. And she is a competitive player. She has represented Canada in international championships in Slovenia and the United Arab Emirates. She drops in on the Park Royal Mall group, mopping up the competition.

With a such a prolific history and such rigorous competition, one must wonder why the management of mall told the group they were no longer welcome.

 

“No alternative but to reach out to the West Vancouver Police”

Muskegon's Harry Morgan
Muskegon’s Harry Morgan

The mall has a sizable food court. The chess group occupies seats and tables there to play games. And the management of the mall had enough of that.

Park Royal’s management sent a letter to Terry Fellows regarding the new direction of mall. The food court was for paying customers. Occupying tables and chairs for over an hour was loitering, leaving “no alternative but to reach out to the West Vancouver Police”. I imagine the police in W. Vancouver have nothing better to do than round up dangerous chess players.

Billy Mitchell, King of Kong
Billy Mitchell, King of Kong

But the letter does conjure up an image. When I read the letter issued from the manager, I thought to myself: is the Park Royal Shopping Center being run by Billy Mitchell?

The letter (linked below) does offer the club a few alternatives. All of them charge for space (including the library). The mall offered the club $500 stipend as a one time hush money.

Terry and the chess club were aghast that the mall no longer welcomed them.

 

An April Fool’s Day Joke?

Fast food sushi at Park Royal
Fast food sushi at Park Royal

The mall had originally wanted the group to meet there. There was a 12 foot by 12 foot chess board in the middle of the mall. The group purchased thousands of dollars in equipment and stored it at the mall.

Renovations over the years forced the group to move from one area of the mall to another. But the group always met at Park Royal. Eventually, the food court was the only place where adequate table space was afforded to the general public. And it was here that the chess players would play.

Members of the club state they have always yielded seats to other patrons. The chess players also said they patronized the food court everyday, eating A&W and drinking Tim Horton’s regularly. The notion that they are non-patrons using the food court’s seating is confusing and absurd.

The group has not gone down quietly. Which brings us to a cunning chess counter known as the Food Court Gambit.

 

The Food Court Gambit

Queen's gambit
Queen’s gambit

The group reached out to the mayor of West Vancouver. On their behalf Mayor Michael Smith intervened. He told the management that the decision to disallow the chess players was not a “shrewd move”. I love it when municipal leaders make chess references.

Unfortunately, the mall inexplicably stood their ground.

A local church, the West Vancouver Presbyterian Church, is going to have a sit in and play chess at the mall. The minister said he does not anticipate mass arrests, this despite Billy Mitchell’s threat.

The group was officially offered the use of space in the mall by some of the mall’s tenants. White Spot and Whole Foods don’t want the chess players to leave. Management from both retailers have said the chess players are welcome there.

 

The End?

Chess players
Chess players Credit: Arlen Redekop

As of this blog post, the chess club of Park Royal Shopping Center is still meeting in the food court against the whims of the management. There has been no police intervention as of yet. The group has the support of the community if not the legal standing for use the mall’s private property.

Since the story is still ongoing, I’ll keep my finger on the pulse and keep you up to date.

Here are some links for you to read if you are interested in this story.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/chess-players-struggle-to-keep-meeting-at-park-royal-1.3520739

http://nvs24.com/news/canada/West-Vancouver-chess-players-defy-Park-Royal-ban-4976967.html

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This group is for anyone interested in playing board games, card games or any table top game. This group learns and teachs new games all the time. We welcome fresh players. We…

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WTF Moments in Gaming: Strange box covers

The more I learn about my hobby, the more bizarre its history seems to become. The choice in box cover art are at times just…strange. Some of these box covers seem satirical except the punch line eludes me. Some were supposed to be provocative but come off as oddities instead. Here is another look as some WTF moments in board gaming.

 

1. 15 Love from Waddington Games

15 Love from Waddington Games
15 Love from Waddington Games

Waddington Games, the European partner for Parker Brothers, released a tennis board game in 1974. The game has a catchy name: 15 Love.

