Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Game Show Board Games: Concentration (14th edition, 1970) and Classic Concentration (1988)

I've been enjoying watching (and re-watching) some of my favorite classic game shows on the 2-year old Buzzr network. If I have any complaints about the network at all, it is the simple fact that, although they theoretically have access to the entire FremantleMedia library of shows (reportedly over 40,000 episodes worth), the actual content shown rotates through a tiny fraction of that, which repeats more-or-less monthly (with occasional refreshes a couple of times a year). Naturally, this means that fans regularly ask Buzzr to air shows not currently available on the network. Concentration is one of these frequently-suggested shows.

Although I'm not aware that the show has aired (even in rerun form) in the past twenty years, Concentration's past popularity, coupled with its fairly simple and intuitive gameplay, has made it a viable choice for home games. The game is played with two players who share a puzzle board with numbered tiles. The player in control selects two tiles, revealing a prize underneath each one. If the prizes match (or a Wild card is found, creating an instant match, as in the example on the board pictured here), that prize is added to the player's collection (revealing parts of a puzzle underneath the prize squares on the board) and they get to select two more tiles (after attempting to solve the puzzle if they wish). If the prizes do not match, they are covered back up by the numbered tiles and control passes to the other player.

Puzzles are in a rebus format. Bit by bit, letters and images are revealed that, taken together, form a common word, phrase, title, etc. In the case of the rebus presented here, the solution is "The Count of Monte Cristo." A player that solves the puzzle correctly gets to keep all of the prizes claimed in that round, and then the same players play another round. An overall winner is eventually determined by the accumulated value of all prizes claimed over the number of rounds played (the instructions suggest 3 rounds for a complete game). Special tiles in the game allow players to "Take One Gift" from the other player's stash, or (in the case of the original game) force them to "Forfeit One Gift" of their own. In the original game, there are a few worthless prizes available (check out the coat hanger in Player 1's collection in the picture above) as a buffer against Forfeits.

Classic Concentration is played in essentially the same way, with a few obvious differences. There are only 25 numbered tiles (as opposed to 30 in the original), and both Forfeits and "worthless" prizes have been eliminated. The Classic Concentration physical set-up is likewise a simpler version than the original. The makers apparently didn't provide the player prize collection modules included with the original, and puzzle boards are simply slid in and out from the top, instead of using the roller found at the top of the original home game. Theoretically, this should be easier, but in practice I find that it makes it harder to get the game number (visible in the upper-left of both versions) to line up visibly in the window.

This is important for actual gameplay, as both games use a similar mechanism for revealing correct puzzle solutions. When a player thinks they know the correct answer, they (or another player acting as "host") are supposed to open up the sliding door on the left of the board, and the answer is supposed to be revealed in the window underneath. If the game number isn't lined up in the window at the upper-left, there's a good chance that the puzzle answer won't be lined up here, making it impossible to verify a correct response! I find that the roller of the original version allows for better fine-tuning to line up puzzles, whereas the format of the Classic Concentration game leaves one to the mercies of the machine that cut the puzzle cards, hoping that they did so correctly. Either way, the fact that a player may have to look up the puzzle answer him/herself is an obvious limitation that the actual game show does not have (the instructions suggest revealing only the first letter or two if no one is playing as host, but I can't imagine that anyone thinks that's a good substitute for an actual host). It perhaps goes without saying that I prefer to play game show games with a host (even for games that don't explicitly suggest the possibility in the instructions as Concentration does).

Sadly, despite a long run (nearly 15 years in its original run on NBC from 1958-1973, making it NBC's longest-running game show to this day, followed by an immediate 5 years in syndication and 4 more years when Classic Concentration aired in the late 80s), I don't think there have even been repeat broadcasts of any version of Concentration in more than two decades. This situation is unlikely to be remedied in the near future. Although Concentration was a Goodson-Todman show (most of which are now indeed owned by FremantleMedia, and thus available for Buzzr), Concentration holds a unique status whereby NBC retains the rights. With no new NBC (or NBC-owned) revival in the works to the best of my knowledge, Concentration seems doomed to remain in obscurity for now.

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