Back to #Boardgame #FirstImpressions – Back to the Future: Back in Time (@OriginalFunko, 2020)

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.

Box Back

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.

Back to the Future: Back in Time 3-player set up

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.

Looking Back

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.

Jennifer Parker (blue mover) is really “leaning in” to help

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.

Ready-to-play 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.

Bite Me! Why Jaws (Ravensburger.us, 2019) may be the quintessential Ameritrash #boardgame

Ameritrash is “a catchphrase for ‘American style boardgames.’ In general, this means games that emphasize a highly developed theme, characters, heroes, or factions with individually defined abilities, player to player conflict, and usually feature a moderate to high level of luck.” – BoardGameGeek Glossary

Personally, I never understood the Eurogamer vs Ameritrash divide in boardgaming. OK, I understand it but really don’t care. I usually ignore it too, preferring to rate games as to how much the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself enjoy them. However, our play of Jaws (Ravensburger.us, 2019) showed me what may be the quintessential Ameritrash title – in all its goodness.

Jaws hits all the elements of an Ameritrash title in a near-perfect manner.

  • Highly Developed Theme – The two-Act game follows the movie very closely
  • Characters with Individually Defined AbilitiesJaws, Chief Brody, Hooper & Quint each are individuals with their own unique set of abilities
  • Player to Player Conflict – In this case Crew versus Shark
  • Moderate to High Level of LuckAct I has the randomness of the Amity Event Cards offset by player strategy but Act II is highly dependent on rolling the right dice at the right time.

A quick comment on that theme. The two-Act game idea is brilliant as it mirrors the major portions of the movie so well. The graphics in Jaws also reinforce the theme.  I see this most clearly in the Crew characters; from the black tableau of Chief Brody with the badge to the green with Quint’s hat and blue with sunglasses for Hooper, the color scheme, graphics, and symbology just fits as it both teaches and reinforces game mechanics and roles. The RMN Boys, born long after the movie was ever in theaters, also pointed out the box cover which uses the classic Jaws movie poster so well.

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Photo credit – self

Jaws is an agonizing game to play. In Act I, which takes place on Amity Island and has the Crew searching for the shark which is feasting on swimmers, the agony is from the deduction game that is being played. The Crew must deduce where the Shark is based on subtle (or not so subtle) clues. There is also a time-pressure element as the more the Shark eats the more Shark Ability cards it will have in Act II. On the other hand, the faster the Crew tags the Shark the more Crew Ability cards will be available in Act II.

Act II is a skirmish game with the Shark attacking and eating away (literally) the boat and Crew. I found a surprising amount of strategy in this Act as the Shark must try to attack where the defenders are weakest while the Crew must set up a defense using a constantly dwindling supply of resources. Act II very much feels ‘on the clock’ as the boat sinks away, the Shark takes wounds, the Crew takes wounds, and Crew Abilities get used up.

Our first game of Jaws pitted the RMN Boys as the Crew against Dad playing the Shark. Act I did not go well for the Boys as the Shark (again, literally) swam circles around them and used a Feeding Frenzy and Speed Burst at optimal moments to feast and evade. As a result, in Act II the Shark had a full hand of 10 Shark Ability cards whereas the Crew only added three Crew Ability cards to their hand. The Shark kept attacking, but here the luck of the dice deserted the Shark with many low rolls. On the other hand, the Crew banded together well and after a few initial missteps started defending the boat smartly. With the Orca more than half-sunk it looked like the Shark would win the war of attrition but two devastating rounds of hits inflicted by the Crew turned the tables on the Shark which then couldn’t outlast the boat. Both RMN Boys cheered and high-fived each other at the same time they breathed heavy sighs of relief when they finally killed the Shark for the win.

Kudos to the Jaws design team of Prospero Hall for finding the right balance of all these elements and making them work together to create real – and I do mean real – tension at the game table. I also appreciate the semi-cooperative game play of the Crew – to be successful the Crew must work together as a team in a game where the rules for working together are implied rather than implicit – meaning its up to the player to form the social contract. From a rules perspective the game practically self-teaches as the tableaus for each player contain virtually all the information needed to play. In many ways Jaws can be a foundation game for new boardgamers as it is both easy to understand the theme and easy to teach – as well as a quick play clocking in at 60 minutes or less.

