Back to the Future: The Board Game boxDeveloper Movie Licensing Games

Things You Might Like

  • Once you start playing, the rules are easy enough to follow
  • Hilarious spelling and grammar errors in the instructions
  • The fiery glow of achievement upon finally winning the game
  • A wonderfully tacky, ‘cash in’ feel to the game components

Things You Might Not Like

  • Before you start playing, the rules are really hard to understand
  • The board layout is deceptively difficult to follow at times
  • Playing this game with people you don’t know very well
  • Gameplay is the most frustrating of any board game I’ve ever played. Ever. Ever. Ever.

3 out of 5 Crashed DeLoreans

Errol Stephen Philip Flynn, our correspondent from 1985

***

The ‘Back to the Future’ (BTTFF) film franchise is one of the more surreal things to ever come out of the Eighties, which really is saying something. Its focus on a time traveling DeLorean and the problems created when you get run over instead of your father when he hasn’t even slept with your mother yet (as she seems to have the insatiable hots for you) are well known to most moviegoers, even if they’ve not had an opportunity to experience them first hand (and if not, why not?). Two successful sequels later, and almost two fans were screaming: ‘What about a board game?

And so, many years later, I recently found myself playing the result with a few good friends (one of whom is, as you may have guessed, a huge BTTF geek). It has a simplistic enough ‘it’s hip to be square’ board layout, four concentric tracks, each representing a different year. Obviously, these years are presented in the order of the films: 1985, 1955, 2015 and 1885. The basic premise is that the crazy professor has got lost in the past! Indeed he has, as, on the innermost 1885 ring there is the doc himself (played brilliantly in the films by Christopher Lloyd, represented less well in the game by a few low-quality stills from the various flicks). Simply put, players must work their way to the innermost ring and land on the picture - not exciting stuff in itself, but surely the mechanics of the game will thrill?

Sort of. That is to say, no. That is to say, ish. Progression through the game is not a task for the impatient, and is achieved through the collection of different cards. In the ‘present’, the outer 1985 track, players must land on specific squares to pick up, on a random basis, four ‘gain 22mph’ cards (88mph? I see what they did there!) and one card each of the famous DeLorean, the infamous Flux Capacitor and the rather duller Plutonium. It doesn’t even come from Libyan terrorists this time.
Once you have attained this mighty concoction of time-bending goodness, you progress around to the square marked, perhaps overoptimistically, TIMEWARP!, and progress inwards, to the 1955 ring. Here players must then land on various squares to collect 4 clock tower cards, avoiding the ‘miss a go’ Pepsi squares (Pepsi being Marty McFly’s favourite drink, of course, and not a subtle-as-a-punch-in-the-face marketing ploy at all).

Of course, avid viewers of the first film may recall that this fiddling about with the clock tower will lead you to jump in time again, so it’s off to another TIMEWARP! square to head to 2015.

And so on. Collect cards, move around the board, do it before everyone else. A simple mechanic that puts you in mind of Ludo or Snakes and Ladders. Fortunately for us, the game’s designer must have realized that this was too simplistic, too easy (read: not masochistic enough).

In the outer ring, and the outer ring only, as well as all the cards you pick up that help you are the Biff cards. These cards lurk in the main deck, and when picked up mean that you steal a card at random from the player who went before you. Haha! What an evil thrill you get as you take that vital card from them and then… put it back at the bottom of the deck.

That’s right- you can’t keep the card you steal, it just gets put back, along with the Biff card. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that this means that all the Biff cards will, sooner or later, clump together in one sadistic group that renders play stagnant until it passes by. Add to this the fact that you also lose cards to the deck when somebody lands on the same square as you, and you end up with an immensely frustrating experience.

It’s far too easy to knock this game: the cards are too difficult to come by, the board is from a design school that can be named ‘lovingly uninspired‘, you get sent back too far when you land on the (strangely easy to hit) penalties and there aren’t enough bonuses to make you feel you’re lucky when you get one. As a result it’s all too tempting to write it off as one star and have done with it, yet there’s a big problem with that, a huge problem. Yes; it’s crap, yes; it’s obviously just a shameless cash in, yes; the designer was asleep when it was created, but holy crap on toast: it’s fun.

You see, it’s sometimes forgotten that that’s the point of board games – they’re meant to be a way of bringing people together and socialising, rather than a huge and dominating experience in themselves.

From even before we opened the box, we were talking about the game, which inevitably lead to a discussion about the BTTF films, and Gareth’s passion for collecting the memorabilia. He has around thirteen model DeLoreans, as well as a ton of other stuff (read: crap) to do with the films. As with all conversations between good friends, the topics came thick and fast, punctuated by moments of dismay, annoyance and frustration at the game.

It’s considering it from this perspective that the silly rules surrounding the Biff card make sense; whilst it’s annoying that the cards are simply taken away rather than going into the other player’s hand, you vent your lighthearted anger (and, after a while, your genuine, heavy-handed rage) at the game, rather than at one of your companions. You never feel like one of your friends is taking advantage of you, but you mock the difficulties of the game as a group instead.

In the end, we removed all but two of the eight billion Biff cards, and managed to speed play up somewhat, but not to any vastly noticeable degree.

In the end, I won. I’d hate for you to think I’m being immodest in telling you this, because in the act of finally managing to slam my beleaguered playing piece onto the final square I had made us all winners. We had beaten the game. It had frustrated us at almost every turn and we had pressed on with a foolish determination. It was a relief; a release.

***

Before the author sinks into a weary, misty-eyed hyperbole, he feels that he should throw this addendum on to answer a simple question: ‘If the game is so crap, why does it have three stars?’

Well, here’s the thing; frustrating isn’t the same as crap.  A crap game is one where you get bored quickly, there’s no point to playing and it’s easier just to sit there looking at each other instead of rolling a die.  Whilst it was almost completely buggering impossible to move forward quickly in the game, not one of us actually wanted to stop playing.  Nobody threw toys out of prams.  We laughed, we discussed, we all cheered as a group when the game ended and I stabbed my bland token onto the Doc’s nervous, badly printed face.

It’s a strange feeling.  Perhaps this game should be relegated to the halls and memorials of ‘So Bad It’s Good’, but I feel it deserves something more than that.  Play it with good friends and you’ll see what I mean.  Also, it’s good to have a collector’s item knocking about, gathering dust: it’s good, but you won’t want to play it every year.

 

One Response to Back to the Future: The Board Game (1990)

  1. ChrisWWiese says:

    Hi – I’m currently trying to find this game for a Christmas present, but haven’t been able to find it online. If you could provide me with any information – Could you e-mail me at ChrisWWiese@gmail.com – Thank you!

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