Sunday, August 3, 2014

Doctor Who Board Game - Games Workshop 1980

I can hear the title song now . . . Whoo eeee oooo, Ooo wee oooo.  But where is Mr. Baker's unforgettable smile?
My game collection, spotty as it is, includes a copy of Game Workshop's 1980 board game "Doctor Who - The Game of Time and Space."  Whilst it was largely acquired for nostalgic reasons, this morning I played a round of the game with a young companion (at his incessant urging).  I thought I'd share some pics and my thoughts for anyone who's ever seen the game but not had a chance to have a peek beneath the bonnet.

Back of the tin.

Included in the Game:

Clear and concise rules!  Strange powers!  Combat resolution!  Made in England!
Incredibly detailed miniatures of the various Doctors.  You can see that "Doctor Blue" chose U.N.I.T. as his companion, whilst I (playing Tom Baker of course) chose the incomperable Sara Jane.   
The board consists of four pieces of cardboard, depicting the galaxy writ large - basically an 8x8 grid with four spaces combined in the middle.  At one point, some mild warping (no pun intended) in the board caused a rift in the time/space continuum.  
A d12!  No 2d6 bell curve here.  Man, were the 80's great or what?
And, with tons and tons of counters!  Small sample size above may not be representative.  


The game - in action!
Players choose a colored peg to represent a "past, present or future" Doctor.  But not Matt Smith - seriously, please not Matt Smith.  Players also get to select an initial companion.
"Hey, where is Rose?" asked my young companion.
The players' goal is to be the first Doctor to collect six pieces of a "key" and then return to the center of the board - representing Gallifrey (a.k.a. "Domain of the Time Lords").
A giant, flying stingray attacks the Sydney Opera House.  
The board is divided up into a grid; each grid section starts with three types of counter - a key, an alien and an item.  "Items" include weapons, a defensive item, or even a new companion such as K9 or (my favorite) Lyla.
Now then, she really IS incomparable.
Counters are blind-shuffled, together with quite a few blank counters, and then all are randomly distributed, upside down, across the board.
Sixty counters of three types are in the quadrants - it takes a bit of time to set up 180 counters.  Green counters are "key" pieces, red are aliens and the blue one (beneath the red) are items that can be obtained by defeating the aliens.  
A player can choose two actions each turn - move, search and fight.
A player may move up to 2 spaces a turn (including warping across the edge of the board).  Terrain (which consists solely of the name of the planet in each quadrant) has no impact on the game, though there are certain items that do.  For example, the "Teleporter" item allows a player to "jump" to any grid space, whilst "Cosmic Vortex" allows a player to move another player, or an alien, to another grid space.

Searching is simple - a player just turns over the counters in the grid section in which they reside.  There are some items, such as the "Zonal Scanner", which allow for a player to flip over counters in a grid section other than the one in which they reside.  Blank "key" counters are discarded.  If the alien counter is blank, then the player may automatically takes possession of the key and items in the grid space (being "unguarded").  Blank counters play a major role in the game, as they are many and numerous.

Above are a collection of the "key" shapes.  The purple ones are chosen at random by the player at the beginning of the game; green are collected during the game and then matched up until the player has 6 matching key pieces.   The key shapes appear to be some sort of dyslexia test - which I failed numerous times.  
Selection of the combat rules.
Fighting is also straightforward.  A player choosing to attack an alien rolls a d12.  A "hit" is obtained by rolling equal to, or under, a combat factor.  Each player starts with a factor of 1, which is then increased by the combat factor of the companion (+2 for the initial companions, can be higher for companions gathered during gameplay) as well as any items or weapons in the player's possession (e.g lasers grant +7 to a player's combat factor).   As such, a player hits based on the same number regardless of which alien the player is fighting.

When starting out with only one, lowly (apologies, Sara Jane) companion, a player requires a roll of 3 or under to score a "hit."  Later in the game, as more items or different companions are gathered, a combat factor of 10 or more is not uncommon, but starting out players wind up with a lot of failed attacks.

