In my travels, I've acquired a lot of board games. In years past, I used to pick 'em up by the truckload to hock on eBay. I've since ended my reign of auction terror, but for whatever reason, the habit has stuck with me. Whether at a thrift store, yard sale or dead relative's house, I can never resist picking up a cheap old board game. They're usually weathered and incomplete, and the sheer amount of junked games I've picked up has turned my closet into an artistic representation of Milton Bradley's graveyard. Still, some of the games were way too odd to banish to the closet. Here's a look at five of the strangest (and shittiest) board games I've collected over the years. Before anyone e-mails: Yes, I know that some of them aren't technically board games. I already made the logo above before realizing that. Forgive me, I've sinned.
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That's right -- a "Tetris" board game. In name, it's one of the ten worst ideas I've ever heard. In action, it's the biggest pile of shit anyone's ever seen. I understand that the video game was white hot at the time; aside from single-handedly persuading millions of thumb-pushers to buy Game Boys, Tetris became a cultural phenomenon that damn near everybody had indulged in. As with any great fad, the people who stood to profit from Tetris' popularity sought out other avenues of merchandising. The colorful bricks didn't lend themselves to action figures or cartoons, so instead, we got this. The "Tetris" board game. The kind of Christmas present that'd make a kid knife Santa and piss all over a plastic manger.
As you'd suspect, players had the familiar goal of making lines and such with odd-shaped brick pieces. How they reached those ends is more ambiguous, because despite having read the insipid directions ten times, I can't figure out how the Hell the game is played. It seems like the Pressman company intentionally worded the instructions in an impossible-to-decipher way, rightfully theorizing that the only way to skirt customer backlash was by making the game's instructions read like a mixture of Greek, French, and the end result of letting baby alligators walk across the typewriter in the middle of all the sentences.
Looks fun, don't it? Each player gets a "3-D" playing board, dashing for the pile of cardboard pieces in an effort to win the game by doing God knows what. If I read the instructions correctly, there's no "turns" in the game. Everyone just keeps grabbing the stupid pieces from a pile until one of them manages to do whatever it is one does to win. I'm betting that most games quickly degenerated into mere cardboard-throwing fights: less intellectual, but way more fun.
It's always dangerous when video games go for the boards. We've seen a number of examples here on the site, but none were quite like Tetris. It just absolutely should never have been made, and if the haphazardly applied "SAVE TEN BUCKS ON NINTENDO CARTRIDGES" sticker on each box is any indication, nobody was taking the hook.
GRADE: Big motherfreaking "F." I'd liken the fun factor of playing the "Tetris" board game to having the hair on your testicles tweezed out by a clumsy old lady on a shaky caffeine high, but then, at least the latter would provide you with a neat story to tell the guys on poker night.
It's the Masters of the Universe "3-D Action Game" -- more harmlessly boring than outright shitty, but still worth a look since it's the only game with a "Teela" playing piece. Made by Whitman in 1983, it's sort of like a He-Manized version of "Candy Land." Take a look...
Basically, each player makes a spin on the included spinner, moving their cardboard figurine across the boxes on the playing board. Each box contains different MOTU-inspired pictures and battle scenes, with a good percentage of them including extra directions: some tell you to spin again, others make you lose a turn, and there's even a dismal square that forces you to start the whole trek over again. While the scenes painted on each square are adequate for the most part, others make absolutely no sense. One of 'em features He-Man fighting a very literal woolly mammoth. Huh?
The crappiness of the game shines through only when you actually attempt playing a round: there's 25 squares total, and 20 of 'em include penalty instructions. It looks so fast-paced, but with all the instances of losing turns and starting over and getting "sneak attacked" by what appears to be a giant mole, it actually takes a good six days to finish a single game. That's a lot of time to devote to making a cardboard Man-At-Arms walk over woolly mammoths and the infamous "Teela riding a unicorn" square.
For my money, the only thing saving the "3-D Action Game" from being a total failure are the six cardboard playing pieces -- you get He-Man, Teela, Man-At-Arms, Skeletor, Beast Man and Mer-Man. Yes, Mer-Man. I found myself much more interested in posing these little dudes in fight stances than making them cross over ancient elephants and misplaced unicorns, and I'd imagine most kids who had the game in 1983 felt the same. If the thing has a saving grace, it's that it only cost me a buck. Found this one at a thrift shop last year, and while the many dead and dried-out baby centipedes littering the inside of the box was no coup, at least those baby centipedes weren't alive.
Grade: "C." It's certainly not fun, but at least the children who had it would've been able to comprehend the directions. And even if they were too stupid to do that, at least they could've played with the little cardboard figures. I envision grand scenes where Mattel's "Skeletor" action figure transforms Man-At-Arms into paper, hopefully leading to the puppeteer's first experience in playing with matches. Matches-At-Arms.
