It's been a while since I did a free-wheelin' freestyle board game column. What I'm saying is that this column will be a train of thought type thing, where I just stumble through the paragraphs flailing wildly for some kind of solid through-line. There will probably be bits of poetry, and links to music videos, but there will also be some incredibly insightful comments about board games, and that's what you're all here for.
Jim has to put a title on this thing, though. So let's say that this one is about THUNDER ROAD. And let's drive!
Thunder Road is perfect. The song, yeah. But the game too.
I'm serious. It's a perfect board game. Everyone loves it. It plays quick and easy. It's never an anti-climax. It has one of the coolest covers of all time. I mean, look at that cover.
You would put that bad boy on the wall above your bed and bring supermodels home with pride. The supermodels would say “Wow. Mad Max. My dad was into that film.” And you would say “No, not Mad Max. A board game by MB.” And they would say “The guys who made Ker-Plunk?” And you would have to say “Yes.”
Do you remember how it plays? Four players, each with three cars and a helicopter. I say three cars, but there's only one car. The other two are a buggy and a truck. Look, I don't drive, so maybe those things ARE cars too. I dunno. I can only tell real life cars apart by colour, for fuck's sake. The board is in two segments, laid out like a road. When a car moves off the end of the second board, the first board gets moved in front and everything that was on it gets dumped. So that's one way to win the game. Go FAST and leave your opponents behind. The other way to win the game is to ram or shoot the living shit out of everybody.
Look at how happy those four little pantywaists are playing this game! And look at the back board being dumped! How much do you want to bet some poor dad steps on one of those hard plastic cars in his bare feet later tonight?
Back to the car combat. You roll a dice for movement. Move up behind a rival car and you can roll to try to shoot it out. Or move right into the space it's on, and try to ram it off the road. Oh, and you can fly your helicopter up alongside a rival car and try to hit it with a rocket launcher. The fights are so easy to execute. Each car has a rank, and to hit a Rank 5 car you need to roll a 5 or more on one die. You learn every rule in the game in ten minutes and then it's all just the squealing of tyres and the screams of your enemies.
Man, this game. Thunder Road isn't like those other old games you pull out for “a laugh” and end up putting away five minutes later for “your sanity”. It hasn't aged a day in the 25 years it's been hanging around people's attics. You pull it out, set it up, position your cars and start rolling. You have choices right away – do you send one car blasting ahead, or do you stack your cars up around your rivals, so that you can maximise attack potential? Do you try to blast on through a wrecked car to make up ground, or do you navigate carefully and risk being left in your rival's dust?
Every player has the same abilities. There are no cards with special powers, no levelling up, no mess, no fuss. Just some toy cars, a road to run them on, and some dice. It's perfect. Wherever it is right now, whether it is in your attic or in your parents house, you better go running and get that game. If it is lying in a crazy ex-boyfriend's house, under a pile of your burned clothes, you go running and fetch it. If it is in some hole in the sand in Afghanistan, under a cache of Taliban weapons, you tool up and go fetch that game. If it is in Dundee, maybe just order it from eBay.
When I play Thunder Road it doesn't make me think of Mad Max. It makes me think of the Fighting Fantasy game book Freeway Fighter. That's what “post-apocalyptic car combat” is to me. Except in Thunder Road you aren't running out of gas all the time. I mean, you ran out of gas ALL THE TIME in Freeway Fighter.
In Freeway Fighter.
In the Fighting Fantasy game book Freeway Fighter.
FIGHTING FANTASY – A POEM
“Turn to 300”
With trembling fingers
You flick past universes
A number, a mystery
Pencil and eraser by your side
In bed, with
Paisley pattern pyjamas
A bald penis
And school tomorrow
But for now?
Possibilities fly through your fingers
Opportunities whisper by
Is this what life is?
“You are DEAD”
MERCHANT OF VENUS CRISIS RESOLVED!
And beautifully resolved.
Do you remember I told you about how two companies, Fantasy Flight and Stronghold Games, both thought they had the rights to produce a new version of the classic Merchant of Venus? And there was a dispute and confusion? It's all fixed, and in a manner that makes everybody look great. Honestly, it's as if everybody involved just loves board games or something. You can read about HOW they resolved it here.
It's nice when people settle disputes peacefully.
BATTLES OF WESTEROS
You might remember that I recommended this game to all of you. And you might remember that in an ongoing war against my girlfriend I had gone 4-1 down. You might remember me having a tantrum in front of you.
Well, I hauled it back to 4-4, and my girlfriend was so disgusted she said she had to “take a break” for a bit. For me, that is the mark of a great game. When your opponent is so broken down, so defeated and destroyed, that they have to TAKE A BREAK TO RECOVER – that is a great game right there.
Many board games are light and fluffy fun. You win, or you lose, and you say “That's nice, I managed to manufacture lots of cotton in that last turn.” You put the game away and you forget about it. But the BEST games stick with you. They stick a knife in you. You go to bed in a bad mood. You need to TAKE A BREAK.
So we took the break, and recently sat down to our ninth game. God, it was tense. The break had, if anything, made things worse. We had been needling each other about it for months. The build-up was at Ali-Foreman levels. Laying out the game was like some kind of ceremony – we made sure that all the wee men were pointing in the right direction and that all the cards were straight.
And then we played. As a dirty Lannister, I had to burn down lots of villages. The Starks had to somehow reach us in time to stop our onslaught. It looked, to me, like I had the upper hand in this scenario. I couldn't see any way that I could lose, if I played things smart.
You will forgive me if I copy and past something from that previous article, for my own benefit.
“You see, in Battles of Westeros, luck is always going to play some part in things. But a smart player plays so that he isn’t ever depending on the dice. Do you get that now, Robert? A smart player makes it so that he isn’t rolling the dice with his heart in his throat because he’s SCREWED if they come up with less than optimal results, you dickhead.”
5-4 Starks. Totally SICKENED.
It's not too late to get on board with this great game, you know.
It's a photo special next week. After I talk about a new game, I want to show you some photographs of board games, to show you how beautiful they are. Sound good? Good. Until then, stay dicey. (Last time I use that. Cringing.)