Reviews by a gamer(s) | Feature | Chicago Reader

Reviews by a gamer(s) 

A look at the good, bad, and ugly games we played before computers.

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click to enlarge The quarantine bubble isn't so bad when you have access to these.

The quarantine bubble isn't so bad when you have access to these.

Melinda Fries

I’m privileged to have a built-in “stay-at-home bubble” because I rent an apartment from my friends, who live on the first floor of the building with their son (see “Interview with a gamer” for his take on video games). We all have a fondness for the design and aesthetics of board games from the 70s and 80s, and quarantine time has given us a bit of an excuse to do a deep dive into the household collection. Note that while these are all games that were sold in the U.S. more than 30 years ago, for the most part we have the Canadian versions (as my friends grew up in Canada and these games are all from their childhood homes). All of these were available on eBay when I last checked.

click to enlarge MELINDA FRIES
  • Melinda Fries
King Kong
King Kong, like many of our favorites, was a board game created to tie in with a movie release, in this case the 1976 version of King Kong that features the gorilla climbing up the World Trade Center rather than the Empire State Building. As such, the cover art features the ape on top of the twin towers, and the board includes a plastic version of Kong that spins as he climbs. Kong basically knocks down each player with each spin on the board, so it takes forever to get your player past him and win. But the painting of the building is so detailed and wonderful that I give this an “A” as an art object and a “C-” for tedious game play.

The Fall Guy
There is more than one board game dedicated to the actor Lee Majors in the board game collection but this one, based on his early 80s action/adventure TV show, is the opposite of King Kong—an “A” for fast and fun (easy to learn how the pieces move around the board while you’re playing) and a “C-” for bland art that basically amounts to a photo of Lee Majors along with a logo that no one remembers from The Fall Guy’s opening credits. We also have the board game for The Six Million Dollar Man, the 70s TV show in which Majors starred, but we didn’t end up playing it because when you have that much Lee Majors in one sitting all you want to do is recreate the Six Million Dollar Man’s feats of strength in the living room.

click to enlarge MELINDA FRIES
  • Melinda Fries
The Mad Magazine Game
The 1979 game itself is secondary to the board art (illustrations from classic Mad contributors like Al Jaffee and Antonio Prohías). Unfortunately the anarchic rules “You are a rock. Act like one. If you're good, you lose $1000. If you're not so good, you win a rock.” and Monopoly-in-reverse gameplay (you move around a board, taking cues from random cards, and the goal is to lose all your money first) make not a lot of action and no surprises. And the board doesn’t become an Al Jaffee fold-in! My grade on this one is a “C” all around—thanks for showing up, but you’re a disappointment.

Whosit?
A more contemporary version of this was made in the 90s (with flip cards like the Memory board game) but we often play the 1976 Parker Brothers original. It’s a guessing game in which each player gets assigned a character, and the other players have to figure out “who’s it?” by a process of elimination using the game-issued questions on cards. You’re basically asking the others “does your character have glasses?” and those sorts of things, but the game loves capital letters and was created in the 70s, resulting in cards that read ARE YOU ORIENTAL or ARE YOU BLACK. The newer version doesn’t have these questions. Of course the fun of the game is getting confused about your own identity in the process of figuring out everyone else’s, which sound like some deep thoughts but I’m not sure if the Parker Brothers intended this game to be analyzed. A “B”—it’s pretty fun, but not an “A” because it feels weird to hear your friends screaming “Are you oriental?!” at you.

click to enlarge MELINDA FRIES
  • Melinda Fries
CB Radio Game
Another 1976 Parker Brothers game, built around the odd craze for truckers and CB radios at the time. While game players waited two years for the excellent and ridiculous 1978 Kris Kristofferson movie Convoy to be released, they could learn all the CB radio lingo from a great list inserted in the game instructions. I give myself an incomplete because at this point we forgot about game play and just read funny CB terms to each other—my fave is “brush your teeth and comb your hair,” which is what some truckers would say to let you know that there’s a radar trap ahead.   v

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