Ratrace

There are so many good classic board games that it’s sometimes difficult to pick just one to reminisce about, but a few shine out a little brighter than the rest.  One of my all-time favorite board games is Ratrace, by Waddingtons House of Games.  The goal is simple: start from the bottom rung of the social ladder and claw your way up to the upper crust of society and be the first player to retire with $100,000 cash.  How you accomplish that goal is where the fun begins!

Ratrace

The 1970 Version of Ratrace

Players start the game with a business and $200 cash.   The businesses are color-coded: Rose’s Clothes & Furs; Olive’s Jewelry; Black’s Art Gallery; Brown’s Sporting Goods; Green’s Furniture; and Royal’s Car Sales (blue).  Each business gets nine Status Symbol cards to sell to the other players, three each of $100 cards for Working Class, $500 for Middle Class, and $3000 for High Society.   Players need money to make their own purchases, so everyone hopes to see their competing players land on their colored squares.

The game board has three tracks, one each for Working Class, Middle Class, and High Society.  Everyone starts on the Graduation Day square on the Working Class track.  From there opportunities present themselves: can you attend Night School and earn your diploma? Can you make it big (at long odds) at the Racetrack?  Will you be accepted into the Country Club and gain a Membership Card? Can you earn money at the Stock Exchange?  Players move around the track gaining Working Class status symbols, such as a New Car Radio or a 17-Jewel Watch.  Gain any three Status Symbol cards and you’re ready to move up to Middle Class – as long as you have a little cash and either your diploma or club membership.  Of course, you could get lucky and land on a Society Wedding space and move up without all the qualifications everyone needs.

Ratrace

The 1967 version of Ratrace

Middle class brings similar challenges and goals as the Working Class rung did, as players still need to buy Status Symbols (but more expensive!), get a Yacht Club membership or a University degree, and accumulate cash as they move through the game board.   But watch out! At this stage of the game the much-feared Divorce square could send you back to your Working Class roots.  Gaining entry into High Society is exactly the same as before: three Status Symbol cards, either a degree or club membership, and enough cash to afford the lifestyle.  And the pitfalls on this part of the game board or similar to Middle Class, but much more devastating when they happen.

What makes this game even more unique is the element of credit.  Yes, you can get a credit card in Ratrace.  If you don’t have the money to buy your Status Symbol cards – no problem: get it on credit.  The danger, though, comes from the Credit Due spaces on the game board.  If you land on one not only do you have to pay the full amount of your credit account, but you have to add an additional 10% as an interest payment.  So, as in real life, too much credit card spending can lead to your financial ruin!

Ratrace

The 1974 version of Ratrace

There have been several Ratrace games since it was released in 1967.  I know of editions put out in 1970, 1971, 1973, 1974, 1983, and 1994, each of which had some minor modification to the game pieces, but no change in the game mechanics.  Although the player tokens in the shape of actual rats in the 1983 black boxed version are fun, my favorite Ratrace game is the 1973 release in which the Status Symbol, Membership, Diploma, and Credit cards are on heavy card stock, and the game tokens are made of wood.  I enjoy playing a game that feels like its meant to last, and can handle a little family playing time, but I also like the natural material feel of the game pieces.  Other versions use laminated cards and plastic tokens, which, although they will last, just don’t have that same retro feel.  But, it’s a minor quibble, as any of the games still play the same.

Ratrace

The 1973 version of Ratrace

Ratrace is best played with at least three people, but it can be played with as little as two and as many as six.  The game suggests a starting age of 9, but anyone who understands the reasons why people want to “move up” in life will enjoy this game, regardless of age.  Another highly recommended classic board game!

The MAD Magazine Game

The MAD Magazine Game

If I had to pick a game that was so bizarre and crazy that it was nutty fun, The MAD Magazine Game would be it.  Back in the 70′s MAD Magazine was a serious force on the magazine stand.  I remember reading them and laughing at their fresh and irreverent presentations of everything from spoofing the latest movies and TV shows, to social-political commentary dressed up as jokes, to the Road Runner/Coyote style violence of Spy vs. Spy.   And so when Parker Brothers came out in 1979 with a board game based on the MAD Magazine zeitgeist, it was a must-buy.

