Wednesday 5 August 2009

The Worst Games Brad Ever Played #2

As has been established in these pages before, I am a massive advocate of Unplugged Gaming over electronic gaming. This isn’t for any big political, philosophical or sociological reason – it’s simply because I prefer board games, card games, RPGs and war/sport simulations over electronic games. If those are your bag, fine – but these are mine.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article on Night Trap, one of the worst video games I have ever played. This week, I decided to put the shoe on the other foot, and talk about one of the worst unplugged games I have ever played. And I’ve played a lot. This week’s instalment is a Waddingtons game from the mid-nineties called Ghostly Galleon.

The idea of this game was that once in a blue moon, a mysterious ghost ship rocked up in the nearby bay. It was said that on this boat lay treasure beyond your wildest imaginings. Unfortunately, the boat was also haunted by the ghost of the evil pirate Blackbeard. The players were all brave pirates, determined to sneak about the eponymous Ghostly Galleon and make off with Blackbeard’s treasure.

The whole game, unfortunately, is an exercise in style over substance, and the introduction of a ghost who is not so much a terrifying apparition of evil as a slight dickass, in a “Janitor from Scrubs” kind of way. Visually, the game is undeniably impressive. Part of the board is that bay, and then overlaying this, and providing most of the action, is a massive cocking plastic pirate ship, ragged sails flowing in the breeze. I know some people who’d be up for playing this game simply because it’s got a fucking pirate ship in it. This article is a warning.

The idea of the game is the players sneak onto the ship, where there are six treasure chests scattered around. Only one contains the treasure, however. The other six contain garbage, and one contains a parrot. Yup. A parrot. Anyway, all but one of the chests are locked, and you have to find that right key to unlock the chests. So, straight away your task has gone from “Find the treasure” to “find the key, find the right sort of chest that your key will open, hope that what is within is treasure of the gold-and-silver variety, rather than the garbage-or-popinjay variety, and then bug out without being caught out by Mister Tosser McPegLeg over there.”. The lesson? What appears to be depth often turns out to be a desperate attempt to cover up a lack of depth.

Firstly, Blackbeard does sod all. If Blackbeard manages to make it adjacent to a player, he makes them “Walk The Plank”. They fall in the water for one turn, and then climb back up again. The problem with Blackbeard however, is that he only moves if a player rolls a six on one of his movement dice; and then only if the player chooses to. This means that Blackbeard spends a large part of the game standing on the boat with his hands on his hips, glowing faintly, and staring off into the middle-distance.

If you think about that for more than about thirty seconds, you realise that what’s going to happen most of the time is that Blackbeard will force someone to walk the plank, then stand and stare like an underwear model whilst the same pirate just climbs back into the boat and walks behind him.

The parrot, in case you were wondering, was basically omnipotence in a can. He allowed you to just steal stuff willy-nilly from other players, look to see which key was required to unlock which chest, and you could even look inside any chest to try and divine where the treasure was. The more you think about that, the more you realise that any parrot with those abilities would be worth far more on the black market than any old chest of pieces of eight.

But like any good old galleon, this one came equipped with cannons. The one last ace up the sleeve of the Dread Pirate Noberts was his ability to fire the certain parts of the board, anyway. They didn’t have a particularly good firing arc.

If you were lucky enough to be able to move Blackbeard, and lucky enough to get him so he could fire a cannon, and lucky enough for an opponent to be able to be hit by the particular cannon in question (I remember this happening twice in all the years I played it), then you were able to unleash massive damage. By massive damage I, of course, mean “make the opponent miss a turn whilst they duck for cover”. As this only ever happened when they were already off of the boat and running away with the treasure, it was never really a game breaker.

What was most galling about this game was that when you put all this together that you realise that for all its nice Britrash components and theme, the villain and challenge was so non-existent that the game basically boiled down into “walking onto a boat, picking something up, and leaving again”.

But for all its shoddiness, we kept playing it. Many, many times. The reason for this? Kids, contrary to what any parent may want to tell you, are fucking dumb.

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