The production choice of the game box was, shall we say,

Components of 15 Love
Components of 15 Love

interesting. The box cover has a blurb about a make believe tennis player named Biggs Calderhead. Supposedly Biggs was a tennis hustler, a make believe type of con artist. Biggs, the game box tells us, once won 12 large playing tennis with one foot tethered to concrete.

The production choice to add an apocryphal tennis pro when Jimmy Connors or Billie Jean King were available is a genuine curiosity. The choice in having the model depicting Biggs being an out of shape Ron Jeremy knock off must have been a joke that is missed by me.

Ron Jeremy is sexier than Biggs Calderhead
Ron Jeremy is sexier than Biggs Calderhead

But enough about the game box, blurb and actor. What is the game like?

I’m glad you asked. It’s a roll-and-move version of Pong. The thought of a roll-and-move Pong is enough to make me slip into a coma.

 

Tennis, anyone?
Tennis, anyone?

You place your tennis pawn(s) on the board, try to serve the ball in bounds and chuck the dice. Games last about 60 banal minutes. Or sooner if you use my house rule: the first person to concede wins.

 

2. Orgy from Gaylord James

Orgy from Gaylord James
Orgy from Gaylord James

Orgy, from Gaylord James Inc, was a product that could only come from the 1960’s. A drinking game with a name that would not pass today’s PC muster, Orgy comes with a porron and a few other components (like bibs) for $10.

The goal is to pour your favorite libation down the throat of one of your team members without spilling it. Points are scored by rules so poorly defined I could hear Dusty bitch about it from here.

The game was advertised in Playboy (a men’s magazine of yesteryear) where such racy things were encouraged. The game box shows happy couples in submissive positions pouring wine down each other’s throats. An Elizabeth Montgomery knock off is displayed prominently with a “I play the game” sticker on her forehead, another component you get for your $10.

There doesn’t seem to be much of a game here–even by drinking game standards. The game box gives you the feel of a Roman bathhouse, I suppose. Maybe that’s what the publishers were going for. Who knows? One thing is certain: Ron Jeremy is sexier than that game.

 

3. The Backbone from Nike and Cooper SA

The Backbone
The Backbone

Spanish board game publisher Nike and Cooper made some sleeper hits like Escape from Colditz and Napoleon’s Last Battles. The company didn’t last for very long, hailing from 1981 to 1987. Despite their obvious wargame chops, the company made an unexpected wargame departure with 1983’s “The Backbone”.

Components from The Backbone
Components from The Backbone

The Backbone is an abstract area control game. Players move their tokens about on a hexagon made up of six different colored triangles.

 

The Backbone inset cover
The Backbone inset cover

Wargame publishers make abstracts from time to time. That’s not what’s news here. It’s the box art. The box art shows a goateed man in shades wearing a tuxedo playing the game on a naked woman who has the game board tattooed to her back. There is an inset picture on the box cover showing the man, now wearing a suit instead of a tux, with a registered trademark ® symbol next to it.

Why would Nike and Cooper trademark that? Did they think they had struck gold with this board game box cover model? Since the company went out of business around the time of Iran Contra, I guess we will never know.

 

4. Smokers Wild from Avalon Hill

Smokers Wild from Avalon Hill
Smokers Wild from Avalon Hill

Avalon Hill was a big time wargame publisher. Every now and again they would get it in their head to publish a lark like Class Struggle. All were poorly received by the hardcore gamers. We like wargames, thank you very much.

In 1978, Avalon Hill decided to publish another lark. This one was called Smokers Wild. The goal is to end with the most money while avoiding addiction to cigarettes.

Roles in Smokers Wild
Roles in Smokers Wild

Players take a role such as Doctor or Undertaker. These are supposed to be roles that will benefit you if your opponent gets addicted to cigarettes. The roles have puns for names such as the undertaker who’s name is Doug Graves.

The box cover is a piece of work. The model (and I’ve never used the term more loosely than now) is smoking six cigarettes, has additional cigarettes sticking out of his hair and shirt and is staring deadpan into the camera. The table in front of him is littered with comical renames of famous cigarette brand logos.

The game box has enough warnings to satisfy the strictest surgeon general. When there are more labels on the cover trying to calm you down and reassure you than trying to sell you the game, It’s probably time to go back to the drawing board.

