Wednesday 3 February 2010

The Worst Games I Have Ever Played

Back in 1991, A Couple of Cowboys (that's the name of the company) and Spears Games released an interesting (although not particularly good) boardgame known as Atmosfear (AKA Nightmare). The central concept was a relatively easy roll-and-move one, but its main gimmick was a) its horror theme (not particularly used in mainstream boardgames, and this was a mainstream game), and b) the fact it required a VCR to play.

The game came packaged with a VHS tape, which displayed a countdown timer, and every now and again “The Gatekeeper” would pop up, and engage in a random game, or event. It was fun at the time...well, it was certainly different from most mainstream/party board-games of the time. There was Monopoly, Triv, Risk, Game of Life, Scrabble and Cluedo, and now this. As fun as those other games were (ie. not very), none of them really allowed to you march endlessly in a circle for an hour whilst some dickass in a sack shouted random things at you.

Anyway, Atmosfear went on to produce a range of expansion packs, sequels and spin-offs, probably due to the fact that it was, for all my cynical bitching, actually pretty good, and had high production values for a mainstream/party game. There were several VHS based board games in the months and years that followed, including a Sherlock Holmes one, and a Star Wars one – scarily both of which I have never played.

Then, this abomination was unleashed onto unsuspecting children – and my Nan and Grandad bought it for my brother and I.

Published by Paul Lamond Games Ltd (hey, I can’t lie, I was expecting it to be Waddingtons as well), the central theme was that you, and the other players, were pirates who had mutinied against the evil Captain Skull, and had snuck onto the island to try and find his treasure, and escape again. So far, so pretty cool, right? Well, the first problem is that your pirate will spend the bulk of the game wandering around like a bumblebee with an inner-ear problem.

Let’s say that your pirate is as Location want to head West, so that you can check to see if the Treasure Chest (B), contains the treasure you are looking for. You pick up card (C), which tells you to, instead, move Three Steps East. It doesn’t matter what you want to do – your pirate (D) is a retard. Pick him up, and put him with the rest of the game (E) throw it in the bin (F).

So, with that in mind, it’s pretty hard to feel sorry for Captain Skull, as it appears that all he’s really suffered is the loss of six left-right dyslexic retards, who don’t have a hope in hell of finding the sea, let alone where he’s left the treasure. Especially, as these are also...wait for it...Asperger’s Pirates.

Each of the pirates is looking for the colour treasure that matches his clothes. The green pirate seeks emeralds, the red pirate rubies...who knew they were so colour co-ordinated? Like any pirate is going to discover...well, more wealth than you could imagine...and turn his nose up at it and say “Gold? Hah! I think not with these slacks! Come on, ladies, let’s go find some amethysts!”

Totally into chicks.

And, as was par for the course for these games, Captain Skull would periodically raise his head, and make you miss a turn, or wander east a certain number of spaces. Also, there was a parrot called Crossbones (which is, to be fair, a pretty bad-ass name for a parrot) who’d flash up on screen and do something beneficial like....make you wander east a certain number of spaces.

He didn’t know if he was helping or not, did he? He was a fucking parrot.

The VHS game system died out a few years later, not (contrary to what most people think) because of the arrival of DVD. The reason the VHS was a reasonably bad gimmick for a board game is simple. A VHS tape cannot react to what is happening, so there is no way that the actions on the board can, at any time, interact with it.

That means that all a VHS (or audio tape, as was the case with Atmosfear’s predecessor Shrieks & Creaks) can do is supply a series of events, much like a deck of cards. However, unlike a deck of cards, or even dice, it will always produce exactly the same thing, at exactly the same time. DVD accompanied board games have managed to circumnavigate this problem to an extent, but they’re nowhere near the size of, say, my Arkham Horror stuff.

But this isn’t the real flaw of Skull & Crossbones. The validity of the VHS tape is neither here nor there – and the rules even mentioned explicity that you could play it without the tape. If that doesn’t underline its pointlessness, nothing will.

“That? Oh, we threw that in there. Use it or don’t. See if I care.”

What should be an awesome game about pirates, mutinying against their captain and trying to make of with his treasure becomes watching your pirate bumble around aimlessly on the whim of the cards and turning down treasure because it doesn’t match his shoes, whilst some jobbing actor with a wart jumps on screen every now and again to have absolutely no impact on the proceedings.

My brother and I, and our friends, played this one a lot. To this day, the best explanation I have is that children are stupid.

Some fight. Other fall. All are heroes.

This soaring, action-packed journey of heroism and sacrifice, in the sweeping tradition of “Black Book” and “The Red Baron”, follows one crusading journalist’s desperate fight to uncover the horrors buried within the infamous Nazi siege of Leningrad in the savage winter of 1941. With the enemy’s grip closing ever tighter on the war-ravaged city, a makeshift band of survivors must battle to stay alive and fight for the ultimate prize: their freedom.

Inspired by true events, this is the tale of the tragedy that befell Leningrad during one of the longest and most destructive sieges in history.

Attack on Leningrad is available on DVD and Blu-ray from 15th February.

Out this week!

Roll with Washoe County Sheriff Department's finest deputies as they stumble through seven of their favourite mishaps and misadventures in this compilation of the very best of Comedy Central and E4's Reno 911!. Reno 911! - Reno's Most Wanted is out on DVD in the U.K. released by Best Medicine.

Thanks to our friends at Best Medicine, we've got three copies of Reno 911! - Reno's Most Wanted to give away! For your chance of winning one, send us an e-mail to with your name and postal address before midday on Wednesday 10th February (UK time). The first three names drawn out of the electronic hat will win a free copy!

Out this week!

Controversial comic Denis Leary leads the pack of Comedy Central Roasts due for release on DVD in February and March 2010. The celebrity roast is a long-standing show business tradition in the US, whereby established performers are paid 'tribute' to with a celebratory evening held in their honour. The twist to this 'accolade' however (and hence the term 'roast') is that the evening's entertainment, by way of speeches and contributions from selected guests, takes the form of comedic insults and jokes at the roastee's expense.

Thanks to our friends at Best Medicine, we've got three copies of Roast of Denis Leary to give away! For your chance of winning one, send us an e-mail to with your name and postal address before midday on Wednesday 10th February (UK time). The first three names drawn out of the electronic hat will win a free copy!

1 comment:

  1. I just found this on a search for the name of that pirate VHS game - thanks for reminding me of it :) I don't remember it being much worse in terms of random wandering than any other video board game, but your summary of it was fantastic - and it's not really difficult to see why the genre died out as a whole.

    All I really remembered about Skull and Crossbones was that when we were playing Atmosfear the next night, someone jumped up and mistakenly shouted "Aye-aye, Captain Skull" at the Gatekeeper, provoking much hilarity.

    Perhaps you're right - we really were slightly stupid.