Hrm. The "Beverly Hills, 90210 Entangle Game." You're not going to believe this one. Made in 1991, the time was definitely right for a 90210-inspired game. The "Brenda Years" were still going strong, and while the series was inherently ridiculous from the start, it hadn't quite yet plummeted down to the level of offensive boringness it would in later years, after everyone besides Ian Ziering and the progressively mousier Jennie Garth jumped ship to do other shows or simply vanish from the planet. I hadn't heard of this game until locating it just a week ago, but I was certainly a big fan of the series during the time it was produced. As a teenage male, would I have ever bought a 90210 game? Hell no. Yet, when it comes to "Entangle," I'm pretty sure I would've been embarrassed just by passing it in the store aisle. This is a bad game of an entirely different kind.
If you look closely at the box, you should be able to piece enough of the puzzle together. Slowly, you're realizing what we're dealing with, and admit it -- you're scared. Yes folks, this is the 90210 version of -- holy shit -- Twister. Acceptable to play only at a seven-year-old girl's slumber party, I guarantee that you've never seen anything quite like ...well, this:
Now, I'm looking at that picture, and I know there's a lot riding on how I describe it. As someone who so frequently seeks to entertain through crap, this is truly the Holy Grail. Still, I've got no words. Really, I've got nothing. People don't "review" the Mona Lisa: it's a cultural masterpiece -- accepted as such worldwide -- and anything that could be said goes well past "subjective" and right into "hey, why the fuck is that idiot reviewing the Mona Lisa?" Not so similarly, what can I say about a giant, absolutely giant plastic, Twister-like mat where the goal is to keep yourself balanced with a left foot on Brandon Walsh and a right fist on Dylan McKay? So rarely are we handed material like this, and now that my day has come, I'm not so sure I can handle it. I'm trying, really I am, but this is a sort of pressure I'm just not used to. Fact is, I'm looking at that hideous mat, I'm staring at the hideous characters, and with so many thoughts and ideas swarming around my poisoned brain, only one statement seems to fully surface:
DONNA MARTIN GRADUATES.
As things turned out, graduate she did. Good for Donna!
Oh my God, it gets worse. Okay, I'm going to try to explain the directions, but if I fail, please understand that it's a failure I share with the company who crafted this travesty. The one-page tutorial on how to play reads like an Emily Valentine freak-out, but as far as I can tell, the large arrow tells you which part of your body is to be placed on the mat, while the smaller arrow points to the body part of the particular character to throw it on. Doesn't make sense? I know! Isn't it great?!
I'll make things simpler, if at all possible: in the spin illustrated above, the player must put their elbow on Donna's shoulder. This is the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen, positively, bar none, and that includes the old episode of "Roseanne" where she has that big gameshow dream and Darlene melts into a puddle complete with pro-wrestling level special effects. The last line of the instruction sheet simply reads "Have Fun," ultimately making the directions impossible to follow correctly because nobody could possibly "have fun" with their body contorted over the fucking cast of 90210.
Fun fact: As I was setting up the mat to take pictures, my neighbor knocked on the door to let me know that I had left my headlights on. He saw the 90210 playmat. We looked at each other, and I could see the pity and unforgiving judgment in his eyes. I thanked him for letting me know, and off he went, never to return to my apartment again. My conclusion? Son of a bitch never saw the episode where Mr. Walsh sung showtunes with Dean Cain. That was a time!
GRADE: A+++++. Why? Well, you know how we sometimes have these odd dreams about impossible inventions and wondrous devices that could better shape mankind? If something like 90210 Twister can exist, it gives me hope that a third eye or a bicycle that can cook and fly might not be too far off.
Mattel's "M.U.S.C.L.E. Mega-Match Game" isn't fun to play, but it's not like kids were going to go by the rules anyway. Made in 1986, it was moreover just Mattel's way of getting customers to pay much more for the small figures than they normally did. The ten included figures would only cost a few bucks (and were sold in these really great plastic trash cans), but with the game, that price more than doubled. The only "extras" included were a cheap board and a sticker sheet.
The game seems to be a rare find nowadays, as any kid who owned it likely lost the figures a long time ago. Without those tiny wrasslers, it's nearly worthless. I'd still call M.U.S.C.L.E. one of the most undervalued toy collections of the 80's; I had as much fun with these guys as my Transformers and Star Wars figures, and it was a whole lot easier (and infinitely cheaper) to collect hordes of 'em. This "Mega-Match" thing was a different story, though...
I'll spare you the tutorial, but essentially, players could only win by knocking everyone else's figures off the court. Right, like anyone was going to play this thing legitimately. Grubby little hands and popular action figures aren't conductive to organized games, and I'd presume that the granite-colored board was used more for staging wars than determining winners. Besides, M.U.S.C.L.E. had much cooler "competition toys," like that plastic wrestling ring that let kids bash each other's toys in a much more literal fashion. For all intents, this was just an overpriced ten-pack of figures -- but there's a small upside.