 

5. Intern from Avalon Hill

Intern from Avalon Hill
Intern from Avalon Hill

I don’t mean to pick on Avalon Hill…but they had it coming with this one. In the game Intern, players take on the roles of young physicians who try to accumulate the most sleep. Drs. Cliff and Lou Andrew designed this game to teach people what its like to be an intern in a busy hospital.

The game box has some TMI. The host of interns committing textbook examples of malpractice in front of a critically injured patient cannot distract us from the bag of urine in the foreground.

Nothing sells a board game like a bag of urine. Maybe that’s why doctors shouldn’t design board games.

 

6. Zap from Skor-Mor

Zap from Skor-Mor
Zap from Skor-Mor

Zap is a derivative of Trouble. You roll some dice. Maybe you can move a pawn. Probably not. Then its your opponent’s turn. Play continues until one player has moved his pieces to his goal line.

Judging from the top cover, Zap is a snoozefest. It’s not until we flip it over do we realize how stimulating this game actually is.

Box cover for Zap
Box cover for Zap

You got to give the publisher credit. The copy says, “Zap! It’s a glittering casino right in your own home.” This 1975 basement rec room might look more like a glittering casino if he turned a light or two on.

It’s really hard to imagine three middle aged men getting this excited sitting in a dark basement doing some Coors product placement.

 

 

7. Links

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/38461/backbone

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgamepublisher/1682/nike-and-cooper-espanola-s

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/1684/intern

https://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/55824/unintentionally-hilarious-vintage-game-cover-photo/page/1?

 

 

How NOT to market your board game

I’m a huge supporter of board game geek (www.boardgamegeek.com). I contribute to it regularly, I pay to not have ads: I go the whole nine yards. It’s a bang up site for board game enthusiasts. As such, it is the one place to go if you are trying to get your board game to market. There were some shenanigans on BGG a few days ago regarding just such a marketing campaign. I was tangentially involved in that I stepped into the mire. Here is what went down…

 

1. Boardgamegeek Con

Boardgamegeek Con
Boardgamegeek Con

Boardgamegeek.com has its own game convention. It’s been going on for a couple of years now. It’s growing nicely from what I gather. This is where the shenanigans started.

For you convention virgins, game conventions usually have a dealer hall in one area and a game hall in another. At the dealer hall, the dealers sell their wares. In the game hall, you play games and enjoy your hobby. Since dealers pay for rent in the dealer hall, it’s important that they sell stuff to justify the cost. And since convention goers want to play games, it’s important to have a game hall where they can take a break and game for a while.

At this year’s BGG.CON, there was one dealer that was using the game hall as his free rental booth. This sidesteps the convention’s rules for the game hall, not to mention takes game space from the gamers. According to one convention goer:

On Wednesday I was walking around the room looking for a game and saw a players wanted flag for a game called Evil Genius: Deathray. Sounded neat so I sat down and then immediately realized this was actually a “booth” for the game and they were trying to sell it to me. No big deal, I played it, had fun, but ultimately decided not to buy. Over the next four days, I noticed these people continuing to sell the game and constantly take up 2-3 very good tables and always had a players wanted flag. This wouldn’t be a problem except table space was limited, these were great tables, and there were a few times I had to wait 10+ minutes for a players wanted flag even though they always had 2-3 claimed.

So a publisher was using a few tables for free. What’s the big deal? This seems hardly worthy of a the moniker “shenanigans”, much less an entire blog post.

 

2. Geekbuzz

The Hotness
The Hotness

Boardgamegeek.com has an index called “the hotness”. This tells users what games are being talked about. It is calculated how much activity there is on the site for a given game.

For example, if you wrote a strategy guide for Forbidden Stars, Forbidden Stars would gain some traction on the “hotness” list. If a bunch of people began writing reviews, uploading pictures, clicking on the links, etc…then Forbidden Stars would shoot up the hotness quickly.

This is all well and good but there is another way to generate “hotness” or “geekbuzz” as some call it. Since bgg.com and BGG.CON are run by the same group, they are linked. That is to say, if a game at the convention is drawing attention, the website reflects it on the hotness. And this geekbuzz can be manipulated.

