Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Game Show Board Games: The Joker's Wild

Of all the game shows I watched when I was a child, The Joker's Wild was always my favorite.  I'm not entirely sure that I can explain why.  Perhaps it was the "pure trivia" nature of the game (although certainly simplistic compared to Jeopardy! questions today.  But I started watching game shows in the few years between the end of the original Jeopardy! and the beginning of the current version, so I wouldn't have known that yet), maybe it was the hosting (Jack Barry at first, making his big comeback from the game show scandals of the '50s--something else I didn't know anything about at the time--and Bill Cullen in the couple of years after Barry's sudden death), but I'm guessing it was probably the fact that the game centered on a "slot machine" with three spinning wheels that determined the categories.  I've always been a sucker for game shows with wheels!

Naturally, when I grew up, I had to add to my game show collection the board game version of The Joker's Wild, produced by Milton Bradley in three editions (plus a child's version, patterned after the children's spin-off Joker! Joker! Joker!) starting in 1973 (the year after The Joker's Wild premiered).  I suppose that this game duplicates the mechanics of the actual gameplay as well as could be expected for an affordable home game using 1970's technology.  The main board looks enough like the slot machine from the actual game, but instead of three separately spinning wheels, the categories are determined by a deck of playing cards.  Instead of actual category names (as seen on the show), the cards have numbers on them, intended to correspond to one of 5 categories as read from a little booklet (although I do like that the booklet of categories is separate from the booklet of questions and answers, allowing players to see the categories for themselves without spoiling the game).  But I have to confess, cards are a poor substitute for actual wheels.  And the odds of getting matching categories out of the cards just has to be different than the odds of the same result from independently spinning slots... but I digress.

In the main game, a player "spins the wheels" (i.e. deals three category cards) to see what categories are available, and asks for a question corresponding to one of the displayed categories.  If the category (number) shows up only one time among the three cards, the question is worth $50.  If it shows up twice, it's worth $100, and if all three cards/slots have the same category, the question is worth $200.  Also, there are jokers interspersed in the deck, which are (as the name of the game suggests) wild, allowing the player to increase the value of a category listed on the other card(s), or giving the player the chance to go "off the board" with a different category, worth the value of however many jokers are available.  If all three of the cards/slots are jokers, the player can choose any category he/she likes, and will win the game with a correct answer.  In all cases except for a "three jokers" scenario, if the player gets an answer incorrect, his/her opponent gets a chance to answer, and if correct, gets the value of that question.  The first player to reach $500 (after ensuring that both players have had an equal number of questions) wins the game and gets to play the bonus round.

Bonus rounds are perhaps a bit superfluous in a home game, since prizes are seldom actually given away when playing at home.  Still, it does help to create the feel of the game show.  Unfortunately, the board game duplicates an early version of the bonus round that I never actually saw as a child (being born in 1974, the game had evolved a bit before I was old enough to remember watching).  However, I would argue that I like the way the cards emulate the slots better in this round.  You are given three separately-colored decks of cards, each corresponding to one of the three slots on the slot machine.  The cards in each deck are exclusively images of jokers, plus one "devil" per deck.  The player starts the bonus round by playing one card from each deck.  If all three cards show jokers, all is well, and the player is awarded $100.  The player can stop right there and take the winnings (again, this is a bit of a moot point at home, where it's just play money), or risk that money to try again with the next card in each deck.  Another set of three jokers increases the players' winnings to $400, and the player can stop there or risk it all to try again.  A result of three jokers one more time increases the winnings to $1000, and the game ends.  However, if a devil appears at any time, on any of the three decks, the bonus game is over and the player wins nothing.

I value this board game more for it's nostalgia factor than for it's actual gameplay.  If I really want to play a game, I prefer to use one of a number of (mostly unofficial) computer versions I've found on the web.  These can more accurately duplicate the feel of spinning slot machine wheels for random categories.  Go Jokers!

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