New Arrival – Game Wizards: The Epic Battle for Dungeons & Dragons by Jon Peterson (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2021). This is definitely a hobby business history and NOT a history of D&D as a game. So all you Edition Wars fighters out there looking for Jon’s vote need to look elsewhere. I wish Jon would do the history of Marc Miller and Traveller someday. I know, not as dramatic but nonetheless of intense interest to a Traveller RPG fan like me.
I can remember watching Back to the Future in a movie theater. As a matter of fact, I was working in that movie theater as an Assistant Manager/Projectionist so I actually saw it opening day and many times after. The RockyMountainNavy Boys have also seen the movie thanks to the magic of DVD/Blu-Ray/streaming and they like the story too. All of which makes bringing the boardgame Back to the Future: Back in Time (Funko Games, 2020) to the gaming table easier since the title appeals to all of us and we already know so much about the theme behind the game. Which is important because Back to the Future: Back in Time is totally built around translating theme into game play.
A Back to Theme Game
Back to the Future: Back in Time is a cooperative boardgame for 2-4 players where the players can play Marty McFly, Doc Brown, Jennifer Parker, or Einstein the Dog. Winning the game requires accomplishing two goals: acquiring all the parts for the Delorean Time Machine and moving it to a ready location while at the same time ensuring the Love Meter is positive so Lorraine and George are in love at the end of the game. Failing one, or both, goals is defeat. The game can also end if the Love Meter stays negative too long and the McFly Photo fades away. This occurs thanks to the bully Biff.
Game play in Back to the Future: Back in Time is incredibly simple. Every turn the turn track is advanced and any actions on the track are resolved from top to bottom. This can be removing a part of the McFly Photo or placing a new Trouble on the board or movement. Each player will then use their character’s Powers which are different die to move and resolve Challenges. Each player also has a Special Power that is unique to them and may be used once per turn. Challenges are resolved by rolling different die: Courage, Speed, Knowledge, and Love. Each die is unique in that it usually has 1x “1 Type” side, 1 x “2 Type” side, 2x Wild sides, and 2x Biffs. The particular Challenge or Opportunity / Trouble Card will tell you the minimum die types that must be rolled, but a player can exhaust their Powers to roll other die, even different types (since there is a 1:3 chance of a Wild). There is a “push your luck” element in rolling where die can be rerolled as long as they are not Biffs. Biff results lock the die (no rerolling) and move Biff towards George or Lorraine. If Biff in in a space with either of the two lovebirds the Love Meter goes down.
The most important challenge is probably the Love Challenge. If George and Lorraine are in the same space, the player can attempt a Love Challenge to move the Love Meter in a positive direction. Of course, Biff wants to get in the way and drives the Love Meter down if he is in a space with Lorraine or George (or both). Players can also fight Biff and try to “knock him down” which counteracts Biff actions.
Different player counts in Back to the Future: Back in Time change the game length. A 4-player game is 20 turns, the 3-player game 18 turns, and the 2-player game 14 turns. Regardless of the play length, the time to get everything taken care of is short and players will always feel the stress of the clock.
Like so many cooperative games, in Back to the Future: Back in Time players try to gain a menu of Powers to accomplish the goals together. Recognizing what a player can do best and working together to accomplish the goals before time runs out is the heart of the game, just like race against time Marty and Doc faced in the movie.
The components of Back to the Future: Back in Time are mostly of nice quality. I say “mostly” because I am suspect about the durability of the movers. My Jennifer Parker mover is already bent (she is literally “leaning in”) and the legs are so small that adjusting it threatens to break them off totally.
I also question the real utility of the Clock Tower dice tower. Yeah, it looks good on the map (giving the otherwise plain 2-D board a third dimension beyond the movers) but I generally don’t like rolling die on the game board as it could upset the game state. So do I move the Clock Tower to me and roll off board? Why? I think this is a case where “bling” got ahead of functionality.
As a long time wargamer, I was also struck by the packaging of Back to the Future: Back in Time. I’m already use to Prospero Hall games being delivered in a non shrink-wrapped box with four little tape tabs. In Back to the Future: Back in Time all the cardboard bits come separated from their print sheet. This is great for a family game as it is playable literally out-of-the-box.
“This is heavy”
Marty’s favorite line in the movie Back to the Future has nothing to do with the boardgame Back to the Future: Back in Time. Gameplay is easy and uncomplicated. This is a good family-weight game that even younger (but not the youngest) family members can learn. The game is a solid entry for game night when a cooperative game is wanted but Pandemic is to too close to reality.
Boy, did we miss out on a great game – but no more!
In Forbidden Sky the players are adventurers who are stranded on a strange platform in the middle of a great storm. They must explore/build the platform to complete a circuit and launch the Rocketship before they are either electrocuted to death or blown away. Game play is very typical of many cooperative games; on your turn you take up to four Actions (Move, Scout, Explore, Wire) after which you draw a number of Storm Cards based on the current Storm Intensity. Every Adventurer has a special skill and a variable amount of Health and Rope. Truth be told, there is little exciting in the game play.
Instead, the tension builds as your team literally builds the platform. Along the way you must put together the Launch Platform and a requisite number of Large and Small Capacitors and Lightning Rods all connected by Wires. Not only do you have to have the right components, but they must be connected in a proper circuit. Forbidden Sky really is the ultimate hotwire game!
