• magisterrex Retro Games


    I've been gaming since the days of Pong and still own a working Atari 2600. I tend to ramble on about retro games, whether they be board games, video games or PC games. Sometimes I digress. Decades after earning it, I'm finally putting the skills I learned while completing my history degree from the University of Victoria to good use. Or so I think. If you're into classic old school gaming, this blog is for you!

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The Best Classic Board Games – WHOSIT? (1976)

A little known classic board game that’s fun for the whole family is WHOSIT? by Parker Brothers.  Released in 1976, WHOSIT? is a game where players begin by randomly taking one of 20 Character cards, keep it hidden from other players’ eyes, and then try to guess who has which card based upon the questions they draw from the Question Card deck.  Players answer YES or NO depending on the question, such as, “Are you holding something?”, “Do you have glasses?”, “Are you male?”, or “Do you smoke?“ Lucky players can draw a “Ask ANY Question” card, which contains all the questions in the deck on one card.

WHOSIT? by Parker Brothers

The characteristics vary from card to card, such as the Genius (White / Male / Child / Glasses / Tie / Gold Room), the Vampire (White / Female / Adult / Blue Room), or the Hero (Black / Male / Adult / Moustache / Smoking / Jewellery / Gold Room).  Players pick up Question cards that give them the opportunity to see who has what feature. But it’s not as easy as you might think, because there are a few curveballs thrown in.  Some characters may not answer truthfully, no matter what the question is, such as the Spy (Always LIES / Oriental / Female / Holding Cigarette / Adult / Hat / Smoking / Glasses / Red Room), the Censor (Always Says NO), or the Director (Says YES or NO / White / Male / Adult / Moustache / Gold Room / Scarf / Holding Riding Crop).

The game board helps in identifying players as it shows each of the characters as they are shown on their Character Cards.  This is darn right necessary when you start trying to remember all the different answers to match up who might be whom. There are no player tokens or dice; the game board is provided just for a place to store the Question cards and as a visual reference.

Contents of Parker Brothers' WHOSIT?

Once a player is ready to make a guess on the identities of all their opponents, a special box, divided in two (one side for YES and one side for NO), is handed around the room.  If their character card has been identified, then they put their chip into the YES side, if not, into the NO side.  If all the chips are on the YES side when the box is opened, the game is over.

This is a fun family game that can be played in less than an hour.  There is nothing risqué about the characters or the questions, so even the younger members of the household can play (though they will need to be able to read their Character card).  Although as little as two and as many as six players can play WHOSIT?, more players make for a more challenging game.  WHOSIT? is yet another wonderful Parker Brothers classic game.  Highly recommended!

Dark Times Are Coming For The Video Game Industry

The collapse of the console video game market is coming.

Yes, I realize that sales are in the billion dollar range these days.  But the future doesn’t look so good, all because of the trend towards increasing the market share of downloadable games.

Note that I’m not mentioning PC games in all this. That’s a different kettle of fish, and although that industry also has challenges, hardware manufacturers are much better positioned to survive a switch to online only services and games, mostly due to their versatility.  But that’s grist for another blog entry.

The End is Nigh...

Right now retailers carry the video game console systems, games and accessories.  A sale of just a console can be a money-losing deal for a retailer, so they look for add-on purchases to improve the margin of the sale.  Games are one of those margin builders, but if games go to completely downloadable format the way that various industry analysts state, the retailers are left holding the bag for the console costs.   This just in: No corporation will carry any system that they cannot make money on.  Period.  So the industry will be faced with three options:

  1. Brick & mortar retailers stop carrying the consoles completely.  No more Xbox, PS3, etc in the stores means a sharp reduction in availability, which translates to a huge hit to the market.  Think this can’t happen?  Think again.  If Wal-Mart, Best Buy, etc. can’t make money on the deal, the deal is dead.  No company grows its bottom line by taking a loss on every sale.  This is the worst-case scenario, and I’m confident that all parties will avoid this like Tiger Woods avoided monogamy.
  2. Retailers keep video game systems on the shelf, but lacking present and future game sales, must raise the price to get the margin they need to make money from the sale.  Increased prices will result in a decrease in sales, which means less market for game developers.  Also, there would be less available discretionary capital to spend on games. Again, a huge hit to the market, and definitely a longer unemployment line for game developers.
  3. Video game console manufacturers go the route of the cellular phone companies, and rebate the retailers for each sale of a system.  Already there is very little margin in the consoles for the manufacturers, so they look for legacy sales.  For instance, if a Wii is packaged with a Wii Points card, or perhaps some form of yearly subscription, the manufacturers could offset the loss of hardware revenue with sales of online games and services over a set time period (1 year?).  With a surcharge per game for game developers to get their products on the network, this might be the most viable option for profitability.  However, that surcharge means that games will have to be a little more profitable to keep game companies afloat.  This will result in more crapware that costs nothing to buy online and even less to code, endless sequels to tap into a known revenue source (Final Fantasy XXV is coming sooner or later), and MUCH less push-the-envelope original games, as the R&D budget will be meager at best.  So the market survives, kinda.  (And some of this scenario is already in progress.)
Game Party Wii

Get ready for more amazing gems like this one!

