Review: Maniac
Publisher: Ideal
Year: 1979
Tagline: The Fiendishly Clever Paranoid Electronic Game THAT TESTS YOUR SENSES IN FOUR DIFFERENT WAYS!

how we met

I met Maniac at the Kane County Toy Show last fall. I was intrigued by the cover when I first saw it, but I decided to wait until the end of the day before deciding whether to pick it up. It was like $8 or $10 – that’s a lot for an unknown electronic vintage game that can’t be tested!

My thanks to a BGG user who left a rating many years ago describing Maniac as “Ralph Baer’s simulation of a mentally ill parakeet.” I think that comment is what really put me over the edge into “buy.”

My thanks to Bill too. I swear he can fix almost anything old and electronic.

how it plays

Maniac is an electronic game. The game piece has four paddles and plays up to four players. If you want to play, simply settle yourself near one of the paddles.

When you turn Maniac on it will flash “88” a few times and then beep at you. This means battery levels check out and play begins soon. Maniac will cycle through four different types of challenges three times in a row each, which are considered rounds, so 12 rounds total before it starts again.

After each single round Maniac will point at each player in turn and give their cumulative score at that point. The first player to score 25 points wins!

A couple of notes on points:

  • A player can only earn a maximum of 2 points in a single round, and there are only 12 total rounds to make it through each challenge (4 challenges at 3x each), so play will always circle back to the first challenge again to find the 25 point winner.
  • Players score points independently. It’s not like the first person to be right gets the highest score. So ignore those jerks you are rubbing elbows with and just concentrate.

Now, let’s take a closer look at the four different challenges:

  1. CHALLENGE #1: MUSICAL MANIAC In this challenge Maniac plays a series of tones and flashes a “HH” pattern. Then it goes silent at a random time. Your job is to hit your paddle as soon as you hear the silence. If you are within a quarter second, you get 2 points; half a second is 1 point (remember each challenge repeats 3 times in a row)
  2. CHALLENGE #2: SOUNDS ABOUND In this challenge Maniac is going to offer you a series of random notes that you must count. When it’s done, it will start a slow, even beep. Your job is to hit your paddle when the number of beeps is equal to the number of notes. A correct guess is 2 points; one count off is 1 point
  3. CHALLENGE #3: LOOK TWICE In this challenge Maniac shows you a pattern and then shows three additional patterns. If one of the three matches the first, hit your paddle! If none do, hit your paddle after the third pattern is gone to say, “None of these were right.” Scoring on this challenge goes by quarter second reaction for 2 points and half second for 1 point
  4. CHALLENGE #4: YOUR TIME’S UP In this challenge Maniac plays a tone and your job is to count in your head how long the tone lasts. Then Maniac will beep and be silent. Your job is to hit your paddle when the silence has lasted the same amount of time as the initial tone. This one also scores based on being within a quarter second or half second
Turn that volume up!

Then Maniac starts over! Challenges continue in rounds until one player gets 25 points. That player is the winner of Maniac!

how it went

I can’t wait to try Maniac with four players! But alas, it is not a great game for social distancing. Bill and I played last weekend when our internet went down and interrupted the movie we were watching.

Play is a little confusing at first because you have to remember how each challenge works as you go. But once you get the hang of it, it’s fun and easy! Bill realized at some point that he could try and fake me out and make me extra nervous so I’d hit the paddle prematurely. But that worked once, maybe twice. I blocked him out eventually.

My favorite of the challenges was the fourth one, where you lock in the time you think a tone lasted. It reminds me of one of my favorite reality TV shows, Solitary. If you are not familiar, this is a show where contestants are locked in pods and have no idea if it’s day or night. They have to withstand challenges where they tap out, but they are not told when others tap out. So they are playing against themselves. There is one episode where contestants are asked to tap their button when they think three hours have passed. Some tap out after an hour, some after five hours. It’s great.

Maniac was designed by Ralph Baer who is best known in tabletop gaming for creating Simon. The similarities are there, and I can honestly see why someone might prefer one over the other. But for me, I’d take Maniac over Simon any old day of the week. Maniac is fun and varied. Simon is how I spend a quarter to try to win a free personal pan pizza at Little Caesar’s when I’m a kiddo.

I did pretty well at Maniac. The fourth challenge was my best, but I wasn’t terrible at any of them. Bill had 21 points when I hit 25 and won! And Maniac celebrated my win with all of its innate charm (it pointed at me and beeped several times)!

play or pass

Play! Maniac is everything I look for in a vintage game. It’s easy to explain, it works very well, gameplay is varied, and I can see it appealing to a lot of different types of players. And it rings in my ears for around half an hour after play. Perfection.