In the aforementioned game hall, there is a game library. This library has scanners and software that allow and control the games when someone checks them out. It seems that bgg.com calculates some statistics based upon this data and this, among the other criteria I listed above, feeds the “hotness”. Here is a quote from another convention goer about the publisher of Evil Genius: Deathray:

 Later ran into two from their group, and it sounded to me like they were taking turns checking the game out from the library to boost stats.

So this publisher has now been accused of using tables in the game hall for free and in so doing, has manipulated the geekbuzz on boardgamegeek.com. Still seems like small potatoes.

 

3. Evil Genius: Deathray

Evil Genius: Deathray
Evil Genius: Deathray

Evil Genius: Deathray is a 40 minute long “take that” game. “Take that” games are like Trouble or Sorry! You basically screw over your opponents at every turn.

I’m not a fan of “take that” mechanics but to each his own. Evil Genius: Deathray did manage to climb in the hotness. Indeed, it made it to #1 a couple of days ago. There was that much buzz about this game.

After looking at the game and the components, I declined to buy or trade for it. The artwork is amateurish, it’s a “take that” game and it takes 40 minutes to play. I don’t need that in my collection. There are plenty of games that I don’t like that are in the hotness. But usually there’s a good reason for it. When I perused Evil Genius: Deathray, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why the game community was buzzing about this one.

So I posted that question on boardgamegeek. 100 posts on that thread later…and now I’m blogging about it.

 

4. Shameless Shilling

Shill, Baby, Shill!
Shill, Baby, Shill!

The game designer was amongst the commenters on my “Why is this in the hotness?” thread. He certainly loves his game. And you got to admire his tenacity.

He rated his game a perfect 10. That’s no big deal. Many gamers do. But when I perused the stats on Evil Genius: Deathray, I noticed there were five(!) new users who signed up for boardgamegeek.com on that day, all of who gave this little game a perfect 10. Their only contribution to my favorite website on the whole internet was to proclaim that Evil Genius: Deathray was perfect.

One new user doing this would be unusual. But five? That is beyond the pale. It enters the realm of shameless shilling.

Sarah Palin: Drill Baby Drill
Sarah Palin: Drill Baby Drill

And some of these “commenters” contributed to my thread. The thesis of all these “commenters” could be characterized as unyielding support for Evil Genius: Deathray as a game.

These “commenters” also were unrelenting to the games detractors. This began a flame war that almost resulted in the thread getting locked.

Question: what is it about my threads that always seem to get locked? Lap dance debacle

One contributor on the thread noted the same grammatical errors being made by both the publisher and one of these “commenters”, further fueling the speculation that the publisher himself was making up accounts and shilling his own game. Then the moderators of bgg.com intervened and canceled one of the “commenters” accounts. This is usually done when someone opens up multiple boardgamegeek accounts. And of course this made it clear some serious shilling was going on.

 

5. Conduct unbecoming

Rob Reiner's A Few Good Men
Rob Reiner’s A Few Good Men

The designer’s tenacity for his creation grew tedious to most of us. He was unrelenting in his attacks of his detractors.

It should be noted that when there’s blood in the water on bgg.com, us regular users will jump on the dog pile.

Because it’s funny.

So his frustration was at least somewhat deserved. But his conduct was overall not becoming of a game designer or publisher. His demeanor on the boards was poor along with his shenanigans at the convention.

 

6. Epilogue

I probably won’t buy this game because it’s not my style. But I do not wish this man or his company any ill will. I look forward to his next designs, however. His passion is real. And if he gets a stroke of inspiration, I’ll happily spend some coin on his games.

It should also be noted that he has realized some of his mistakes. I think the lessons of BGG.CON 2015 and the aftermath of Hotness-Gate will help make him a better publisher and designer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WTF Moments in Gaming: Horror/Violent Themed Children’s games

I’m an amateur board game historian. Amateur because I am still a novice to the subject. I’m also afflicted with board game nostalgia. So when I am perusing older games, I am often surprised by the themes that passed for children’s board games. There are certainly some adult  themed board games out there in 2015; but I’m talking about games that were marketed directly to children. I was really taken aback by some of these. Here is a brief list of some WTF moments.