Aliens have a counterattack as well.  Same as a player, the alien needs to roll equal to, or under, its combat factor - though the combat factor may be reduced by an item such as the creatively titled "Power Drainer".
A Cyberman, with a combat factor of 4, must roll a 4 or under to "hit" - unless weakened by a player's item.
Some aliens have multiple attacks (due to their speed, multiple arms, ability to confuse opponents, or having come in a pack) or other special rules laid out in the "item file" player handout (there are no less than 19 special rules for aliens).

In lieu of fighting, a player can use certain items to reduce an alien's combat factor, subdue an alien so as to take its key and item without a fight (e.g. Jelly Babies can be used to distract an alien), or dispatch an alien to another grid space.

I scored a box of Jelly Babies back in '84 whilst in London.  Well . . . Epcot London. 
Aliens love Jelly Babies way more than lasers or Time Lord keys. But how does a Dalek chew the darn things?
If an alien counterattack results in a "hit," it either (a) cancels out a successful player attack or, (b) if the player's attack had failed, the player is stunned (i.e. rendered action-less) for two rounds.  That results in quite a bit of sitting around the first few turns, until enough items are gathered to guarantee success in attacking (or an item obtained, such as the Bio-Glove, is able to stave off the stunning effect).

Items can be: (a) one-time use; (b) permanent use; or (c) subject to random loss.  An item with "12" is kept for the game (unless otherwise discarded or lost to aliens or other players), an item with "0" is one-time use.  Any other number requires a die roll under, or equal to, that number for a player to keep the item after use.

After using the Tranquiliser Beam, a player must roll under a 4 to keep the item.
And . . . that's about it.  Gameplay is obviously a fairly random, search and gather process.  There's little strategy involved, beyond choosing which item to use when attacking or moving, or deciding when to run away, rather than fight.  After a few rounds, players wind up just trying to track down the one, last "key" piece they need - turning over lots of blanks in the process, or gathering unneeded items.
The game is a bit conflicted as to whether it is cooperative or competitive.  For example, players may trade key pieces if they are in the same grid space.  However, players may also attack another player and steal a key piece.  Many items, such as those that can move players or aliens, can be used either to help, or hinder, the other players.  Given the youth of my opponent (and the risk of raising his ire and absorbing his resulting vengeance), we played cooperatively - until the last few turns.

After a slow start, our game ended with each of us stealing away "key" pieces from the other, to get the last one needed.  I think it may be more exciting if more players are involved, though it would also slow down game play.   That said, it was a close run thing, which is always welcome in a game.
Finally - off to Gallifrey!

Final Thoughts:

The game works well for young players, with some adult supervision to interpret the various special rules that apply to items and aliens.  The setup is not complex, but it is time consuming and monotonous.
I'd have lowered the Luck factor to 1-3, but otherwise this looks spot-on. 
For the sorts of dedicated, brainy folks who play board games these days, there is little strategy to keep a player interested - the game reminded me greatly of the "mix and match" card games for children.  Absent the amazing theme (e.g. having the chance to distract Davros with a handful of Jelly Babies will get me to play at least once more) and the draw of the vintage GW brand, there's not a lot to recommend for the game.
The unholy union of the BBC and GW.  What's not to love?
Thematically speaking, I'd think the various Doctors ought to be working together, not against one another.  Also, I had difficulty rectifying the use of various weapons (e.g. lasers, blasters, mega-blasters - but, alas, no mega-lasers) with the disposition of the Doctors with whom I grew up - tending to outwit, rather than out-blast, their adversaries.  More options for cooperative play, and ways to avoiding fighting, would have been welcome.

All that said, it was an amusing outing and worth an hour and half's time.  In short order, I will report further on the most surprising, and potentially controversial, item I found in the game.  Points to whomever can spot the issue, based on this post.

Final scores, on a scale of 1-11:

Fun: 5

Engagement: 2

Replay value: 3

Solo or Co-op play: 3, but has some potential with house rules, such as a limit on turns.

Favorite bit:  The rule that certain items are lost on a random basis.

Not-so-favorite bit:  Set-up process.