Idle Remorse

Review: Arch Rival

Review: Arch Rival
Publisher: Parker Brothers
Year: 1992
Tagline: the game of balance… nerves… and suspense

The cover shows an arch and looks vaguely art deco

how we met

I have passed over Arch Rival for years now even though its orange cover calls to me every single time. I had never played it before, and I am usually up for trying a dexterity game. I think the thing was that I see Arch Rival at thrift so often that there was always next time.

But like in real life, there’s always next time until there’s not. At some point either Bill or I pulled the trigger and actually purchased Arch Rival to play with our group.

how it plays

In Arch Rival your goal is to NOT be the player to make the arch collapse. Like most dexterity games, this game does not have a single winner so much as it has a single loser.

To begin play, use the two ARCH SUPPORTS to set up the play area. The end result of this is an arch of empty COMPARTMENTS that are on a rocking base. One of the COMPARTMENTS is blue and includes an arrow showing that it is the KEYSTONE. This piece must always go in the middle. The rest of the COMPARTMENTS can be placed willy nilly, strategically, argumentatively, or in any way your group wants. It’s probably best to split up the colors, or have a rule that the same colors can’t be touching, but what do I know? When all pieces are in place, remove the ARCH SUPPORTS.

Ready for play is the arch with empty compartments
Here we are ready to play. Note how the base rocks!

The game comes with 50 playing PIECES that you place around the table within reach of all players.

On a player’s turn, they roll both of the dice. One die has numbers and the other has colors. The number die shows the number of PIECES that player must place into a single COMPARTMENT. The color die shows the color options of COMPARTMENT that player can choose from. Or, if it’s blue, there is no option except the KEYSTONE.

The color die also has a side that just says ARCH RIVAL. If a player rolls that side of the die then the player to their left can decide which COMPARTMENT they must use that turn, except they cannot pick the KEYSTONE.

A pic of the dice
The dice, having seen better days

Play continues in this manner until the weight of the PIECES becomes too much for any particular section of the arch. The player that causes the arch to fall loses Arch Rival (whether it is their turn or not). Everyone else wins!

Now, it is possible to run out of PIECES entirely. In this case, players only roll the color die. If they roll a color they choose one COMPARTMENT of that color to empty of its pieces. If there is no COMPARTMENT of that color then play passes on.

If you roll Arch Rival instead of a color then the player to your left chooses which color COMPARTMENT you are required to empty. They can only assign color and not a specific COMPARTMENT. However they are not allowed to tell you to empty the KEYSTONE (the blue COMPARTMENT).

The different shapes of pieces lined up from heaviest to lightest
The PIECES ranged from heavy to light. Once you can hold the different pieces, it’s fairly obvious which are the heaviest to lightest. But we did the legwork with the help of a food scale to confirm our assumptions.

The rules do not really address what happens after a few PIECES are back into play. Do we continue to empty COMPARTMENTS? Do we let the next player go? If they roll higher than available PIECES do they just do what they can? We just played like they do what they can with available pieces, but this is unclear.

how it went

We played Arch Rival a few times one evening, and it turned out that Keri had played the game in her youth. She was basically ruthless. But Arch Rival does depend upon dice rolls for play, so you can only be so strategic.

One of our plays, with a ton of items in blue
This particular play saw a lot of action in the KEYSTONE. I get rules wrong a lot, and in one of our plays I didn’t realize players to the left can’t choose the KEYSTONE. This must be that play.

If you play for the first time and build the arch carefully, it might seem like the arch will never fall. Trust me, it will. Arch Rival adopts the same rules of many dexterity games that you are not safe until you pass the die. And even if it is not your turn, if you cause the arch to fall then you lose.

And that brings me to the end of our play. John had a new phone and had already mentioned that it was more slippery than he was used to. And at some point that phone came crashing to the table, followed shortly by our arch. And John lost Arch Rival!

