Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Games 100: 1980 Edition, Part 3

And we're off with part three of the 1980 Games 100 overview and review. Let's see how well they did!

Remember how in a previous review I camplained about including Go, but some other historical classics? Well Parcheesi is here! And an electronic Backgammon opponent; good ole Omar II. With a previous electronic version of checkers, and a (given a quick peek into the future) electronic opponent for chess, it appears that Games Magazine has got a lot of the main historical board games covered now. So I take back my original complaint.

Looking back, it's sort of cool that all of the computer opponents actually used tactile boards and pieces, and somehow you had to input this data into the device. None of this just-load-up-the-java-applet-on-screen-on-your-computer stuff. On the flip side, nowadays playing solitaire games on your computer is beyond common practice as a way to pass some time; a mere 25 years ago, if you sat around in front of a board by yourself and a little calculator device, you looked completely lonely and sad. It seemingly looked like not only did you not have friends to play a game with, you didn't have friends period.

In the smack middle of the page, there's the 3rd console of the Holy Trinity of True First Generation hardware, the Odyssey2. It was one of those systems that always seemed a lot cooler when your friends had it, and you merely had a Atari 2600 (or VCS). Until you went to your friends house to play it, that is.

On to the classics, of which there are many on this page. Not much needs to be said for Milles Bornes, Monopoly, and Othello, as they are all pretty much ingrained into our imagination (well, maybe not Milles Bornes anymore).

Nuclear War is a fairly well known game still in all of it's cold war Blow-it-all-up loopiness.

And both Panzerblitz and Napolean at Waterloo have been both, I believe, considered to be wargame standard bearers for quite some time.

And then there's the lonely Microvision, the caveman Gameboy. It was sort of unique in that each cartridge used it's own embedded LCD display in order to keep it flexible enough. But once you get past the breakout clone, there's not much you can do with blocks in the pre-Tetris puzzle age.

On the next page, are some interesting looking games, but aside from Pit (the scream at the top of your lungs "I NEED MORE WHEAT!" game), and marginally Pente, there's not much in terms of greatness here.

At this point, I have to confess, I know very little (which actually means nothing) about Go, except that it used colored stones on a grid. I had always assumed that Pente was some trademark-named version of Go. But apparently it isn't. I've played Pente and found it fairly easy to understand and grasp some of the strategies; nothing like some of the strategical nightmares I've heard referenced about Go.

From a personal standpoint, my parents had both Probe and Rack-o, which I played many times as a young one. They are both fairly simple to understand, and completely playable, and probably great learning games for the pre-teen set. I don't remember much about Probe; it's pretty much guess the letters of the word that your opponents are hiding. It's not too thrilling, if I remember correctly.

Rack-o, on the other hand, is pretty enjoyable. Rack-o is a game where you have to get all on your cards in order, from lowest to highest. However, the trick is that you can't just re-organize them at will. All you can do is draw a card from the face-up discard pile or face-down draw pile, and replace a card in your list as best as possible. It can be played with a certain amount of strategy by watching what kind of numbers your opponents are drawing for. I've recently played a flash game based on this game, and after forgetting about this game, I've realized that it's still pretty fun; really, good fun for a filler game.

Rummy-O II sure looks like a relative to Rummikub, which BGG seems to confirm as the same game. I remember it as a playable filler game, even though I can't remember why you'd play this instead of just Rummy with regular cards. Well, aside from the cool plastic tiles.

Passing Through the Netherworld
is unusual in that doing a BGG search for "Passing Through" leads you directly to the Senet page, instead of giving you a list of games. How odd. Like chess, it's a historical game. Unlike chess, I would not consider it to be a classic, since I don't think ANYONE plays Senet anymore. Well, outside of Egypt.

In the column listed as "I've Never Heard of it" I have to add Pass It On, and Penumbra. And might as well add Quebec 1759 too, since I've never heard of it either. But that's a wargame, and I'm not that aware of wargames to begin with. However, the geeks on BBG do rate it pretty highly as a nice little introductory block warwargame, so it's probably pretty decent.

The next page gives us the classics known as Risk and Scrabble. Both well-deserved, even though I think most geeks will say that Risk's old-and-fogey dice rolling fest is a little tired nowadays due to all of the new advances in battling outcome deciders. In fact, the newer, goofier versions with their expansion-like ruleset such as Risk 2210AD are fairly well liked.

I remember Risk for three reasons. One, as a kid playing with friends, it quickly became the game that never got finished. Instead, there would always be argument of players teaming up against someone else, then chaos ensuing, and finally the board being thrown angrily across the room (or backyard) resulting in a game over situation. Two, later, in high school, playing the game with "captured POW" rules, which usually resulted in all of the POWs being held in a concentration camp in Japan. A broken part of this rule was that the player who had all of his armies trapped in Japan could still grow his armies by 3 every turn, and a roll of 6 and 6 on the dice would result in a breakout of the "camp". This usually resulted in the giant march of POWs collected over an entire game taking over the board. And finally, later in college, playing Risk for money, where you put 10 cents into a pool for every army you placed on the board, and collected 10 cents for every army that you defeat.

This usually resulted in the net result of winning pretty much zero money, but at least you never lost any money either. Welcome to the world of zero sum games.

There's the previously mentioned electronic chess playing computer with the Sensory Chess Challenger. A friend of mine had this; it was pretty cool in that you didn't have to input co-ordinates of moves; pressing the plastic membrane on the board with the piece would signal the move to the computer. And little LED lights would indicate the computer's move. It was quite a leap forward in terms of interface design for computer challengers.

Along with chess, there's the additional added historical classic of Japanese Chess, Shogi.

Simon probably dances on the edge of the "Is this a game or a toy?" question even though it has an entry into BGG, while Rubik's Cube clearly falls off it. However, there is no denying the selling power of either.

I remember friends "lubing up their cube" with Vaseline for quicker spinning action, cubes falling out from the wear-and-tear on the plastic, and probably the first investigative logical discovery of toys/games in my life. A friend gave up trying to solve it, and starting swapping stickers around on the faces. This is when we realized that there can only be one color of each on any of the center sqaures, which led us on to many more discoveries of the magical cube.

It's fascinating that people can now solve the cube with only one foot and their nose in 30 seconds. I remember the big news when someone managed to break the 2 minute barrier on the damn thing.

I have no recollections of Score Four at all. And like Quebec 1759, Richthofen's War I know nothing about. It's a war game! Nothing against wargames, it's just that we never played them.

But now, Rack-O, that's the ticket....

Part 4 coming soon.

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