Saturday, August 8, 2009
Toy marketing in the 80's was a booming business. Everything it seemed, as the joke went, was made in Taiwan. It was no holds barred as toy makers leapt at every opportunity and a kindof bizarre Alice’s mirrored world effect took place as toys spawned cartoons or was it cartoons spawned toys. Did cereal art and potato chip bags and Kodak film produce toys or was it vice versa? Everything spawned anything. Often the spawn-child made no sense and you had a feeling it’s momma & poppa cringed at their bizarre offspring but that didn’t stop them from producing more and more. In 1988 Sweet Valley High had spawned a board game. Why a board game you may ask. In answer - who knows. I do know however that board games were extremely popular in the 80's and every creature , character and doohickey seemed to have it’s own board game (even, again, if it didn’t make much sense ) There were board games for the cartoons -like The Wuzzles , arcade games - Donkey Kong , Q-Bert and Pac-Man , T.v. shows - Family Ties , dolls - Holly Hobbie , Strawberry shortcake - even comic strips - Garfield. So why not books.
Offered up by the top board game company Milton Bradley, Sweet Valley high the board game incorporated a look that was still familiar to the readers but blazing with a new insignia - a pastel sphere and flapping flag that was also simultaneously appearing on the backs of the series books replacing the letterman arch. Other than that the fan could tell there would be few surprises, a fact reinforced by the game’s questioning selling point. Can you find your boyfriend in time for the big date? Hmmm , a wee bit vapid even for series fiction. I would’ve found the game more exciting to guess which of Jessica’s boyfriends was a psychopathic dope fiend , or had the players scrambling through Sweet Valley to buy the new dress in Lizette’s before your opponent. I opened the game , read the instructions and surveyed the board - truth be told it’s not a total loss - it’s just a bit of a letdown. The board layout is rather like Clue - with four room/like areas all taking place in - of course- Sweet Valley High. Oddly enough there is a coldness to this layout , they can’t be bothered to call the French Room , Mrs. Dalton’s French Room and there is no designated spot for the school newspaper room! Considering it’s a game for super-fans only I would think this would grate on their nerves. The game plays a lot like memory - cards are laid face down in each room section. Each player takes a board depending on which character you chose to be - for instance if you’re Liz - you’ve picked Weekend Bike Tour and it’s your goal to find all the items to fill up your board - one boyfriend Todd Wilkens , one backpack , a biking outfit , a bicycle and Mr. Collins. Where it gets confusing is that you are permitted to swap or steal boyfriends - not a bad idea because if you pick Enid Collins , which from the almost pristine condition of the card , I’m not sure many players did - you’re stuck with of all boyfriends - not the hunky Hugh - but get this , Winston Eggbert?! On a positive note though , this gives fans a rare glimpse of never before seen characters as painted by the wonderful James Mathewuse - gorgeous Mr. Collins who does resemble Robert Redford , Mrs. Dalton ( of the jell-o in her sleeping bag fame ) , and Winston Eggbert - even though the bespeckled Winston looks rather grim. Look closely at all the characters and some of them , especially the guys look as though they’d rather be elsewhere than beefcake for a girls board game - it’s a scream!
Some of the cards describing the characters actions are spot on to a fault - Elizabeth gives Enid some good advice with Enid uses , some are unbelievable - Lila donates a large sum of money to a local charity , Bruce helps Jessica set up for the prom , Jessica’s plot to break up Winston and Enid does not work?! ( huh say what? Why would Jessica care about those two? ) You know things are a little loopy however when out of four cards - each devoted to an action - from the four boyfriends , Bruce turns out to be the most sensitive! Ken is duped by Lila , Winston is attracted to another girl ( poor Enid! Despite her good grades , she has the most boring cards of all , she just can’t win , not in the series , not here - could be the name - remember Enid in Taking Care of Terrific by Lois Lowry who says that Enid was a horrible name that all disgusting words like squalid and fetid echoed Enid. ) Even Todd’s card , though faithful to his character, is nonetheless jerky - Todd believes a rumor about Liz. Here’s some cards I would’ve liked - Enid, in revenge to Jessica’s rumor, shaved Jessica’s head during a slumber party making it impossible for Jess to win Prom Queen! Nobody shows up for Lila’s super-once-in-a-lifetime-every-weekend party leaving her so outraged she is arrested for driving her Triumph across the football field nearly clipping Ken during his game-saving goal. Elizabeth dumps Todd and decides to actually do something constructively charitable like take out someone who isn’t ultra-gorgeous and ultra-popular. Todd faces this rejection bravely, after about two minutes of wallowing he asks out a curvy tenth grader he already had his eye on as backup. The game sums up as so-so , I’m neither here nor there about it , I guess I was disappointed that it didn’t really showcase some of the sights we’ve only imagined in Sweet Valley - I mean where’s the Beach Disco? Lizettes , The Dari Burger , Lookout Point , Kelly’s Bar , Jessica’s bedroom the Hershey Bar , I mean for gosh sakes they could’ve made it a rip off of Monopoly!
But as bad as anyone thinks this game is , I found the Babysitter’s Game to be far worse. It too was offered up by Milton Bradley , two years after the release of Sweet Valley High suggesting it was successful enough to try their hand at exploiting er-capitalizing on a second franchise. Opening the box , I was immediately overwhelmed by the amount of cards , pieces , notepads , tokens it contained and totally underwhelmed by the flimsy pastel playing board and equally bummed that the men were not those nifty little cardboard player cutouts wedged into little holders , no, the pawns were just those plastic thimble things in pastel shades.
What does that have to do with the Babysitter’s club? There is no- I get to be Stacey or Claudia or any of that , if I was twelve I’d feel ripped off. Not to mention frustrated . The game is also jammed with too many ideas , there are four sets of cards each colored peach , gold , green , purple each adding to another facet of the game - Peach cards are for collecting points if a square under the picture of the babysitter matches your token , green cards are for babysitter’s club trivia with questions like which club member’s bedroom looks like a nursery all pink and white? Or who usually needs the Pike barf bucket on car trips - (well I don’t know about Margo but anymore aspects to this game and I might just need it...) Gold cards are the kind of -what if while babysitting - like - You discover that your new babysitting charge is a monkey , not a child! What do you do? Feed him your kid kit and hole up in the nearest closet.( Kidding! ) Purple cards - are truth or dare - dares of which your friends get to judge, by giving you points if you performed well. The game is okay in the most generous sense of the word, I guess to me , it just seems thrown together , and not really for fans. A much better board game along the same lines is Girl Talk. I don’t know why they didn’t model a game after say, the game of Life - with moolah and obstacles , like items for the kid kits , dues day , babysitting jobs and a goal maybe to arrive at a dance with enough money to attend. I wonder if anyone designing the games even read the books or were given basic trivia and information like a list of ingredients if so , they really screwed up the formula.
So whose got the better game between SVH and Babysitter’s Club - Sorry Babysitter’s club it’s hands down - Sweet Valley High