We played a few times though. I definitely lost at least one of those. It’s not like I have time to balance weird spiral things into overly-full COMPARTMENTs all day.

An image after one of our crashes, showing compartments and pieces all over
A post-crash shot from one of our plays

Our group likes dexterity games pretty well. We have reviewed a few at this point and played even more. But I think there is something limiting in an arch that is made up of COMPARTMENTs that you place things into. It feels shallow. It doesn’t really matter how careful you are placing a PIECE into a COMPARTMENT, until it does, so you can slack off until you can’t and it’s too late. That’s not true of many dexterity games.

play or pass

Pass. The cover of Arch Rival is so alluring with its modern-take-on-art-deco and the plain orangeness of it. But rolling a die that so specifically tells me my options felt less interesting than other dexterity games. Balance was a lot less important than luck, so the whole dexterity mechanic takes a back burner.

That said, this game is simple and brings the same tension that many dexterity games do. It was not my particular taste in dexterity games, but still delivers many of the benefits of that genre.

Review: Chipmunks superpopomatic 3-D Action Game

Review: Chipmunks superpopomatic 3-D Action Game
Publisher: Ideal
Year: 1984
Tagline: Join the Chipmunks and Chipettes in a frantic race to find the lost pirate treasures!

The cover shows an overview of the board at an angle

how we met

We picked this one up this summer at a random thrift shop. Bill remembered it from his youth, and it was only five bucks. Sold.

how it plays

I didn’t know at first! Our copy did not come with instructions and I was not lucky trying to find them online. Kudos to Matt Wilkins whose YouTube channel told us what we needed to know to play. If you enjoy vintage board games, I highly recommend tuning into Matt’s reviews and annual top 100 list. If his enthusiasm does not get you excited to check out some new old games, then probably nothing will.

Each player chooses a pawn. Traps are set up on the board. Treasure chests are mixed up and then placed randomly in the identified places on the board.

Pawns are images of the 3 chipmunks and 3 chipettes
Our heroes

One by one players enter the board at the enter space. From here, you will notice that the possible paths are indicated by dotted lines. Roll the die using the popomatic and move your pawn that many spaces.

An overview shot of the board
So you can maybe see in this photo how your path must follow the outlined (hard to see) paths. The start space is bottom row, four from the right, with the brown scroll looking thing.

One side of the die shows a red blast icon. If you roll this icon you can choose a trap to set off, which will endanger any pawns in the nearby spaces with skulls on them. For example, a pawn on the plank will be flipped and go back to start. A pawn near the sails will be knocked over and go back to start. A pawn near the palm tree will be knocked away by the falling tree and go back to start.

The plank trap
This one doesn’t work great. But if you slap it hard enough you can flip anything on it.
The plastic sails, that pivot
This trap just spins in its space and wipes out anything nearby in the skull zone (spaces on the board in danger have skulls on them)
The palm tree trap is a plastic palm tree that can close in half
A soft wind might cause this palm tree top half to drop down suddenly and everyone in the surrounding skull spaces must go back to start

The goal is for the players to eventually collect all of the treasure chests on the board between them. These chests remain closed until the very end of the game. Once all chests have been collected, crack them open! They will contain anywhere from one to three gold nuggets, except one single chest contains only a boot. The player that gets the boot gets no points, regardless of any other chests in their possession.

the chests, 3 open and 3 closed
This is what the chests look like, including that nasty chest containing a boot!

The player with the most gold nuggets and no boot wins!

how it went

I was excited to play Chipmunks superpopomatic 3-D Action Game. I never owned any of the Chipmunks board games as a kiddo, but I watched the movie The Chipmunk Adventure obsessively. I even wrote the lyrics from the song “My Mother” onto some shitty homemade paper as a gift for my mom on Mother’s Day one year, a million years ago.

Gameplay was pretty quick. But it was also really annoying. The play is clear and simple, but the plastic board blocks everything you need to see. You need to basically stand over and look down on the board closely to see where the dangerous spots are and even where your possible movement is. I wonder if the board was brighter and clearer years ago. Even if it was, I can’t imagine your path was easy to see at any kind of angle.

