Posts Tagged With: games

What Thomas and Emily did on strike day

Doctor Who and board games make for strange bedfellows. How can you possibly distil the excitement, the complexity and the sheer variety of the institution into six plastic playing pieces moving over cardboard? How can it possibly translate?

It doesn’t, is the short answer. At least not really. There’s a good reason why charity shops are full of Doctor Who board games but not action figures (just as they’re full of New Who DVDs but rarely the Classic Who adventures). They get given away quite a lot, and one of the great mysteries of the world is why we haven’t yet done this. The Time Lord-related board games in our house are clogging the shelves beneath the intellectual (Scrabble) and the not-so-intellectual (Mouse Trap). They sit unplayed, on display but gathering dust, like those classic books that everyone owns but refuses to read.

The first one I got was coincidentally the first post-revival Doctor Who board game produced.


This is the only image I could find, and thus it tells you very little, but suffice to say it’s a derivative of Ludo. You play the Doctor, Martha, K-9 or Jack, and have the objective of getting all four of your pieces home by travelling round the board. The Dalek patrols the inner, shorter route, and players who would choose a faster alternative to the long haul risk it catching up with them. It’s simple enough to play, although not very interesting. Still, the synthetic playing pieces of Martha possess more screen presence than the character herself ever did, as well as being far less irritating, while the prospect of multiple Doctors would presumably have Jack salivating, or worse. And it is at least quite fun.

Then there’s these two.

Board_Game_2 Board_Game_1

Both are available from Amazon. I can’t tell you an awful lot about them because we’ve never finished a game of either. They were just too dull, not to mention complicated, with collectible cards and all sorts of back-and-forth trading and giving cards away and getting them back and then pressing the button on top of the TARDIS to get it to make noises. That’s the obvious hook, designed to mask the fact that the game consists of a lot of repetition designed to eke out its length. It’s like a review I read of Aragorn’s Quest, which stated that the developers boasted twenty-odd hours of gameplay, but that eighteen of those would be spent walking from one side of the Shire to the other, carrying mushrooms.

A quick Google tells me that there are alternatives available: derivatives of Risk and Monopoly and Operation (with a Dalek) – presumably Cluedo is on the way (The Professor, in the cavern, with the umbrella). And there’s always chess, a game which always ended well whenever the Doctor played it.

Joshua has recently discovered chess, which I see as an opportunity: it would be nice to get a really good Doctor Who set with wooden or metal pieces, the sort you see in glass cases at Hamleys, expensive but not unaffordable, perhaps with the Master playing the black king and Davros as one of the rooks. But as it stands, the only one available that isn’t a handmade collector’s item is this one.


I’m not even going to link to it. I mean, look at it. It’s rubbish. Insofar as Who-related chess experiences go, it’s the ‘Nightmare in Silver’ edition. Is the provision of a proper, moulded edition too much to ask? Or is it destined to remain on the wishlist of Never Gonna Happen, along with the Abba reunion, the fourth Back To The Future film or the uncut DVD release of Fire Walk With Me?

Anyway, there there is a point to this little ramble, and we shall come to that now. Thomas was off school yesterday because industrial action had closed his classroom for the day. Emily was at a loss for what to do with him, but we found a voluntary homework assignment in his book bag. The task was to use some pre-supplied materials to produce a question-based board game.

“There’s only one topic of choice, really, isn’t there?” said Em to me. And of course, she was right.

So when I got home on Thursday lunchtime, I found they’d done this.

Game_1 Game_2

His handwriting’s not bad, but I’ll translate: the rectangular drawings are TARDISes (Or TARDISS, or TARDIS – but let’s not get into that here), and if you land on one you go forward two. The triangles are Daleks, and if you land on one of those you move back two. Land on a Smiler (one is visible to the right of the orange Dalek) and you miss a turn. And then there are the questions, which included but were not limited to these –


And yes, I know the marital status of the Eleventh Doctor is disputed, and the Cybermen aren’t just made of metal. Stop nitpicking. He came up all these himself, you know, along with the general concept. And all this time I assumed that the encyclopaedic accumulation of Doctor Who-related knowledge (not to mention the endless questions) was just for the fun of it. We may not be quite ready for Hasbro, but it passed a morning. I’d call that a win.

