If you've never played it, you might not believe that Milton Bradley was capable of crafting a board game version of Pac-Man that was actually fun. Well, here it is. Released in '82 for a fad-length run alongside perennials like Monopoly and Battleship, the saddest thing about Pac-Man is that very few people will be playing it in the future. One look at that kennel club mucking up the Family Game Night aisle makes me yearn for a more exciting time when the world was free to make crude, plastic Pac-Man statues run across a piece of thick cardboard, gobbling up little marbles. At the risk of starting this article off on a testimonial note, this is probably the only game I've ever reviewed that wasn't thrown to the back of the ceiling-high filled walk-in closet once I was done taking the pictures. I'll be playing this one again. Everyday. Every hour, on the hour. For the rest of my natural life. And possibly in Hell. It'll be my covert way of turning Hell into Heaven. God will smile, and Midway will probably finance a mass-marketing special edition re-release of the arcade game to celebrate the only religiously advertised video game character in history.
The road to Babylon begins with a 2" plastic 'Inky Ghost' playing piece. It's just like the scriptures predicted.
Course, it's hard to turn down box art like that anyway. The game could've sucked, it didn't matter. There's just no comparing Old Man Moneybags and a shot of two short busers playing Connect Four to a screen-printed mini-poster featuring Pac-Man going all top of the food chain on the ghosties' asses. I couldn't be dissuaded even by the value-diminishing crease in the box's lower right corner. That's when you know you've struck gold, friends. When you love a board game unconditionally, it's time to stop the search and it's time to stop your habit of raiding the Sunday papers for the occasional 2-for-1 board game coupon in the Toys R' Us circular. Christ, all my sentences are at least sixteen words too long. I think it's because I'm always trying to match the number of keystrokes I make with the exact number of notes in Auld Lang Syne. There's probably pills out there for something like that. Hopefully powerpills. CACKLE POP SNAPPY LAUGHTER.
Today's article is a featurette on MB's Pac-Man board game, complete with a look at each and every of the elements that made it such a terrific box of PG-rated fabulousity. Of course, when I say 'featurette,' it's only because it sounds cooler than 'feature' and has absolutely no roots in the correct use of the word. Now it's your turn to confess.
Article continued below advertisement:
Visit our sponsors to support the site!
Thankfully, the instructions are printed on the underside of the box cover. Pretty hard to lose that. Under normal circumstances, you'd only get to read the instructions on two, maybe three occasions before losing them forever and having to wing it. Sensing their advantage, Milton Bradley overdid the heroics by making the instructions' word total in excess of 82,000.
Not that it isn't necessary, though. The game is simple to play once you've done it a few times, but you'd think the thing was based on a damn RPG if you never rolled the dice before. In trying to recollect my expertise, I read the directions and was surprised to find out how scattered they were - in some cases, different steps seem to negate each other, almost as if Milton Bradley knew that very few people were really going to play the game as much as just kinda run the marble-eating Pac-Man toy across the board for kicks. You already found the fun, why bother playing by the rules? I read up to step 7, but only because steps 8-13 came with an asterix for having negligible accuracy.
There's the plastic player pieces and the two enemy 'Ghost' figures. You get to pick from four different Pac-Man figures in various colors. Obviously, most would likely go for the classic pale yellow, but let's not discount the red one as a more raging, angry, first-finishing Pac-piece. The blue and green ones were crap - those were there in case your mother made you play with the snot-handed retards down the block.
Perpetuating the idea that Milton Bradley was obsessed with its own duality, the 'Ghost' pieces double nicely as finger puppets. I'd put on a show, but it's pretty tough to do with only two finger puppets. People would think I'm holding up the peace sign, and label me a protester. Like Paul Sorvino in The Rocketeer, I may not be a lot of things - but I'm certainly American. As a side note, the only thing good to come out of The Rocketeer was the series of Rocketeer-shaped candy dispensers sold in conjunction with the film's release. Other than that, I don't plan to bring him up ever again.
The playing board was a thing of beauty, masterfully recreating the famous Pac-maze from the arcade game. If you'll notice, 72 white marbles line the board, each representing a pellet and each fitted into precut holes. There's four more marbles on the board, too - yellow ones, representing the 'power pellets' Pac-Man swallows whenever he's in the mood to eat something supernatural.