A side view of the board, like from where a player would be seeing it
You can kind of see the dashed lines, but not very well. Fail.

I enjoy the game’s traps. They are similar to 13 Dead End Drive in their nastiness. The plank trap doesn’t always work well, but it’s a pleasure to try.

And obviously the gambler in me loves having mystery treasure chests that may ruin my entire game, or help establish my victory. The game (at least my copy) came with 6 treasure chests but only 5 are placed on the board. There is an interesting consideration around whether obtaining more treasure chests just puts you in more danger of finding the dud, but that is mitigated even more by knowing it might not even be in play. In our play we just raced for as many as we could get.

Our play
A shot of our play

In the end, Bill was lucky enough to get the chest with three gold nuggets. Keri was unlucky enough to get the boot along with one other chest. At this point what John and I got didn’t matter, since we had one chest each and neither could have three gold nuggets. Bill won Chipmunks superpopomatic 3-D Action Game!

play or pass

Pass. My pass recommendation has less to do with the simplicity of the roll and move gameplay and more to do with how difficult it is to see where you can move, when you are in danger, how to set up the board. Although I enjoy opening any treasure chests I received at the end of the game, getting to that point is way more difficult than it should be.

Review: Scan

Review: Scan
Publisher: Parker Brothers
Year: 1970
Tagline: SPLIT-SECOND MATCHING GAME

Cover says Scan at the top and shows a few smaller photos of eyes, people playing, and a close up of the deck

how we met

I saw Scan one day, and I bought it. Simple as that. Scan is not the type of game that has a loud voice that calls to you from the thrift store shelves. But if you happen to notice Scan and look it up, you will find plenty of interest. Or at least I did.

how it plays

Scan is a pattern recognition, speed game with two different decks of cards that each have specific designs on them in four quadrants. The blue cards get placed around the table so that each player can easily reach them. The tan cards get shuffled and placed in the plastic card holder, with the special COVER CARD on the top.

The tan card says Cover Card on top
The deck before play begins looks juuuuust like this

NOTE: I notice the cover of the game shows tan and blue swapped. My instructions show tan cards are the deck, and you can see the COVER CARD is tan. But check your instructions or go off your COVER CARD to be safe.

Cards include four different types of design areas: color, shape, pattern and position. The first player decides which design pattern will be used and removes the COVER CARD. Then all players quickly try to find the single blue card that will match the tan card.

When a player thinks they have found the correct card, they touch it. Speed is critical here, but players must also be careful! If they touch an incorrect card they are not only out of the round, but the winning player gets to take one of their points (if they have any)!

Four sample tan cards showing four different design patterns on each
Here is a quick look at four of the possible tan cards

If a player is the first to touch the correct card then they get to keep the tan card, and the next tan card showing instantly begins the next round!

After all tan cards are gone, the player with the most points (cards collected) wins Scan!

how it went

We played Scan the first time using the “Dealer’s Choice” variant, which means the winning player gets to choose which design is used next. Scan already borders on a skill game, and this variant seems to allow players to play to their personal strengths. And it seemed like it would prevent players from bothering to memorize cards near them. And it seemed more fun and challenging.

NOTE: The game also suggests a “Bluffo” variant that sounds fun, check it out

The blue cards laid out on the table
The playing area, with blue cards laid out

At some point Bill suggested that we sort all the blue cards on the table so that they are oriented the same direction. But I like them random. It makes the game a lot more challenging, particularly with the Position designs.

To me personally, Color and Pattern were easiest because you could quickly scan and disregard cards. I was okay at Shape. And as mentioned, Position was tough at times due to orientation of the cards.

The deck and the blue cards behind
So no matter which pattern I choose, only one blue card will match that pattern on this tan card. Find it first to get the point!

