Review: Vanity Chase
Publisher: Patomike, Inc.
Year: 1988
Tagline: The Outrageously Fun Game You Already Play …

Vanity Chase cover

how we met

I found Vanity Chase in a small shop in an even smaller Wisconsin town. In fact the shop had two copies, neither in tip-top shape. I opted for the copy that appeared to have all cards even though it was missing some pawns and the timer was broken.

I enjoy puzzles and word games, so this really seemed like a game I would enjoy. Plus the late 80’s have been pretty lucky for me from a random gaming standpoint.

how it plays

You are on a road trip through California, and your goal is to reach the FINISH. However your car may not move unless you are able to guess a license plate correctly. All spaces on the board are either white or blue, representing the color of card that you need to answer before continuing your drive.

Players start in the START place, which is considered a white plate or level 1 difficulty. At this level you simply guess what the plate says. If you are successful then you may roll and move; your play continues as long as you continue to accurately guess the license plates. If you roll a zero then you do not move, obviously, but may continue play.

Car pawns at start

Start your engines! My copy did not have all the pawns so we dug some up

Blue is level 2 difficulty. You must guess what the license plate says as well as an additional bit of trivia about the driver based on a category hint you get on the front of the card such as hobby/occupation, celebrity, vehicle or sports. For example the license plate might show KPMLAFN and say hobby/occupation which means Keep ’em laughing and represents a comedian.

Spaces on the board may also have numbers on them that could be positive or negative. The game board has a legend that indicates what happens when you land on a given number. You might have to send someone else back, send all players back, move ahead, etc.

Legend showing consequences of number

The number legend

When you reach the FINISH you are at black plates and level 3 difficulty. This is it. The culmination of the road trip. Black is the same as blue level 2 difficulty except that you do not get a hint of the category for the extra fact (the hobby, celebrity, vehicle or sports). The first player to successfully answer a black plate at the FINISH wins!

Pawns near finish

A snapshot of our play nearing the end

how it went

The path from START to FINISH looks pretty short, so we decided at the outset to be strict when it came to answers. If an answer was not fairly exact then that player would not get to roll. That helped the game last a bit longer.

Game board

The game board, pretty short really

Despite the difficulty levels indicated by the card types, the difficulty felt random. There were definitely some softballs in the cards, but there were some that had us confused even after reading them.

Our gameplay did improve as we went along. You start to pick up the tricks for how things are represented. Our play also got less formal and we would ask to guess each other’s cards before reading the answers. There were times that the plate starts out looking like utter nonsense and you are able to work out what it says, piece by piece. That is very satisfying, kind of like a really difficult algebra problem that suddenly snaps into focus.

License plate cards

The license plate cards. Note the categories in the corners of the blue cards

The game does show its shelf life in certain cases, primarily the blue celebrity and vehicle cards. In some cases the celebrity was iconic, like Marilyn Monroe, and could fairly easily be guessed by our age group. Other times it was very dated and downright hopeless. Like Maytag Repairman, who is not top of mind for me.

Sometimes it had weird specificity too. For example a vehicle might be something general like a sports car or convertible. Other times it might be Mazda RX7 or Pontiac Firebird Formula One. That was a weird move. License plates and cars are related, no doubt about it. But if you wanted to make a car game, make a car game. Don’t tease me with a word game and then ask me to know cars. I don’t give a tinker’s cuss about cars. But John does, so it was not lost on the group entirely.

play or pass

Pass. Maybe my hopes were too high with the concept, but ultimately I was disappointed. I started out enjoying Vanity Chase and kept slowing it down by sending people backward when I could. None of my fellow gamers seemed to appreciate the game as much. OK they mostly couldn’t stand it. I wish more consideration was given to the cards’ relevance in the future. Then we might have enjoyed it more 30 years later.

By the time the game ended we were beyond ready for it to be over. I think we even cheered when someone won, so that was nice.