Eight of the ten figures included varied with each game, but the last two remained static -- it was "Muscleman" and "Terri-Bull," the two highly sought leaders! Though really no more rare than any of the other figures, kids would typically trade 5-for-1 to get either of the leaders. They were two of the very few M.U.S.C.L.E. warriors with names we actually knew, and were given further worth by appearing in all the comic strips featured on the toy packaging. Aside from the game, the only easy way to attain these figures was by purchasing the more expensive 28-packs, and even then, you could only get one at a time. The "Mega-Match" game doesn't seem like much fun from what I'm looking at, but at least kids were receiving figures worth bragging about.
Kid: Hey guess what! I got Terri-Bull and Muscleman!
Other Kid: Holy crap. I tell ya, you should've waited till the others got here to tell me this. I have nobody to help hoist you on my shoulders with.
Kid: Is that sarcasm?
Other Kid: Could be. I've been watching a lot of "Charles in Charge." I mean, you wanna talk about acerbic...
The green guy in the front is Terri-Bull, by the way. Sucks that they were already up to hocking the lame neon-colored versions by the time the game came out -- I've always preferred the flesh-tone variety, so much so that I stopped collecting the things entirely when the switch to neon became complete. Sadly, most of the other figures were total schlubs. No hand-shaped figures, no two-headed demons -- just a bunch of small-framed humanoids either wearing loincloths or pointy things that sometimes became inappropriate based on where they were placed. The stickers on their chest -- clan emblems, apparently -- were only available by buying the game. Is that enough for an "A+?"
GRADE: No, but it's definitely good enough for a "B." That "B" hasn't been earned by the actual game, mind you. I'd never rank anything that includes ten M.U.S.C.L.E. figures any lower than that. Package them with a Ziploc full of bat vomit -- it's still getting a "B." Isn't that terri-bull?
I think I've saved the best for last -- take a look at the "Full House" board game -- I repeat, the "FULL HOUSE" BOARD GAME -- made by Tiger Toys in 1992. Tiger Toys is perhaps best known for their line of handheld, electronic video games. Their rare journeys into paper into cardboard were always met with some apprehensiveness, and it's not like you can call those feelings unjustified, because these guys made a board game based on "Full House."
The box is adequately offensive, snapping a photo of the three girls during the precise year that they hit their peak annoyance. Michelle, having grown a bit older and more able to form coherent statements, was the recipient of enough "awwwwwwws" from the phony audience track to make people who weren't paying close attention think she was constantly going around telling everyone she had cancer. It wasn't the Olsens who were the problem here, folks: it was those god damned "awwwwwwwws." Stephanie, on the other hand, had quietly morphed from a toddler who was even cuter than Michelle into a living inspiration for dartboard targets, showing signs of the actor-through-puberty effect which hadn't been this incredibly intensified since Rudy Huxtable gained four bricks and a beard. As for D.J. -- well, I never had much of a problem with D.J., save for the fact that she shared her name with a really annoying leather-wearing cat puppet that somehow got its own TV show in around the same timeframe. She was just kinda there, not bothering anybody. By Season 148, she even had a nice haircut.
A traditional, non-threatening game board paves way for sinister goals: the winning player must be the first to collect the entire Tanner family (and the six hundred other people they lived with) in a tiny car, driving them back home. You got to make stops at the health club, mall, school -- you even got to visit Danny at the TV studio. This would've been a heck of a lot of fun if the scheme of the game was changed entirely and made to have no association with "Full House." Though, I'll say this: I've been catching a lot of reruns lately on Nickelodeon, and the episodes are nowhere near as grating the second time around. In most of the actors' cases, it's easier to watch and take solace in knowing that their careers died with the show. I kid, with love. Gimme a hug. Ya big lug.
Each player takes charge of a tiny car-shaped playing piece, and I only call it car-shaped because the directions insist that they're cars. They look more like small rotary phones. The method in which the game is played isn't important, but know this: you'll be picking up lots and lots of cards, and lots and lots of those cards will look like the ones shown below.
Notice how Becky and the twins had to share a card? If you ain't Tanner blood, you ain't Tanner nothing. Oh wait, was Joey by blood? One of them wasn't by blood. Who on "Full House" wasn't by blood? I know the answer. I just wanted to say "by blood" a bunch of times.
There's cards for everyone, but by far the worst are the "Joey Joke Cards." One side features Joey's face, the other side lists one of his jokes. It's like Russian Roulette with a full chamber. There are no winning flips with a Joey Joke Card. To prove it, I'll transcribe some of the jokes:
"My aunt gave me a tie for Christmas. I didn't complain though... My uncle did once and she gave him a sock."
"Mom told me that smoking was dangerous, if I got caught dad would kill me."
"What's black and white and red all over? A blushing zebra."
I heard that Dave Coulier used to make the stagehands spray him down with boiling vinegar after each day's shooting, all the while cursing the writers and swearing he'd have them fired.
GRADE: D, for Dave.
We've seen Tetris and He-Man. We've played Twister on Shannen Doherty's face. We got down with the M.U.S.C.L.E. game. Then we talked about "Full House" and everybody died. All that's left are the Joey Joke Cards; the last vestige of an article gone terribly wrong.