We played a similar game to this (that I have yet to write a review on) called Monster Mash that is violent and amazing. In that game a machine is randomly creating a monster and you have to find the matching monster card and pick it up with your plastic monster hand before other players. It gets very animated.

FUN FACT: as of this writing, Monster Mash and Scan enjoy identical average ratings on BGG at 5.7. This makes perfect sense to me since Monster Mash requires slamming down plastic bits, which is really fun, while Scan is more sophisticated by allowing multiple patterns.

What surprised me about Scan is that there aren’t really players slamming their hands onto cards – at least in our case this only happened a few times. Instead players usually did a super quick back and forth visual check and slowly, softly placed their hand on their chosen card. We only had two instances of close calls where we had to decide who was there first. And I think we all picked the wrong card on at least one occasion.

Our play shows someone choosing their card
Nice and gentle, see? Also John might have fallen behind because he took some photos

Bill and Keri were ahead for most of our play while John and I lagged behind. At some point I caught my stride and got a number of points back to back (or nearly). And when the last tan card was claimed, we had a three way tie between Bill, Keri, and me. Getting a three way tie is kind of ridiculous, but I won’t know until we play some more whether that is common or a problem. I doubt it would happen without the “Dealer’s Choice” variant.

play or pass

Play! I think I would enjoy Scan even if I never won. The game is a challenge, a small puzzle, and you can improve at playing this type of game. And that’s where my biggest gripe is, and it’s one you’ve heard from me before. As much as many board game players detest luck, I detest games that are too reliant on any specific skill. And pattern recognition is definitely a skill. But Scan’s introduction of different design choices for recognition definitely mitigates that concern and does a lot to even the playing field. This game’s really fun.

I’ve seen Scan twice at thrift, so it’s out there. I think Scan is the type of game that is not for everyone, so you will see it make its way into the thrift cycle every so often. Or follow it online and you can probably find it for a decent price. But I’m keeping my copy!

Review: The Secrets Game

Review: The Secrets Game
Publisher: Milton Bradley
Year: 1987
Tagline: (none)

This cover is burgundy with The Secrets Game in gold

how we met

I do not have a clear memory of picking up The Secrets Game (surprise!), so I am pretty sure Bill found it on one of his treks in the thrifting wild. He recalls opening it up and looking at a single card to make sure that the game was not an instant veto, and then it ended up at our home!

Party games are good for our group. They mostly meet us at our level and let us define the level of enjoyment. We will pick up a lot of party games.

how it plays

The Secrets Game is a party game where one player acts as a Storyteller and takes prompts from cards and tells a story about themselves that is either true or false. The fellow players, the Listeners, vote using hidden chips whether what the Storyteller said is TRUTH or a LIE, while the Storyteller uses their own hidden token to let others know either way.

Hidden tokens that say LIE on one side and TRUTH on the other
The TRUTH and LIE tokens

Everyone reveals their hidden tokens at once. Each Listener that matches with the Storyteller receives one point. The Storyteller gets one point for each Listener that does not match with them, because they tricked that player!

Unpunched scoring tokens
You are supposed to track your score with tokens (seen here, unpunched) and write it down at the end of each round. We just wrote it down the whole way instead

The game continues until four rounds have been completed, so until each player has been the Storyteller four times. Then the player with the most points wins The Secrets Game!

how it went

We played this one at the end of our game night, and I would even venture to say it was at the point that most of us assumed game night was over. We had already played four games that evening, including one of our active legacy games. But as enthusiastic as I am to get games into my house, Bill is also very enthusiastic to see them out again. And so he pulled out The Secrets Game. And we rallied.

There’s something deeply comforting about learning what things in life you are terrible at. Whether in future you choose to avoid them or just accept them, at least now you know. And I am terrible at bluffing.

But I was okay at guessing when my friends were bluffing, so I was able to score some points anyway. So being a good bluffer is just part of the play with The Secrets Game.

