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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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Transformers Then and Now: Warpath

As I mentioned on the Aveo Swerve entry, I'm working on ways to keep things fresh and interesting.  This is as much for myself as for the benefit of my readers.  One thing I hope to do from time to time is a bit more explicit demonstration of how Hasbro has updated certain Transformers characters that were introduced more than 20 years ago, much as I've already done with Cosmos back in July. The character of Warpath was introduced in 1985, at the same time as Cosmos.  The 1985 toy is on the left.  Oddly enough, the updated toy, released last year and shown on the right, was introduced at the same time as the updated Cosmos toy.  Serendipity!

One perhaps less desirable effect of the passage of time is the fact that toy manufacturers are more concerned these days with potential legal action, as vehicle makers (rightly!) seek to protect their copyrights and trademarks. While the Transformers franchise has always been about "Robots in Disguise" to a greater or lesser degree, back in the '80s, a good many Transformers turned into something that was patterned off of a very real, existing, piece of machinery.  1985 Warpath, for example, is a fairly realistic-looking tank (in fact, the TFWiki says it's a "General Motors M551A1 Sheridan ARAAV tank," but that's a level of precision I could never hope to match, especially in regard to military vehicles!).  2009 Warpath, on the other hand, is a fantastic "H-Tank" unlike anything out there in the real world.

If the disguise is less real-world accurate, though, the new version of Warpath is a superior toy on perhaps every other level, which is only to be expected.  In fact, although 2009 Warpath is a "Legends" class toy (one of the very smallest currently made), he boasts two separate legs and bendable elbows (the only "Legends" toy able to do this so far!), allowing for a good range of poses.  If you can find this toy (and good luck with that.  Like Cosmos, I've only found it at Rite Aid, and at a price comparable to most "Deluxe" class figures at Toys R Us or Target), I recommend picking it up.  Even 1985 Warpath can be purchased off of eBay for a reasonable price, and is worth it if you care about such old toys (but, if you do, and are reading this page, the odds are better than not that you've already bought a 1985 Warpath!).

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Because I Can....

It's been especially crazy at work this past few days, so I'm a bit behind on my blog writing.  I think I'll just do a quick "I haven't forgotten" post by tossing up a picture of an item in my collection that is random enough that I can't imagine why I'd post it any other time--the teddy bear I was given when I was born.

Yeah, he's pretty ratty looking, but what do you expect from a teddy bear that's 35 years old?  I've had this guy my whole life, and he's not going anywhere.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Game Show Board Games: Jeopardy! (Parker Brothers version)

Given that Jeopardy! has a history dating back more than 45 years, it's probably no surprise that there have been a lot of home versions produced.  Of the board game versions (that is, not counting any fully-electronic versions or various versions one might play on one's television set), I think the 1999 version by Parker Brothers is definitely the best.

It's not necessarily the one that most closely duplicates the actual gameplay.  Other legitimately "board game" versions had incorporated electronic buzzers at least as early as 1987, which certainly made the answer to the question "who buzzed in first?" much clearer than the little clickers that this 1999 version comes with (visible on the left-hand side).  The thing that makes this version stand out to me is the fact that this version actually incorporates six categories per round.   

Since the television version of Jeopardy! has always had six categories per round since the show's beginnings in 1964, the fact that no version had included a board with six categories previously may come as a surprise (TYCO did a couple of versions of Jeopardy! in the mid-1990's that used six individual category stands, rather than a single board.  This allowed for the correct number of categories, but had a rather different aesthetic and play pattern entirely.).  But take a moment and do the math on those dates.  It took board game designers 35 years to make a Jeopardy! board with space enough for six categories!  For some reason, all previous versions of the board game--and all versions made since--have used boards that only had five categories per round!  (Pictured here is the 9th Milton Bradley edition, which I believe is from 1972.)

Of course, game play for all these versions (excepting the TYCO versions) is more or less the same.  Pick a category and dollar amount (it's worth noting that both of these versions use outdated dollar amounts since the television show adopted its current dollar values in 2001), remove the corresponding tab to reveal a clue.  Click (or buzz) in first to be recognized by the "host" and give your response in the form of a question.  Correct questions add that dollar value to your total, incorrect questions require you to forfeit that much money.  Daily Double tabs are hidden on the board (one for the first round, two for the second) to allow you to bet however much money you want out of your current total (or up to the highest value on the board, provided you don't have that much) to respond to a clue without competition from the other contestants.  Then, after the second round is completed, all contestants wager how much of their totals to risk on a "Final Jeopardy!" clue that all must answer by writing their response on a piece of paper.

Actually, "Final Jeopardy!" is one more aspect that the Parker Brothers version of the game "gets right" that others generally haven't.  If you'll notice in the picture above, the Parker Brothers version has a dedicated space for "Final Jeopardy!" at the bottom of the board, below the rest of the spaces.  In most other versions of the game, the "Final Jeopardy!" tab is taken from one of the second-round clues, revealed in advance so that no one would pick that clue before that round is over.  The fact that I care about such things is, no doubt, just a side-effect of my generally over-zealous attention to detail.  But I think that the fact that I'm not "cheated" out of 11 full answers-and-questions per game is worth caring about!

EXTRA: If using all that funny-colored play money is too unwieldy for you, perhaps you might want to use the "Jeopardy! Challenger."  This little hand-held device from 1987 is basically just a glorified calculator designed to help fans keep their own score while watching the show.  My grandma found this one for me a few years back, and this seems like the best time I'm ever likely to have to mention this interesting and hard-to-find collectible, although, to tell the truth, I generally just use a pen and paper, anyway (both for watching the show and for keeping score on the board game versions).

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