The RMN Boys have already committed to bringing Jaws to the Neighborhood Gaming Gang’s attention. For ourselves, I expect to quickly play Jaws several more times as each Boy rotates as the Shark. In the long run, Jaws will likely serve as a foundation game we use to introduce others to the goodness of Ameritrash boardgaming.


Feature image courtesy Ravensburger.us

 

#ThriftyTuesday – Recent #boardgame acquisitions at a discount

It’s less than two weeks into February and I have already purchased three boardgames. OK, to be fair I bought them all at bargain prices. One is meh, one is sorta hmm, and the third is Yah! – a winner.

Meh…

 

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Courtesy BGG

DiceAFARI is from Stratus Games was published in 2012. BGG rating of 5.6. It looks like this originally was a late 2011 Kickstarter project that raised $5,130 of $5,000 with 117 backers. I guess it went to retail after that. GeekMarket has a copy for sale at $10; I got mine for only $3.99.

 

I’m glad I didn’t pay more. I mean, the concept of a game board laid out like an animal is cute enough, but the constant die rolling makes it feel like whatever strategy you try and follow is overcome by the luck of the roll. I bought this one as a filler game for Mrs. RockyMountainNavy’s elementary school-age students to use. For that purpose and audience it is probably alright enough. I don’t expect this one to come out on family game night though….

Hmm…

 

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Courtesy BGG

La Isla is a 2014 Stefan Feld design published by Ravensburger. Rated 6.9 on BGG. It can be found on Amazon for $19.82 but I got my copy for $5.99.

 

Yup, it’s a Eurogame. The map setup alone gives it randomness between plays and I like how each card has multiple uses. Alas, like so many Eurogames, this one dissolves into multi-player solitaire. The theme is also not that incredible – more than once I saw it referred to as ‘Pokemon the Eurogame” which is so appropriate!

I bought this one again to use with several of Mrs. RMN’s older students. Some call this title a good gateway foundation game that introduces some advanced gaming concepts in a relatively easy to digest package. In my mind the game occupies a similar space to Queendomino – built upon an obvious simple game but introducing some advanced gaming mechanics. Alas, I think Queendomino pulls it off better than La Isla….

Yah!

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Courtesy BGG

Speaking of a game where theme is great – as in Great White – there is JAWS by Prospero Hall from Ravensburger (again) in 2019. Sporting a strong 7.5 BGG rating, this game is a two-act play reflecting the movie so perfectly. Full retail is $39.99 (!) but it can be found more usually at $23.99. It was on sale for only $11.99 this past weekend making it an oh-so-attractive bargain.

 

Unlike the other games I bought this one expressly for the RMN Boys and myself to play. The Boys are game to play but don’t get into the theme as much as I do. I guess that is the difference in the generations; when I see JAWS I remember standing in line at the movie theater and going in only to come out swearing NEVER to swim in the ocean EVER! By today’s standards the movie is admittedly tame. My bet is many other gamers are having a similar experience; older gamers are enthralled by the theming while younger players indulge their seniors – and get a good game out of it along the way.

Bargain Shelf

Overall, getting all three games for less than the regular price of JAWS is a sure financial bargain. I think even DiceAFARI, the weakest of the three games, still fulfills a purpose on the game shelf. La Isla will get played, occasionally, as an alternative to other Eurogames. JAWS will probably be used extensively this summer. I also suspect theat JAWS could make an appearance in the Neighborhood Gaming Gang rotation as it’s literal ‘eat you’ theming appeals to the emotions that Survive: Escape from Atlantis does.

selective photo of gray shark
Photo by GEORGE DESIPRIS on Pexels.com

“You’re gonna need a bigger boat!” #Boardgame advertisement for Jaws (@RavensburgerNA, 2019)

I have to admit, this is a good ad for the boardgame Jaws (Ravensburger, 2019). It captures the theme of the movie Jaws very well. One doesn’t even have to know much about the game to understand the ad.

After playing Villainous (Wonderforge/@RavensburgerNA, 2018) I keep telling myself that Prospero Hall can’t be trusted. Then along comes a very slick, professional ad like this and all kinds of doubt starts entering my mind.

Must. Resist. I don’t want to be gaming chum!