At the end of the night, I had the last play. I already couldn’t win, so it didn’t totally matter what I did. But I tried to play it straight because I am a very serious board game player. And the best chance I had with the cards at my disposal was to tell my awful friends a tale about how I responded to a dating ad once. Which I have never done. Because I am shy and generally ungainly.

Some of the cards including things like "The last time I lied about my age was..."
Here are some of the awful choices you will have during the game!

So I start this tale about how in my early 20’s I responded to a Missed Connection from Craigslist. This was met by laughter. I stayed strong and straight-faced and said the event happened in a grocery store. More laughter. At this point I started laughing myself, and I was only just able to explain that we both reached for the same pineapple before I collapsed into hopeless giggles. Everyone slammed down their LIE tokens, and we ended the evening. Bill won in a landslide.

The scoresheet shows Bill with 17, Jen 12, John 12 and Keri 9
See what I mean? The scoring tokens seem superfluous. I think they just wanted to put the logo on more stuff

play or pass

Pass. We had a lot of laughs with this game, but I think it has some fatal flaws. I am not a very good bluffer (read: I am the worst bluffer of all time), but even I can take a real story and change only minor details and claim that it is a lie. Or the cards will quite obviously not apply to a given player at all. These things break the game for all but the most steel-faced and creative of game groups. And where’s the party game in that?

Review: Mad Magazine Card Game

Review: Mad Magazine Card Game
Publisher: Parker Brothers
Year: 1979
Tagline: (none)

Cover is red with random cards shown. This cover is lightened by sun.

how we met

I think Bill brought Mad Magazine Card Game home one day. I have never personally seen it at thrift, only at antique stores, and antique stores are expensive. Our copy looks like it spent at least 20 of its 40 years in direct sunlight, and the cards are well-worn and used, resembling limp noodles. But it was playable, and we played it!

how it plays

Mad Magazine Card Game is an Uno variant with a little extra “take that” for your terrible friends. Each player receives 8 cards. The remaining deck is the draw deck, and the first card in that deck is placed face up as the beginning of the discard pile. The first player to get rid of all of their cards wins!

The card tray with a draw deck and discard pile
It has one of those fun, plastic card trays!

On your turn, you can either play a card or discard a card. Most cards have a specific color and a specific number. Other cards might let you change the order of play, give two of your cards to an opponent, make an opponent draw one, etc.

Miscellaneous cards showing a Wild, a green 3, a blue 4, a yellow 6, a Which Way
These are some of the miscellaneous cards in the deck

If you have a card that matches the top card of the discard pile with either its color or number, you can discard that card. Generally you want to try and get rid of higher number cards. The majority of cards include a number on them, and if they do not they are worth 5. If you can’t play anything you must draw another card. You can play that card right away if it matches, but otherwise it sits in your hand.

There is one, single Joker card in the deck. It can be a wild card, meaning you can play it on top of any card you like. You can also use it to declare the end of the game. If that happens, all players add up the points in their hands, including the player that played the Joker. The player with the fewest points wins!

The Joker card shows Alfred E Neuman in a jester hat
Oh, Alfred, you joker!

If the Joker is not played, the first player to get rid of all cards in their hand wins!

how it went

We played Mad Magazine Card Game one night with 3 players. The game is really easy to understand, so we were up and running very quickly. We picked on each other fairly evenly, and we all stalled around the same time. But I ultimately got a lucky draw and won Mad Magazine Card Game!

A shot of our play
My only shot of our play

Our play was only maybe 10-15 minutes, which was just about right for this game. Mad Magazine Card Game is full of fun art, as one would expect from a Mad Magazine property. And gameplay was fine, as one would expect from an Uno variant.

This shows the progression of the red cards where Alfred's outfit slowly unravels
The illustrations all change as the numbers progress. This is just one example

play or pass

Pass. This type of card game is okay, but it doesn’t really appeal to me. If I had a friend that loved Uno I would be happy to play every so often, but it’s not a keeper for me personally.

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