The game can handle 2-4 players, and it's definitely a 'the more the merrier' case. While it's pretty easy to cheat, even the most straight-played two-player game can grow fairly vindictive. Since half your moveset is designed simply to annoy one of the other players, it's best to spread the hate a little thinner by always having two or three different victims to choose from. The last thing Pac-Man wants to be is a catalyst in getting anyone written off the will.
Oh, and don't play this one with anyone even the slightest bit clumsy. If they accidentally spill the marbles off their slots, it'd take someone with the memory of a really expensive computer to put 'em back into the right spots. Then again, this is to your advantage if you're the type who likes to end games you know you're going to lose prematurely. It's easy to make trashing this particular setup look like an accident.
Each Pac-Man piece is gimmicked to pick up the marbles it's pressed on top of. It's not exactly the smoothest action feature, but you'll get the job done with a little patience and some lessons in how to treat hard plastic board game pieces like expensive crystal. Be gentle, that's all I'm saying.
I'm just now noticing that Pac-Man's current 'sharp-toothed jaw' look is completely incorrect. He had blunt teeth, we've all seem 'em a million times. Ghosts aren't really flesh, and Pac-Man ain't no carnivore. You can see how wrong it looks with the yellow one up above - imagine how little it looks like Pac-Man once we get to the red and green pieces. At least you could construe the blue one as a cold Pac-Man whose hypothermia drove him so insane that he swallowed a bear trap. Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Ultimately, your goal is a simple one. You're just supposed to collect more white marbles than any of the other players. It won't be easy, though. This game should've been based on Pitfall!, what with all the pitfalls. YO IT'S THE COMEDY PO-LICE. After each turn, the players spill any of the marbles they've collected into one of the color-coded marble holders. If you're curious about the quality and spaciousness of the marble holders, imagine the plastic pot a really poor school fits soil into when they're preparing fake four-leaf clovers for their annual Plant Sale.
Whenever it's your turn, you roll a pair of dice. One represents the number of spots Pac-Man moves, while the other gives you the chance to zap another player with those evil ghosties...
If you're hit by a ghost, two problems arise. First, you're forced to hand two of the white marbles you collected over to the player who sent Blinky and Clyde up your ass. Trust me, two marbles will go a long way when it comes time to count 'em. That's bad enough, but you're also forced to move your Pac-piece back to the starting gate. After that, your next few rolls will prove useless as Pac-Man moves over spots were you've already collected all the marbles. In other words, don't try to form any symbiotic relationships with the ghost pieces. They're only your friends during the rare instances when they're edible.
And yes, you can eat them. Just as the ghosts can take marbles away from your pile, they can also add to it by the same number if you use your turn (and one of your saved yellow marbles) to make an attack. Once digested, the ghosts return to the center of the board and wait to restart their perpetual torment. It's fun!
After you're finished eating a ghost, you have to put the yellow marble back on the board. It's a little different from the arcade game in that respect, but really, the only complaint ever lobbied against Pac-Man was the pitifully low amount of power pellets. Now you've got an endless supply, and the game compensates for the lack of realism in other areas, anyway. For example, you've still gotta play by the same rules of the maze. You can't jump over the blue barricades, and they've even got the same two-way exits as the video game editions.
I'm looking at that picture of the green Pac-Man piece above, and man, you can just tell that it's this close to serving as a perfect tape dispenser. Oh well, now I have a project for the lonely weekend nights.
The game goes on and on until all the white marbles have been removed. To crown the winner, each player must count their number of marbles. The person with the most pellets is supposed to win, but in reality, the person who can get away with claiming to have the most marbles is the champion. If the other players aren't smart enough to make sure that the total marble number is 72, then they probably don't deserve to win the game anyway. Playing time isn't too lengthy, but it's the sort of game you can play a few times in sequence before getting bored. As an added bonus, the marble containers work nicely as soy sauce cups if your Family Game Night happens to also fall on the same day as Family Japanese Dinner Night. Retool your schedules, it's totally worth it.