Review: Trial of the Century
Publisher: IJP LLC
Year: 1995
Tagline: State vs O.J.

Cover saying Trial of the Century State vs OJ and showing a Bronco driving down the road with people holding signs of support

how we met

I had never heard of this gem before and saw it sitting behind the counter at a shop we stopped by. I could see it was called Trial of the Century and my phone told me it was about the O.J. Simpson trial. Somewhat miraculously, I was able to keep myself from purchasing the game at the time (thanks BGG rating reviewers, you helped!). But it made its way onto my wishlist and on we merrily went with our day.

Fast forward about two weeks and circumstances had us back at this shop. We stop by a few times a year but back-to-back visits like this were unusual. I only have so much willpower. Bill found a few things that he wanted to pick up, so I asked the proprietor if he still had that Trial of the Century game. And yes, it was still there hidden away on a tall shelf. He pulled out a step-stool and pulled it down for us, and off we went with our purchases.

how it plays

I was kind of dreading this part. Trial of the Century is a roll and move game where your pawn moves from the beginning to the end on a winding road. And no, the pawns are not white Broncos.

Stakes are high on this game: there are not just winners and losers in Trial of the Century but per the rules, specifically, the first player to reach the FREEDOM SQUARE gets acquitted. The second player gets a hung jury (sorry tax payers!). The third player gets convicted of 2nd degree murder. The last player gets 1st degree murder (in case you didn’t watch Law and Order like I did, I believe the difference between 1st and 2nd degree is premeditation) and a sentence of the electric chair.

Overview of board showing a start space and winding road leading to freedom space

The board set up to play. Note the portion of road with a shoulder on it.

The game board has spaces indicating DEFENSE and PROSECUTION which each have their own deck of cards. The pawns can be assumed to be O.J. so DEFENSE cards will generally help you out and PROSECUTION cards will generally be negative.

If you land on DEFENSE you draw a card from the deck, read it aloud and do what it says, which generally moves your pawn forward.

Example DEFENSE cards including one stating "Cochran got Michael Jackson off the hook"

Michael Jackson has a cameo in Trial of the Century

On a player’s turn they can choose to prosecute another player. They do this by moving to the side of the road (for some reason), drawing a PROSECUTION card and then reading it aloud and applying the damage to whichever player they choose. Generally these cards move a player backwards.

Example prosecution cards including one stating that OJ seemed upset at his daughter's recital

You can see that these are all things that might help the prosecution’s case

NOTE: The rules are genuinely unclear on whether or not you can prosecute in addition to moving your own pawn or if you must choose between one or the other. When questions like this come up we often err on the side of a shorter game, so we played it that if you were next to a shoulder in the road at the end of your turn you could also prosecute.

That’s pretty much it. You are trying to get to the end by rolling well, hopefully landing on DEFENSE for a little boost and sending your fellow O.J.s backwards when you can.

The first player to reach the end wins!

how it went

This game is super dumb and super short. The road itself is actually quite short for an entire game of play, so we moved very quickly along and seemed to pass over just about every DEFENSE space there was. Between the four of us we landed on DEFENSE maybe three times the entire game and got soft, gentle boosts forward. The DEFENSE deck was almost a non-issue.

We prosecuted the hell out of each other but even that was minor, like flicking someone on the shoulder. Annoying is too strong a word for it. It was like the difference between rolling a 4 and a 5. This just reinforced our decision to prosecute on our turns. It would have been truly annoying if we had to give up our own turn to send someone back one or two spaces.

Since the cards came into play so rarely during our play, the game was really just roll and move, first to the end. No bacon slides, no strategy, no charming pawns, no art to rest your eyes on. Nothing.

Close up of Bundy St. Residence illustration showing outline of bodies

OK, no art is a slight exaggeration

In the end I won just by sheer rolling decently. It was wholly unsatisfying, but I get few wins and I’ll take it. Bill was able to achieve the mistrial, Keri got 2nd degree guilty verdict and John brought up the rear.