1. Clue

Clue game pieces from Parker Brothers
Clue game pieces from Parker Brothers

The rich, eccentric Mr. Boddy has been murdered! There are six suspects. The suspects are also the investigators. These suspects gather clues by moving from room to room making hypotheses about locations and weapons.

This is the premise of Parker Brothers’ game Clue. There are six suspects, six weapons and nine rooms. The goal is to deduce which suspect, weapon and room combination is correct.

Clue is a logic puzzle. And there are some opportunities for clever play. Teaching kids these skills is definitely valuable. And the game is listed as “ages 8 and up”.

Clue Lego Game
Clue Lego Game

I really liked the game as a child. I received a copy of Clue for Christmas when I was 7 or 8. But I doubt if the game would even get published as a children’s game nowadays because the theme is violent.

And to make matters worse, here is a Clue inspired Lego set up. Now I have to buy a bunch of Legos and make a Clue board with my nephew. I’m not sure how my wife’s sister will handle us playing Clue. I foresee the game progressing like this:

Uncle Chris: It’s your turn, Andrew.

Andrew: I suspect Prof. Plum bludgeoned Mr. Boddy with a lead pipe in the lounge.

 

2. Jaws

Jaws from Ideal
Jaws from Ideal

In 1975, an unknown director named Stephen Spielberg was approached by Universal Pictures to direct a movie about a great white shark that had a voracious appetite for New Englanders. Spielberg, an acolyte of Alfred Hitchcock, agreed so long as the shark would not be seen for the first half of the movie.

The outcome of this project is now cinematic history: 1975’s Jaws. Jaws was so scary, so intense, that for years there were people who were too terrified to go for a swim. Another outcome of this project was the rocket like trajectory Spielberg’s career has had, now rivaling even the great Hitchcock.

Jaws junk from Ideal
Mmmm…wagon wheel

A tertiary outcome of this project was Ideal’s “Jaws” game. In Jaws, players take a fishing hook and try to pry out junk from the shark’s mouth without it snapping shut. The shark’s jaws are spring loaded. And these weren’t no dainty springs either. These were all-American steel springs that could cause tissue damage if a child wasn’t careful.

I remember playing this game in 1976. And the game scared the bejeebus out of me. It was like pop-go-the-weasel where the weasel was a trauma inducing great white shark. The game really captured the theme of the movie–a movie most parents wouldn’t dream of taking their kids to in 1975.

 

3. A Nightmare on Elm Street

A Nightmare on Elm Street from Cardinal
A Nightmare on Elm Street from Cardinal

The late Wes Craven wrote and directed the 1984 release A Nightmare on Elm Street. Craven, with a $1.8 million budget, launched what would be a large cinematic franchise. Often coined as the “Freddy Krueger” movies, the stories all center around a demon who suffered immeasurable while in human form and now torments promiscuous teens in their dreams.

The sight of Freddy alone shocked audiences. Freddy’s body was scarred horrifically in a boiler accident which took his human life. Armed with a Wolverine-like claw, Freddy would eviscerate his victims in their dreams (which had the added efficiency of killing them in real life).

The Nightmare on Elm Street movies (nine as of this blog post) used many of the slasher tropes of 70’s movies but benefited from the special effects of the 80’s. The results were a highly gory movie where the audiences were subjected to the anti-

Freddy Krueger's victims
Freddy Krueger’s victims

hero’s brutality. There is a cult following for these types of entertainment to be sure. But the movies across the board from 1984 to 2010 have all garnered a well deserved “R” rating.

Which brings us to Cardinal Industries 1989 board game: “A Nightmare on Elm Street”. Players take on the role of generic townsfolk only too unaware of the coming slaughter. One player secretly takes on the role of Freddy while the others are the townsfolk trying to

A Nightmare on Elm Street
A Nightmare on Elm Street

outfox him.

By all accounts, the game captures the theme of the movies. Freddy secretly moves amongst the townsfolk, stalking them in what largely mimicks the movies’ signature phantasmagorias. The townsfolk have to band together to root him out and kill him. No one can be trusted.