The combination of puzzle and circuit building sets Forbidden Sky apart from the other Forbidden titles and totally distinguishes it from the Pandemic series. The need to Explore (build) the platform and Wire it all together is challenging, but the rewards at the end is much more tangible than the ‘save the world’ of Pandemic or ‘whew, we made it’ of Forbidden Island.
Most importantly, RockyMountainNavy T, my Autism Spectrum boy who is working towards an Electrical Apprenticeship, totally fell in love with the game. He could not say it, but I can tell the game spoke to him. This game, themed around electricity, really is about him. Can he puzzle through a problem, build the circuit, and complete the job?
Although we lost our first game, RockyMountainNavy T was totally gushing about it. He studied all the Adventurers and looked through all the tiles and even put together a few circuits based on the different Blueprint Cards (challenge levels). He is very anxious to get this game to the table again, and again. I for one will be very happy to indulge him because playing games together and having an enjoyable time is ultimately what our hobby is about. Best of all, its good for the family.
Forbidden Sky has jumped to the top of the Saturday Game Night line up not because its a good game (it is), but it is a game that the entire RockyMountainNavy family enjoys together.
Forbidden Island makes a great Father’s Day present…from this Dad to the family.
MRS. ROCKYMOUNTAINNAVY leaned in to help a friend this summer, meaning that we quite literally had a 5-year old little girl running around Casa RockyMountainNavy many days. With school back in session, Mrs. RMN wanted to give her a present. Naturally, she turned to me and asked for boardgame suggestions. I recommended Unicorn Glitterluck: Cloud Stacking (HABA, 2019). Little Ms. A played the game and she, her mother, and Mrs. RMN all give it a giant 5 UNICORNS!
Although our kids are older, Mrs. RMN tutors younger ones meaning we have a collection of children’s games on hand. These include perennial favorites from HABA like Rhino Hero (2016) and Animal Upon Animal (2005). Little Ms. A only plays boardgames when she is at our house so she has lots to learn. She has played Animal Upon Animal and liked it, but we (OK, me…) was looking for something similar yet different. Unicorn Glitterluck: Cloud Stacking combines both a dexterity and cooperative game into one. Perfect for small children. Don’t believe me? Check out this video from Game Trade Media filmed at Origins Games Fair 2019 for a great explanation of the game and example of play.
We played Unicorn Glitterluck: Cloud Stacking with Little Ms. A today. Actually, we played three times. We won all three games (although one was really close) and Little Ms. A really enjoyed it. She still needs to be guided (she occasionally throws the die instead of rolling it) but she caught on quickly. Mrs. RMN declared we are going to purchase at least two more copies (one for another student and one for our collection) because it takes the best of Animal Upon Animal and adds the cooperative play element. She also points out that the pink box is key.
OK, we all need to stop adulting for a minute and remember that Mrs. RMN wants these games for young girls. Little girls that Want to be little girls and don’t understand anything about gender neutrality packaging. Sure, they like the yellow HABA boxes but Little Ms A was very proud to show the box to her mother and proclaim, “Look! A girl’s game!”
To be clear, HABA does not market any of their Unicorn Glitterdrift games specifically towards girls. Even so, the pink box and colorful unicorns screams this is a “girls game.” So, am I evil to allow this sort of gender gaming? Too bad; the game is great and if it helps bring a little girl into the hobby then so be it. More importantly, Little Ms. A also sees the RMN Boys playing the game with her. If they don’t want to play a game because “it’s for girls” THEN we have a problem. But they don’t, and Little Ms. A earns not only a sense of ownership (“Let’s play MY game”) but also a reason to keep playing in the hobby. We can worry about gender neutral games later.
In the meantime, I have a unicorn castle to build.
Postscript: Kudos to HABA for providing a multi-lingual rulebook in this game. Surprisingly, one of the languages is Korean – the primary language of the families Mrs. RMN teaches. Little Ms A was tickled pink (pun intended) with the Korean title of the game which translates as “Twinkle, Twinkle Unicorn.” Yet another way she was able to connect to the game and find an inviting hobby waiting for her to explore.
These days Forbidden Island sits on our shelf of shame, unplayed and surpassed another cooperative game title, Pandemic (Z-Man Games, 2008). In some ways that is very sad as both games are by Matt Leacock, the godfather of cooperative games, and both are good at what they do. Interestingly, I see that Pandemic is rated for ages 8+, yet I don’t think anybody calls Pandemic a children’s game. So why does Forbidden Island not get more love at our gaming table?
Forbidden Island was the first cooperative game that reached the RockyMountainNavy house. It is not a bad game, but in this house a cooperative game needs to build a strong narrative for it to reach our gaming table more often. Alas, this is a weakness of Forbidden Island. Of the several cooperative games in the RMN collection, Pandemic and Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game (Fantasy Flight Games, 2008) are well regarded, and played more often, because of the highly dramatic story that plays out in the game. Other cooperative games, like Forbidden Island or Ghostbusters: Protect the Barrier Game (Mattel, 2016) are more like puzzles with a thin story behind the game mechanics. They aren’t bad games, just not dramatic enough. For us, it is the thought (expectation?) of a great narrative that brings certain cooperative games to the table.
RockyMountainNavy Jr. recently expressed an interest in Forbidden Sky (Gamewright, 2018). The game is the third in the Forbidden Island/Desert/Sky trilogy and claims to carry the narrative of the first two games forward. Not owning or playing Forbidden DesertI cannot comment on the carried-narrative portion. Maybe, just maybe, there is something to this. The question will be is the lure of carried-narrative enought to get a new game, much less two older ones, to the gaming table?