Monday, November 30, 2009

Game Show Board Games: Blockbusters

Transformers aren't the only thing I collect.  I'm also proud to have a collection of quite a few game show board games.  This is, in part, an outgrowth of my love for game shows in general, but I also started collecting these in part due to a series of Thanksgivings and other family gatherings where we played these games together.  A number of them came from my grandmother, herself a game show fan for obvious reasons.

The Blockbusters game comes from Milton Bradley, and has a copyright date of 1982 on the box.  Although I was first familiar with the board game through a copy my grandmother owned, the one I have didn't come from her, but rather is something I located a number of years ago on eBay.  The show itself ran on NBC from 1980 to 1982 and starred game show legend Bill Cullen.  The show was revived in 1987 with Bill Rafferty, but to this day I've never seen an episode of that version.  Blockbusters sought (in some way) to answer the question "are two heads really better than one?" and featured a solo player competing against a team of two players in a game that combined trivia knowledge and strategy.

The board game more or less faithfully duplicates the mechanics of the actual show.  Players compete on a game board of connected hexagons, each one containing a different letter.  Players capture hexagons by answering trivia questions with answers that begin with the letter for space.  For example, if the letter "R" was chosen, a question might be "What 'R' is the first name of Supreme Court Justice Bader Ginsburg?" (answer: Ruth)  A correct answer changes that hexagon to the player's color.  The "solo player" is assigned red, and seeks to create a path of connected red hexagons from top to bottom, a task that can be completed in as few as four moves.  The team of two players tries to complete a path of white hexagons from left to right on the board, which requires at least five moves (the extra space needed in an effort to balance out the existence of two players on the team).  The first player/team to win two games would win the match.  The 1987 version of Blockbusters eliminated the "two heads are better than one" bit, and alternated top-bottom and left-right so that no player (both players being "solo players") was disadvantaged by needing an extra hexagon to win (with a tiebreaker match played on a 4-by-4 board), but I never really felt that this worked especially well with hexagons.  (Of course, I've never seen that version, so what do I know?)

One significant difference between the board game and actual show regards the bonus round, called the "Gold Run" (originally "Gold Rush."  Don't ask me why they changed it.  Anyway, the board game calls it "Gold Run.").  After winning a match, the player (or one member of the team, in the case of a team of two players) would try to connect a path from left to right (using gold hexagons for correct answers) within 60 seconds.  In the show, most of the hexagons in "Gold Run" would have multiple letters, denoting multiple-word responses (such as, for "WUD," "What Bugs Bunny often says."  Answer: "What's up, doc?").  However, the board game only gives you three reversible boards, all containing single letters, so you have to use the same questions as you would for the regular game (using the handy question book provided).

It really must be emphasized that these "differences" are really very minor, and this is a very enjoyable game to bring out to play with friends.  I've also used this game with students when tutoring, since the trivia format lends itself well to whatever subject is at hand.  Unfortunately, fewer and fewer people I run into these days have ever heard of the game, which obviously diminishes the nostalgic fun felt by those of us who remember Blockbusters from the 1980's.  Still, I think that the game play itself is quite solid, and easy to learn and enjoy for anyone willing to give it a shot.

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