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Does this pole still work?

When I was not quite ten years old, back in early 1988, we bought our first video recorder.

It was a revelation. No more the slaves of the clock. No more did I have to wait until Christmas to watch Star Wars and The Wizard of Oz. The VHS collection sat on the top shelf of the cabinet (when we eventually got the cabinet; those first few weeks the recorder sat on the floor) and the chunky plastic boxes were pulled in and out at least twice a day as we explored wildlife documentaries and Gerry Anderson creations and sitcom compilations. My younger brother filled up a three-hour tape with Thomas the Tank Engine episodes and wept for an hour when my mother, in order to punish him for some misdemeanour or other, refused to sanction the recording of the Christmas special, rendering his season two collection incomplete.

Access to a video recorder filled up the hours, but it also aided my sense of recall. I would wake early on Saturday mornings and sit down in front of the television, having already calculated the time I would need to start watching Superman in order to finish before I had to leave for the weekly swimming lesson. Terence Stamp’s beautifully performed monologue permeated my consciousness until I could recall every pause and every cadence of his delivery. I watched the TV edit of Back to the Future so many times I memorised it in its entirety, and took the toned-down language of the kid-friendly version to be gospel until many years later, when I heard Doc Brown swear for the first time. I can’t remember most of what I learned in school, but I can still recite the radio announcer’s Toyota commercial in the opening scene.

But it was Ghostbusters that held a special place, because it was the first tape we bought and I more or less wore it out over the years. My friends at school were crazy about it, and it was a bandwagon I couldn’t wait to ride. I can still recall the sense of disappointment when the technician who installed the VHS (yes, we needed such electrical specialists in our house) told us that we would have to leave it to settle for three or four hours before we could use it, to allow time for the machine’s moving parts to adjust to room temperature. Instead we went out, but I spent most of the time looking at my watch.

My family didn’t do Halloween, and trick-or-treaters were politely but firmly turned away. At no point did I feel deprived or embarrassed by my parents’ religious stance (save once, but that’s for another day) because they were happy about us watching Ghostbusters until the cows came home. They would even watch it with us. My mother would always chuckle when Bill Murray – ever the master of understatement, even then – reacted to the sight of a hundred-foot marshmallow man tearing up Fifth Avenue with the words “Well, there’s something you don’t see every day”. Meanwhile, my father howled with laughter every time Rick Moranis emerged from the wreckage of the destroyed penthouse, gazing at the smouldering rubble around him, before remarking “Boy, the superintendent’s gonna be pissed!”.

Years later it is still my favourite line, and I wonder how much of this is a judgement of quality and how much of it is raw nostalgia. Because when I think about it, Ghostbusters united us as a family in a way that no other film before or since – with the possible exception of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves – has managed to do. We watched and experienced it together and in a strange sort of way it brought us closer together. And when I think about it now, that oh-so-laborious afternoon that I had to spend before I got to open up the video case for the first time wasn’t so much about seeing the film again as it was about introducing it to my brother, who was yet to experience it. The ability to watch it took second place to the newfound ability to discuss it and play games that were centred around it, and I can still recall the thrill of seeing his face light up the first time he saw Murray get slimed by the onion ghost.

Lately, I’ve wondered how much of this I may have transferred onto my own children. Because Halloween in our house began early – on Saturday evening, to be precise, when Emily had gone out and I elected to begin our celebrations now. We don’t trick-or-treat, but we have a pumpkin and I allow the boys to watch a (reasonably) scary film. Joshua has been asking about Ghostbusters for years, and until this year I’ve denied him, simply because sometimes the gift of a particular film or book isn’t appreciated before you reach a certain age, but lately I’ve felt he was ready. It was supposed to be just the two of us, but an insomniac Thomas wandered in towards the end of the first act and sat with us for the rest of it, as silent and receptive as he is at his best. Joshua, meanwhile, burst into fits of laughter every time a ghost was seen eating or Murray did something funny.

The next day, without any encouragement or help from me, he was busy. Here’s his Ecto-1.

Here’s a rendition of the onion ghost.

And finally, here’s a Lego self-portrait, wearing a Ghostbusters t-shirt.