The MAD Magazine Game

You know you’re playing a different kind of game right from the start when you learn what your goal is: to lose all your money.  It’s much harder than it sounds, though, with the Card cards making your life difficult with cards like, “If you are a Boy Person, Win $500″ or “Change Chairs With Anyone.”  You can get lucky, and get a Card card that says, “If you are GOOD LOOKING, stand up and imitate your favorite animal, and lose $2,000″ or “Stand up and BOO the person on your left. Also lose $1000.”  As you can see, the game plays a little bit more wacky than your average board game fair.

The MAD Magazine Game

Moving about the table is an integral part of the game, so don’t get too comfortable in your chair.  Between spaces on the game board that move everyone to a new seat, to Card cards that do the same, expect to have to pick up your drink and move to your right or your left.  But you have to leave your money behind, which can be a good thing (if you had more than anyone else) or a bad thing (if you were almost broke!).   This means that there really is no effective strategy to winning the game that can be planned from the start; the random elements send any plan into disarray as quickly as it is formulated.  Perhaps this was Parker Brothers’ version of Chaos Theory in action!

The game board is filled with classic MAD Magazine art and zany humor.  You can see art from Spy vs. Spy, The Lighter Side of…, site gags from Don Martin and Sergio Aragones, and more.  And much like the magazine itself, there are little surprises throughout the game board that you stumble upon as you play.  Some scenes should bring back memories, and perhaps a smile or guffaw or two.  Just make sure your legal name isn’t Alfred E. Neuman, or you’ll have to collect the special $1,329,063 bill included in the game.  Did I mention the game is wacky?

The MAD Magazine Game is yet another timeless family classic, and is recommended for 2 to 4 players ages 8 and up.

Payday

Payday from Parker Brothers

One of my favorite board games growing up was Payday.  Not the later versions (dreck!), but the original Parker Brothers 1974 release, with the green box and little dollar signs for playing pieces, invented by Paul J. Gruen (who also invented other classic games like Bonkers!, as well as games based on TV properties, such as Battlestar Galactica, and The Six Million Dollar Man: Bionic Crisis.

The game is pretty straightforward.  The game board is in the shape of a calendar month. You roll the die and move your token throughout the month.  And just like reality, you’ve got to roll with the punches.  You get Mail – sometimes bills, sometimes junk, and – rarely! – a little bit of cash.  Every so often you get access to a Deal, some which might make you a little extra spending money, some that might make you wealthy – but the deal might go sour, too.  And all the while, you’ve got to manage your money.

Payday from Parker Brothers

It’s a perfect game to play with teens and tweens to help them visualize a typical month of paying bills, collecting a paycheque, and trying to get ahead just a little bit more than the month before.  And it’s all done with a healthy dose of clean, family-friendly humor.  You can play it with as little as two people, and up to six, ages 8 and up.

Payday is a classic board game, and certainly one of the best.  Highly recommended!

Ten Questions: Yehuda Berlinger: It’s Alive

Yehuda Berlinger a blogger, avid gamer, all-around artist and game designer, is also the creative mind responsible for the forthcoming and frankly brilliant looking It’s Alive board game by Reiver Games. What follows is an interview Yehuda was kind enough to offer to the rowdy lot that inhabits Gnomes Lair. Enjoy it.

Yehuda Berlinger
1. Let’s start with something personal, shall we? Nice. How did you get into game design?

The same way that artists get into art: it’s something that I must do.I can’t help but tinker with any game I have, while, at the same time, trying to figure out the reasons that the designer or publisher came up with the final rules as they are.

After some experimenting, I began to realize that there is nothing holy in the end results of a game. Often as not, they are just that way because the designer or publisher had to choose something. Often, it was the first number they came up with, or whatever matched the type of game that they liked to play.

Since different people like different things, it seems obvious to me that games should be played differently by different people. There is no “right” way to play the game, despite what the rules say. There are better and worse rule sets, but even then, if people like playing the worse one, why stop them?

After tinkering with other games, the next natural step was to take different game ideas and try putting them together into new games.

2. Is it only board games you’re interested in designing or are you looking to expand into video gaming and/or RPG territory?

