On Board with Video Games


As I mentioned in my last post, there is a board game of Jungle Hunt, and that’s hardly the only popular video game to undergo the transition. Indeed, back in the 1980s, these games apparently sold well enough for game companies, particularly Milton Bradley, to keep making them. Beth told me she had the Pac-Man board game, although no one in her family ever bothered learning to play it. I had also previously seen this review of the Donkey Kong board game. I’m kind of surprised I never had any of them, as I’ve always been someone who was fascinated with video games but not that great at playing them. I had a Pac-Man pillow, so why not the board game? I didn’t, however, so I can’t speak to the quality of any of these from personal experience. The AV Club reviews nine of them here, and this one discusses Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Centipede, and Zaxxon; with pictures and information for others. The thing is, part of what made these games enjoyable was a combination of a virtual world and non-stop action. The board games tended to give none of the action, reducing everything to die rolls and taking turns. That’s not to mention that they included a bunch of easily lost pieces. Still, you can definitely give credit for trying, and I can’t help but imagine that a lot of parents whose kids wanted video games ended up buying these instead as sort of a consolation prize. You’ll occasionally see people like that in the video game aisle, trying to convince a child to take the cheaper Cars game instead of Mario Kart.


While board games pretty much inevitably use dice and cards, and many of these included extra props to represent things from the video games, what particularly interests me is how they handled the villains. Some of them had players compete against each other in typical board game style, with the movements of the bad guys being random.

A plastic Donkey Kong would throw barrels according to the spaces on which players landed and the roll of a red die.

In hindsight, I guess you could say the green and yellow Mario pieces are Luigi and Wario. Not sure about the blue one, though.
In Q*bert, the players take turns as the hero with the opponents playing the villains.

The bad guys can’t win, but they can prevent the current Q*bert from gaining points. And Pac-Man has players splitting their die rolls between a Pac-Man and a ghost piece, so everyone is both the good guy and the bad guy.

Centipede looks to be much the same, with each player moving both a gun and a centipede.

Exploration-based games like Zelda and Dragon Quest (the latter of which is turn-based anyway) seem better suited to the board game treatment, but I don’t think any of the DQ board games ever made it outside Japan.

The Zelda board one handles monster fights in much the same way as other fantasy role-playing board games, with the player needing to roll a certain number to defeat an enemy. As far as I know, they never made a board game of Donkey Kong Jr. Math, because kids wouldn’t have been able to handle the combined excitement of taking turns with other family members AND essentially doing homework.

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This entry was posted in Board Games, Donkey Kong, Dragon Quest, Games, Mario, Pac-Man, Video Games, Zelda and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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