All of this begs the question: what made Cardinal think this game was good for ages 8 and up? Isn’t the theme a bit of a “WTF moment”? Did some 8 year old say, “Hey mom! Buy me this game. I love the Freddy movies!

Confession: this game does look pretty cool. I hope Dusty buys me a copy.

 

4. Alien

Alien Board Game from Kenner
Alien Board Game from Kenner
Author’s note: reblogged because it’s appropriate here.

Ridley Scott’s 1979 movie “Alien” was the horror response to 1977’s Star Wars movie. It was intense, realistic and well directed. The movie evoked an entire franchise that lives to this day.

The alien in the movie relentlessly hunts the characters, leaving only Ripley alive. The movie is quite good. And it is very deserving of its R rating from the MPAA.

Alien inlay panel

Kenner, the company that makes Star Wars toys, got the rights to the Alien board game. They published the game around the time the movie came out.

And in a bizarre marketing maneuver, targeted the game to 7 year olds or older.

The game seems to be a faithful representation of the movie. Players attempt to get one of their astronauts to the Narcissus. Players also control one alien which they use to eliminate their opponents’ astronauts.

As you can see from the inlay panel, children 7 years old and up are enjoying the tension of desperate survival from unspeakable horrors.

By the way: I would love to own this item. But I am troubled by the change in the starship’s name. Why would they change the Nostromo to the Narcissus? Is Kenner trying to tell us something?

 

5. Muskegon Area Gamers

Muskegon Area Gamers

Muskegon, MI
87 Muskegon Area Gamers

This group is for anyone interested in playing board games, card games or any table top game. This group learns and teachs new games all the time. We welcome fresh players. We…

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Thursday, Oct 1, 2015, 6:00 PM
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WTF Moments in Gaming: How are these even considered games?

It can be difficult to define what a board game is. Is darts a board game for example? It’s hard enough to describe to the world what our hobby entails. But then game publishers release some really questionable items under the auspices of board games. A few of these are WTF moments. Check them out below.

 

1. Ouija Board

Parker Brother's Ouija Board
Parker Brother’s Ouija Board

I remember shopping at K-Mart on Apple Avenue when I was in 7th grade. I was a pretty big fan of Parker Brothers Games back then. Monopoly, Risk, Pay Day, etc. Whenever we would go to the store, I would make a point of wandering a little too far from the gardening section and a little too close to the game section, necessitating my mother to come find me.

There on the shelf, next to Milton Bradley’s Stratego and Parker Brothers’ Advance to Boardwalk was “Ouija: Mystifying Oracle”. Before the weight of being an automotive supply engineer broke my spirit, I was a sweet and mostly innocent kid. And if Parker Brothers, the publisher of my favorite kids games like Casper the Friendly Ghost and the Mork & Mindy game released a game, I was almost certainly going to have my interest piqued.

Little did I realize the pedigree that Ouija board had. And there was no way in hell my mom was going to buy this for me.

Ouija boards (or spirit boards) were first developed into a parlor game in the late 19th century. In 1966, Parker Brothers bought the

"Oooh! Let's play with the Ouija board!"
“Oooh! Let’s play with the Ouija board!”

rights to Ouija. And they published the “game” from then until Hasbro bought them out in 1991.

The purpose of the Ouija board is not entirely different than that of a Magic 8 ball. The Ouija (or Magic 8 ball) is a talisman that answers your questions. The biggest difference between them is Ouija boards, unlike Magic 8 balls, inspire horror amongst Midwestern mothers.

Players place their  fingers on the oracle. They ask a question. The oracle moves about the board in a psychosomatic fashion, answering the question.

I’ve never actually played with a Ouija. I doubt this will ever change. But WTF, Parker Brothers?

 

2. Pie Face

Pie Face board game
Pie Face board game

I swear that any drinking game can be reimplemented as a child’s board game. Take Coconuts from Korea Boardgames Co. This game is nothing but a children’s version of Beer Pong. Or take Fun Farm. This is the family friendly version of Spoons.

