Hey Harvey!

Posted on Apr 16th 2018 at 08:00:00 AM by (slackur)
Posted under Missile Command, Board Games

I think it is fair to say that translating video games to board and card games has been overall more successful than video games to movies.  Yet sadly these video game based board and card games are far less popular.  I only make that point because while I have enjoyed certain video game based movies, they are always in the position of having to be defended; board and card games based on video games often don't even have that luxury or visibility.  They tend to barely blip on the interest radar, just curiosities that may be picked up or gifted and then shoved to the 'board game' shelf behind known classics that never get to be played. (With the occasional groan-inducing holiday exception.)

To be fair, there are many terrible video game card and board games, but our home has seen a high percentage of exceptionally fun ones: the Halo Wars and Metal Gear Solid versions of Risk are superb, bringing in extra rules and themes that complement both the franchises and original board game.  The Tetris card game is simple fun, as is the Minecraft Card game, and even the Mario Party card game is kinda nifty.  The deck-building Resident Evil card game is well done, and I hear great things about the Bloodborne and Dark Souls card games as well.  And the Dragon Age pen and paper role playing game is pretty much a traditional AD&D campaign set in an excellent fantasy universe.

Still, I think we had reason to be hesitant about a Missile Command board game.  The original Atari game is a classic, no doubt, but trying to imagine a board game version really just brought to mind my family and friends sitting at a table with markers, slowly drawing across the table to try and land on some hastily drawn city in front of the next person, while they frantically try to draw an asterix nearby to counter the incoming scribbles. (In retrospect, that actually sounds hilarious.  Time to put a huge whiteboard and a package of markers on the shopping list!).

I'm very happy to report that those initial reserves were handily blown to bits after our first game.  Missile Command has already rocketed to the top of my favorite board games (video game-based or not.)  It plays quickly, has an excellent balance of ease-of-play and complexity, and matches strategic thinking with subterfuge and just enough luck to keep a great tension.

There are four phases per round, with the game ending during the phase a player loses all six of their own cities.  The first phase involves purchasing missiles (target player specific, as each player picks a color and missiles are color coded) as well as nukes (can destroy adjacent cities) and interceptors (defensively takes out one missile attack.)  Negotiations and trades are encouraged during this phase (ala Monopoly and Risk) where missiles, nukes, interceptors, money, and (verbally promised) attack plans/truces are exchanged.  The instructions brilliantly offer two suggestions to this phase; truces and plans are under no game-rule obligation to be followed, and for a three minute timer to be set so everything is under a timed pressure.  We did this, with a ticking smartphone amping up the tension, and it was a fantastic addition. 

The planning phase involves each player plotting their attacks on a grid hidden behind a game screen to hide their plan from other players.  On a simple six city grid, each player places a color-coded missile on the city represented on the grid to attack another player.  (So, behind the green player's screen, the green player places a orange missile on their (the green player's) city grid hidden behind the screen to attack the orange player's city.)  Every player silently sets up their attack in secret. 

The third phase has every player removing their screen and each "attack" happens simultaneously, even though players take turns resolving the attacks and defenses.  In a smart game mechanic, not only can expensive interceptors defeat a missile, but if two players attack each other's same city (say, blue player attacks red's city two, and red attacks blue's two also,) the missiles hit each other and both players' cities are safe.  This really opens up defensive strategy, as missiles can be used to predict and defend against attacks as well as to attack, but the correct player and missile color has to match; thus, there is an intriguing bluff/guessing element between players that elevates Missile Command over simpler games like Battleship.

Upping the destructive ante is additional game-changing bonuses for a player whose cities are destroyed; each city, which is represented by randomly doled-out cards before the game starts, flips over once hit with a missile, and grants its owner (not the destroyer) a bonus.   These are game-changing and range from a quick influx of cash, to forcing an opposing player to permanently remove their game screen, or instantly replacing a destroyed city, or rewarding more end-game points for stockpiling unused missiles!  There are lots of variations. 

So, as a player loses cities they become more powerful, but the game is not last-man-standing; the game ends when any player loses all six cities.  After that, a simple point calculation for each player involves rewarding cities remaining and destroyed, money and missile remaining, etc.  This means sometimes it is to a player's advantage to go all-out offensive, or sometimes the opposite; maybe even protecting another player to delay the game ending, so that more points can be accumulated.  If the game doesn't end during the third phase, the forth phase involves collecting money from cities and resolving any city-destroyed card abilities, and then back to phase one.

The game can be played with three to six players, and more players change up the value of interceptors and defensive missiles, counterattacks, and bluffs.  I recommend trying it out with different mixes of the number of players, it really does become a slightly different game (in a flexible, good way) depending on how many are playing.  A three player game lasts about an hour plus, with a six player game about twice as long.  Optional rules like city shields can extend the base game time and alter strategies.  Because of the "simultaneous" nature of all of the phases, there really isn't any down time, which is an amazing difference compared to many other board games where once your turn is up, you immediately start surfing the web on your phone or make a few quick Rifts character sheets until you can play again. 

In summation, I highly recommend Missile Command.  If you have at least two other folks who will play, it is a great time.  A few of our friends who tried it at our place almost immediately went and bought their own copies and played with their friends and families, so that is about the best thing that can be said about any game!

Even still, I'm putting that whiteboard and dry-erase markers on my next shopping list...

(All pics from the official idwgames.com web site.)

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An interesting idea.  I had no idea this was a thing, but it sounds interesting.  Sadly, aside from a couple cousins, I don't know anyone who might be willing to play with me yet, since I just moved to a new city, but hopefully those opportunities will come.  Sounds like a fun game, though.  Thanks for the article!

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