It also gave me an excuse to play through this again.

I’ve experienced it before – a couple of years back – but it’s better with company. And on this occasion I had Josh sitting with me, watching as we blasted and slammed our way through the Sedgewick and Times Square, drawing in his breath at the fisherman ghost, and then giggling whenever a stray beam touched one of the other players. And, of course, he’s blissfully unaware that – like the film we’ve just watched – this is just an extension of my childhood, a time when I was not much older than he is now, and all those Saturday afternoons round a friend’s house playing the first Ghostbusters game on his Amstrad. It became an excuse for not doing other things, much like many of my gaming habits now. In my bedroom we had a Spectrum, rather than an Amstrad, and the game looked dreadful, but we loved it, and we played it to death.

Times have changed, but I basically haven’t.




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Office meme

Sometimes, on a Friday, you run out of things to put on the whiteboard.

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“Save me a costume. I love a knees up”

Subversive things to do at a Doctor Who-themed birthday party:

1. Give every new arrival a gas mask and when there are four or five, have them all wait in silence in the lounge. Now every time the doorbell rings, you usher the next guest into the hall and have everyone groan “Muuuuuummmmyyyyyyy…….”

2. Go as the Master, then shave your beard off halfway through, before re-emerging from the bathroom announcing you’ve regenerated.

3. Serve actual fish fingers with a custard dip. Right before home time.

 I have been vetoed from item three. Item one would have been the most fun, but gas masks are extremely hard to come by unless you have the cash, or access to a community theatre group who’ve just put doneOh! What a Lovely War. Item two is, of course, my choice completely, but even after scouring all the charity shops in town I can’t find a black turtle neck that’s going for less than thirteen quid – and given that I’m never going to wear the thing again, it seems like a bit of a waste. I love Josh dearly, but even I have my limits.

We will have to make do with this. Less daring, but it should keep them quiet.

And so on. Said images – four of which are included below – will be stuck around the house.

You get the idea. The numbers, by the way, are – well, you’ll figure it out. Really they’re just there to make sure the kids actually play the game properly, rather than just spending the first two minutes working out that the answer is ‘Sonic Screwdriver’. You have to fill up the time…

(We’re also going to play Musical Weeping Angels, which is like Musical Statues, except – well, you’ll figure it out. I promise photos.)

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The woods are lovely, dark and deep

For any of you who’ve not yet played Limbo, it really is quite wonderful. Sort of Ico-meets-Another World done in the style of German expressionism. (Wikipedia coined that definition, not me, but I can’t think of a better description.) It tells the story of a small boy who is searching a forest searching for his missing sister. The forest is presented in moody greyscale, our hero nothing more than a simple silhouette with an oversized head and two beaming eyes, like Peter MacNicol in Ghostbusters Two (as can be witnessed at 1:05 in this clip).

You die many, many times in what is basically a series of trial-and-error puzzles – the solution is never obscure but sometimes requires precise timing and character placement. Deaths are grisly and unpleasant and imaginative, and the sheer variety of the gameplay makes for a compulsive experience. But I’m not doing it justice here, because the best way to show you this is to – well, show you:

You get the idea. After a while the forest gives way to a grimy industrial landscape, full of switches, pipes billowing steam and gushing water, electrified rails and gargantuan gears and cogs. Here the game arguably becomes less interesting, if nonetheless compelling. As I go to press this morning I am trying to correctly operate a magnetic switch. I find myself playing in short segments, because the restart points are forgiving and aptly suited to third-rate casual gamers like me. And it’s just so gorgeous to look at.

But this isn’t a review site, and my reasons for posting this are simply that I’ve wondered for a while what the characters actually looked like behind the shadowy visages we see on-screen. Part of the joy of Limbo is that it really doesn’t tell you anything, and in the days of tedious exposition and unnecessary backstory (usually posted online in the form of irrelevant supplementary material aimed at fanboys only) it’s nice when developers actually leave the detail to your imagination – it helps with character empathy and a more rounded experience. At the same time, I did wonder whether I was controlling Dennis the Menace (the US version), or one of the characters from Charlie Brown, and equally I wondered about the spiders who were following me. Anyway, someone else has obviously had the same idea:

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