But what about everyone’s favorite drinking “game”: Russian Roulette? What would happen if a Hasbro predecessor were to make a family friendly version of spinning a loaded gun chamber then aiming the barrel at one’s head? What might that game look like?

Well wonder no more. Pie Face from Hassenfeld Brother’s (the long version of Hasbro) is just that game. You spin the spinner. You place your head in the firing arc. Then you click the crank the amount of times the spinner dictates.

Seriously.

You supply the “foam” as states the box. But then it’s non-stop hilarity as you and your family get facefuls of whipped cream, water or shaving cream. WTF Hasbro?

 

 3. High Gammon

High-Gammon from F.X. Schmid
High-Gammon from F.X. Schmid

You’d have to be high to play 4 player backgammon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Slime Monster from Mattel

Slime Monster Game from Mattel
Slime Monster Game from Mattel

This is a prime reason why Mattel should stick with Barbie and Hot Wheels and leave board games to the experts.

You spin the spinner. Then move your citizen to the armory to pick up a landmine. Then you move your citizen and the landmine to the slime monster and blow him up.

The look on the faces of the models used for the game box says it all.

Comes with a 4oz. can of Mattel Slime, a secondary marketable item Mattel tried to hoist upon Americans in the 70’s.

 

5. Alien board game from Kenner

Alien board game from Kenner
Alien board game from Kenner

Ridley Scott’s 1979 movie “Alien” was the horror response to 1977’s Star Wars movie. It was intense, realistic and well directed. The movie evoked an entire franchise that lives to this day.

The alien in the movie relentlessly hunts the characters, leaving only Ripley alive. The movie is quite good. And it is very deserving of its R rating from the MPAA.

Alien inlay panel
Alien inlay panel

Kenner, the company that makes Star Wars toys, got the rights to the Alien board game. They published the game around the time the movie came out.

And in a bizarre marketing maneuver, targeted the game to 7 year olds or older.

The game seems to be a faithful representation of the movie. Players attempt to get one of their astronauts to the Narcissus. Players also control one alien which they use to eliminate their opponents’ astronauts.

As you can see from the inlay panel, children 7 years old and up are enjoying the tension of desperate survival from unspeakable horrors.

By the way: I would love to own this item.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WTF moments in board gaming: the British Petroleum board game

I’ve settled upon a new column for the blog. It’s going to be an ongoing feature where I look at weird themes, mechanics or what-have-you in the realm of board gaming. In a lame attempt to appeal to the millennials, I’m calling it “WTF moments”. This one will deal with the British Petroleum board game. Indeed, this is a “WTF moment”!

 

1. Background: Oil Crisis of 1973

1973 Oil Crisis
1973 Oil Crisis: we’ve struck gaming gold!

In 1973, OPEC declared a rather severe oil embargo. The consequence in historical terms was the rising cost of oil and the modern energy crisis.

But we are not here for the historical consequences; we are here for the gaming consequences. The oil crisis inspired no less than a half dozen board games from the largest game publishers of the day. Milton Bradley’s “King Oil” is an example (and it’s a game someone should add to The Gaming Annex’s library).

One example that was poorly received when originally published was Printabox Limited’s “Offshore Oil Strike” in early 1974.

 

 

2. British Petroleum endorses…a board game?

Offshore Oil Strike
Offshore Oil Strike

Printabox Limited, a printer with only one game to their credit, approached oil giant British Petroleum about doing a board game. The results are seen to the left.

BP’s logo is emblazoned on a board game box. The game box promises the thrills of drilling and the hazards and rewards of your own offshore oil strike.

Players take turns building pipelines, drilling and accumulating sweet, sweet oil. The first player to amass $120 million is declared the winner.

Without historical context, this blogpost would end right here. So let’s go back and get some more background.

3. Background: Deepwater Horizon prospects the Caribbean

Deepwater Horizon: in good order
Deepwater Horizon: in good order

Deepwater Horizon was a South Korean built, Swiss owned, British leased rig that flew the Marshallese flag for convenience. The rig was stationed in the Caribbean where it spent two years prospecting for sweet, sweet oil.