My copy of Trial of the Century has the same quirk that Elvis Presley ‘King of Rock’ Game had: it was released immediately and it sucks. Unlike the Elvis game, it really embraces the subject matter. It says “State vs O.J.” really huge on the front and side of the cover. The verdict for the very famous O.J. Simpson murder trial was announced October 3, 1995. The rules of my game are copyright 1995.

Now I think that timeline is interesting, but it does not necessarily mean the game was released after the verdict. But no matter what angle you look at it, the goal here seemed to be, “Quick get it out the door.”

The game includes cards that play on aspects of the trial, so it was definitely released well into the 11-month ordeal. Generally speaking the PROSECUTION cards note evidence and circumstances that support their theory of what happened while DEFENSE cards note evidence and circumstances that may raise doubt in the prosecution’s theory. Let’s take a look at some of those cards.

This card says Fuhrman is portrayed as a racist

This one doesn’t make sense to me. I would think it would move the O.J. pawn forward not backward

This card says "Marcia Clark gets new hairdo"

Yes, Marcia’s hair is mentioned

This card reads "He screamed! She screamed! They all screamed for ice cream!"

Ice cream did play a part in the trial, but this is pretty crass

This card reads "Blood from under victims fingernails was type B, unlike Simpson, Brown or Goldman"

A few of the cards are very cold facts like this

Another similarity with Elvis Presley ‘King of Rock’ Game is that another version of The Trial of the Century, the one that has the most photos and information on Board Game Geek, seemed to be released later, in 1996, and has zero mention of O.J. Simpson, Marcia Clark, Johnnie Cochran or any of the gang. It’s an entirely different game.

For purposes of comparison, I will call my version the 1995 version (white cover, blatant O.J. references) and the other the 1996 version (dark cover, removal of direct O.J. references, different gameplay).

The art direction is a stark change since my 1995 version has almost none at all. Really just the cover and the board. The 1996 copy has illustrations on the various cards, and they have taken on a generic humor that might call certain people to mind while not naming them, such as the character “Mooching House Guest.” They also have a caricature-like approach to the illustrations that was likely meant to soften and humorize the subject matter.

The newer 1996 copy also seems to have a fairly generic board that goes in a square, where the cards allow you to move forward and backward. I have never seen this copy but just based on the card images available on BGG it seems like a slightly more complex game. But to be fair, that was a really, really low bar.

Trial of the Century (1995) is not very gamely. It is not using the board and die and pawns as a vehicle for humor or lessons either; those are absent as much as the game play is. The game does not stick to facts enough to be considered educational. It’s really a train wreck in every way – the “gameplay,” the art, the choice of certain card text, the card effects, the frequency of drawing cards. But the events and the trial were a train wreck too. And clearly someone wanted this 1995 version off shelves at some point. So now the world gets two versions of Trial of the Century.

BGG has very little user-generated content like ratings and reviews on Trial of the Century, and most of them appear to be related to the 1996 version. One user wrote in just to say it’s the worst premise they had ever seen for a game and that it was in bad taste. It’s difficult to argue with that, but this event was a cultural phenomenon that caused a lot of merchandise and cash-ins, and these things were consumed. Perhaps a more nuanced game could have helped people to process what took place or even understand the US criminal justice system a bit better. A lost opportunity.

play or pass

Pass. Pass all day long. This is one of one of the worst games I have ever played. The “take that” mechanic is just a whisper along the highway that sends one of your fellow O.J.s back a space, maybe two, rarely more. So mostly you are just rolling and moving, and that’s it. When I get a vintage roll and move game that does not have equivalents for “Go” and “Chance” and “Parking Lot” I tend to give it credit. But, like, it still needs some game mechanics.

Trial of the Century could quite possibly be referenced as the epitome of cynical cash-in games. There seems to have been zero consideration given to game play and the theme was approached with a very heavy hand.