Definitely not video games; they’re not my thing, even though I’ve programmed for many years.RPGs: if someone wants to hire me, I’d take a stab at it. Naturally, whenever I play RPGs, I’m always making up new classes, weapons, spells, and so on.

3. Care to mention some of your favorite games?

I interpret the word “game” fairly liberally. Not only does it include different game genres, but it would have to include different ways to play the games that I have.For computer games, I’ll play board and card games or rogue-like games. In board and card gaming, Go, Bridge, Scrabble, Anagrams, Puerto Rico, El Grande, and a few other top Euro-games. For Puerto Rico, my favorite is playing with random buildings from the sets I created. For CCGs, it’s drafting cards, and building decks on the fly.

I also love Frisbee and Soccer. I like word based party games. I like dice-light role-play and biblio-drama. And I like inventing games, as a game.

Yehuda Berlinger

 

4. So on to your brand new It’s Alive! board game. It’s your second one right? Care to describe it a bit?

It’s actually a re-theme and slight tweak of the first one. The new theme replaces the Menorah theme which appealed to Jews and probably some religious Christians.It’s gone through several other themes as well.

5. A set-collection and board game it is, then. How do those game mechanics work?

It’s a simple set-collection, auction game, where you have to collect eight different items in order to complete the set. Each round, you either buy the item for its value, toss it out for half its value, or auction it off.That’s the heart of the game. In most games, you likely have to do all three in some combination. And the game is naturally balanced so that almost every game is fairly close.

The simplicity and auction ideas are fairly reminiscent of Knizia’s design style, I believe.

6. Regarding the weird an wacky game setting/plot. Did you decide on it? Could you briefly describe it?

The new theme is entirely Jack’s idea. I merely gave my approval. I think it’s a good theme for the market he’s aiming at.It’s about a mad scientist trying to collect enough body parts to build a monster. Sometimes you find whole coffins, and sometimes the rampaging villagers try to burn you down. The truth is, I think Jack chose the theme because, when you have your entire body, you get to yell “It’s Alive!”

The game won’t be able to sit on the same shelf as games like Rummikub and Canasta, and I know that some little old ladies would buy the game if it did. But that’s not the first market Jack’s looking to approach.

7. Still, should be fine for kids. What’s the target group of It’s Alive?

Gamers and geeks.

8. Are you happy with the final product and Reiver Games? Why did you decide to go for a limited 300 copies only release?

I haven’t seen it yet, and, in fact, it’s not actually ready yet. The 300 copies is, again, Jack’s way of operating. He hand cuts and assembles each game by himself.

9. Anything planned for the future? Should we be looking forward to more designed by Yehuda games?

Absolutely. I always have a few game ideas buzzing around. Every once in a while I’ll make up a prototype and bring it to my game group. If it’s good, I’ll move forward with it.

10. Improvise, please. Is there anything you ‘d like t add. Something related to your blog perhaps?

Game design is just another art, like writing, poetry, and creating literature parodies of famous poems and legal codes. It’s what keeps me going.

Thanks for taking the time, best of luck with It’s Alive!

Thanks, Gnome.

Kondtantinos or Gnome is a classic and indie gaming writer. You can see his wonderful blog by following this link – Gnomes Lair.

RISK, Strategies Explained

risk

Risk (BGG entry), according to sources that prefer to call themselves voices and are not to be taken seriously, is one of the most successful, imitated and thus influential board games ever devised. It also is a particularly enjoyable game, that comes in a variety of flavours ranging from Star Wars to Lord Of The Rings to Classic, with the added bonus of being less prone to shatter friendships than Diplomacy. Also, also, Risk has the dubious honour of being the first truly mainstream wargame.

With wargaming, though, come tactics and strategies. Strategy guides too. Some of the best can apparently be found over at the rather specialized RISK, Strategies Explained… website. It even has a basic beginners guide. An advanced one too, obviously. Try them out in battle (for free), over at netRisk or by downloading the very Risk-esque Dominate Game.