This rig was submersible, had a crew of 146 and a top speed of 4 nautical miles. Built and designed by Hyundai, this baby would set you back cool 1/2 billion USD.

It takes a lot of oil to pay for something this expensive. And BP wanted to get paid off quickly. The Caribbean Sea is almost top heavy with oil–or should I say bottom heavy–since you have to drill it from the ocean’s floor. Everything was going well for BP and its investors. Until the explosion.

4. Background: Largest, most devastating oil spill in history

Deepwater Horizon compromised
Deepwater Horizon: compromised

On April 20, 2010, an explosion on Deepwater Horizon left 11 crewmen dead. The oil from the drilling spilled into the Caribbean. Prevailing winds and currents flushed the oil into the lowlands of Louisiana which had only recently rebuilt from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

The impact of the oil spill had tremendous environmental, economic and historical implications. But what interests us here are the board game implications. Let’s take a closer look at Offshore Oil Strike, the 1974 board game licensed by British Petroleum and see what this game portends.

 

 5. “Race to find and develop the riches ‘neath the seabed”

Offshore Oil Strike box and board
Offshore Oil Strike box and board

The game box says it’s “a race to find and develop the riches ‘neath the seabed”. Those riches won’t develop themselves. It takes two to four players 60 minutes to make that happen in this self-styled family board game.

Players build rigs, strategize where to place them and drill for that sweet, sweet oil. Along the way, they circumvent hazards, develop the logistics to move the oil (sweet as it is) back to their base.

There are four bases, one for each player. The bases are each a large oil producer: British Petroleum, Chevron, Mobil and Amoco. Did Printabox actually get licenses from all four of these oil giants? I’m going to go out on a limb and say “No”.

 6. Mechanics in Offshore Oil Strike

Risk Indicator for Offshore Oil Strike
Risk Indicator for Offshore Oil Strike

The game has a risk indicator. This is a randomizer for determining how successful your offshore drilling actually was. There are four possible outcomes: full revenue, half revenue, no revenue and platform destroyed.

Hazard Cards
Hazard Cards

Estimates of British Petroleum’s clean up and liability efforts put the total cost in the neighborhood of $3 billion USD. But once you get to $120 million you win, right? 🙂

Players find out from the site indicator if they’ve struck oil (yes, it’s sweet) or if it’s dry. The green area is hazardous, requiring a hazard card be drawn.

Some of these hazard cards portend the events of April 20, 2010.

—”Accident. Rig shuts down while replacement of key personnel takes place. Miss one turn.”
—”Fire breaks out. Pay $2,500,000 for repairs.”
—”Hit High-Pressure Gas—Rig Damaged. Specialists called in.”
—”Blow-Out! Rig Damaged. Repairs cost $2,000,000″
—”Drill pipe breaks. Pay $500,000 for replacement.”
—”Strike High Pressure Gas. Platform Destroyed.”

“Missing a turn” and paying $2.5 million would be a dream come true for British Petroleum in lieu of the actual liability they faced.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Site Indicator
Site Indicator

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7. Games imitate life

Unedited meme
Unedited meme

Board game design is an art. And art (board games) imitate life. Printabox’s single board game credit certainly imitated life, albeit 35 years later. And certainly much more spectacularly than the original game could have ever conceived.

The more I learn about my hobby, the more I am amazed by it. My draw dropped when I found out BP had put their logo on a board game about the thrills and hazards of offshore drilling.

It should be noted that British Petroleum did not design this game in any fashion. They only endorsed it with their logo, getting free advertising from the approximately 500 people who bothered to purchase it.

Methinks British Petroleum will be a bit pickier about what board games it licenses its logo to in the future.

-Chris, on behalf of the Muskegon Area Gamers

 

8. Bibliography

http://bldgblog.blogspot.com/2010/07/offshore-oil-strike-for-all-family.html

http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2010/07/06/70s-board-game-contains-eerie-bp-oil-spill-scenarios/

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/bps-oil-strike-board-game-marketing-no-kid-would-ever-buy-into/

http://metro.co.uk/2010/07/05/rare-1970s-bp-board-game-promises-oil-thrills-comes-back-to-haunt-them-434945/