Demonlord

demonlord

Dwarfstar Games, a former division of Heritage USA, that was recently (as in 2003) saved from ultimate financial doom by Reaper Miniatures, was quite the board game creator back in the early 80s. They released solo-games, micro-games, epic-games, goblin-games, strategy-games, even 2-player games (!), with such lovely 80s names as Barbarian Prince, Dragon Rage, Goblin, Demonlord or Star Smuggler. Good news is you can download all these games for free, print them out and play them. Or just browse through their PDF manuals, tokens and maps and have a glimpse at gaming history…

Anyway. Just visit this beautiful and cozy corner of the web for you downloads. Ah, don’t thank me. Thank Mr. Forbeck instead (who actually thanked Mr. Costikyan for first discovering this little treasure).

[UPDATE]: The excellent Vintage Gamer blog has reviews of both Barbarian Prince and Demonlord. Check them out, you really should…

Mutant Chronicles Monopoly

mutant chronicles

Quite straightforward this one, I believe. Save the picture (taken from this excellent site), print it, spend a few hours preparing thematically appropriate game-cards, use your Warzone minis, 2d6 and enjoy a game of Mutant Chronicles Monopoly.

Zombies 2

 zombies2

Zombies!!! 2 is, as should have already been noticed by any bearded board games’ scholar, closely related to the excellent board game Zombies!!! An expansion actually, or to elaborate a bit, a great, tidy, compact and beautifully produced expansion. Assuming those interested in Zombies!!! 2 are already Zombies!!! players (well, they really should be, as the original game is quite required to enjoy the Z!!!2 affair), I’ll get right to the new stuff. Ruleswise you get a slightly tweaked core ruleset, that helps speed the game up and clean up slight problems, a nice FAQ and quite a few brand new rules. Without wanting to spoil the overall fun-of-the-fan I’ll just mention two of them: 1) you get to ride vehicles, 2) tougher (government enhanced) zombies are introduced. Add to the improved rules:

– 15 new map-tiles that will let you fight the undead in a military base
– 30 new event cards (actually 2*15 new ones)
– 6 goofy looking but definitely nice glow-in-the-dark (super) zombies
– some blank replacement cards & tiles
– and (at last) quite a few (around 50) red heart tokens

and you’ll understand why this expansion too, is a no brainer!

That’s an (eight and a half) out of (ten).

Talisman Returns

 TalismanBoardgame

Games Workshop, even if via the deceptively named Black Industries, seems to be returning to a few beloved games of yore, that don’t necessarily fit into the wargames category. It all began (Oh, praise the Dark Gods, cherish the Ruinous Powers, thank LotR!) with the new edition of the excellent Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay RPG, went on to its 40k counterpart and is now maturing with the forthcoming release of Talisman edition 4, bound to happen when the stars are right or sometime during October 2007; whichever comes first, really. Oh, and yes, I did mean Talisman, as in Talisman.

TalismanBoardgame

Why not then hop over to the official announcement? Why not indeed. Just click here, or there for a nice press release. Expect to read something along the lines of: “Talisman is a cult fantasy board game for 2 – 6 people. Players control a myriad of characters from a heroic warrior to a powerful sorcerer. In this perilous adventure, play centres around the journey of these gallant heroes to find and claim the Crown of Command, a magical artifact with the power to destroy all rivals and make the bearer the true ruler of the kingdom.”


Puttanopoly

puttanopoly-

Monopoly. Definitely not a good thing, thoroughly described by Lenin, detested by most, but also one of the landmark board games of the 20th (and apparently 21st) century. And with more than 100 different versions too. Problem is, Monopoly doesn’t have the history we all believed it had… Head over at SnakeOil labs, read everything about Anti-Monopoly, the true story of the game and the obscure Landlord’s Game , thus preparing thyselves for something completely different. The actual point of this humble little post.

Puttanopoly:

puttanopoly

An Italian adaptation of Monopoly, that does to board games, exactly what Pimp: The Backhanding (by none other than the prestigious White Wolf of Vampire fame) did to card games. Unfortunately, it’s only in Italian. Still, the idea is internationally understood. Be a hooker, avoid evil pimps, get to the rich customers, avoid Jack-the-Ripper wannabes and cops and (that’s the Monopoly bit) protect and expand your turf.

If you must know, Puttanopoly derives from the word puttana, a mostly Italian -partly Greek- word that could not mean anything else but whore…

Great stuff. Let’s wait for a translation, right?