We’re already at a point where video game hardware manufacturers are reluctant to develop the next generation systems until the very last drop of profit can be gleaned from the current generation systems.  If it takes longer to make money from a new system, you can be assured that next gen systems will be vapourware until that money is made.

As online game sellers take market share away from traditional Brick&Mortar businesses, so too will downloadable games take away from their boxed format cousins.  Though exactly how future events unfold is still murky and mutable, the ultimate result will be dark times for the game industry.

Disagree?  Leave your comments below!

magisterrex Retro Game of the Week – Wing Commander (1990)

Classic games are recognizable by both how much fun they are to play and how much they change the genre – or create their own.  Wing Commander by Origin Systems is a game that fits this criteria for greatness.

The original Wing Commander game circa 1990.

Back in 1990, this game pushed the technology envelope.  It needed a 80386 class machine to really run well, and a VGA card to get all the eye candy it had to offer.  A good argument can be made that Wing Commander helped sell a lot of 386 computers to gamers who needed better hardware to get their sci-fi space combat fix!

The creator of Wing Commander, Chris Roberts, characterized his game as “World War II in space.”  The player took the role of a fighter pilot for the Confederation, battling the war machine of the Kilrathi, a race of feline aliens.  Attack runs and defensive missions were launched from a space-going aircraft carrier, the TCS Tiger Claw.  If the player was successful in meeting mission objectives, the storyline continued with Confederation forces pushing back the Kilrathi armada.  If the player failed their objectives, they could continue to the next mission, but too many failures resulted in the Confederation retreating and ceding the sector to the Kilrathi.  This “campaign tree” game system was innovative and fresh in 1990, and a large part of the reason why Wing Commander is a classic.

The First Wing Commander Add-On Pack

Critics agreed: Wing Commander won the Origins Award for Best Fantasy or Science Fiction Game, as well as Computer Gaming World’s Overall Game of the Year award.

The game also spawned an entire series of sequels, add-on packs and stand-alone games: Wing Commander: The Secret Missions, Wing Commander: The Secret Missions 2 – Crusade, Wing Commander II: The Vengeance of the Kilrathi, Wing Commander II: Special Operations 1, Wing Commander II: Special Operations 2, Wing Commander II Speech Accessory Pack, Wing Commander: Privateer, Wing Commander: Academy, Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger, Wing Commander: Armada, Wing Commander Privateer: Righteous Fire, Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom, Wing Commander: Prophecy, Wing Commander: Prophecy – Secret Ops, and Wing Commander: Privateer 2 – The Darkening.  Numerous “gold” editions for the games which combined the add-on packs with the original games or multi-game packs that featured one or more of Origin’s other titles were also published.  Wing Commander was even ported to other game systems, including the Commodore Amiga system, the Sega CD system, and the Super Nintendo (SNES).  The series even crossed over into Hollywood with a feature film release in 1999.

The 2nd Wing Commander Add-On Pack

If you haven’t played the flagship of the Wing Commander universe, pick up a copy and imagine it’s 1990 all over again.  Become a Confederation cadet and fight the Kilrathi menace – you’ll be glad you did.

The Best Classic Board Games – Gambler (1974)

A little known classic board game that deserves more attention than it gets is the 1974 version of Gambler, by Parker Brothers.  This game plays very much like its title implies: forget about strategy; throw the dice and let Lady Luck be your copilot.  And since you don’t need to puzzle out your victory, any group of players can jump right into the game with a brief scan of the rules.

Gambler, Parker Brothers 1974 Game (Front)

Since this is a Parker Brothers board game, the game play is similar to others of the period: you take turns throwing the dice, moving your token and experience the joy of whatever you’re required to do on the square you landed on (like “Making Enemies” – Roll one die and all other players pay the Jackpot 10 times the number rolled or “Win a Few…Lose a Few” – Place bet. Roll Dice. Even total wins amount bet from Jackpot. Odd total, Jackpot gets amount bet.  Sometimes you draw a card, like, “Good News/Bad News” – Platinum Discovered Beneath Alberta Tar Sands!! (But you traded your stocks last week. Nosedive. Pay the Jackpot $40 or “Good News/Bad News – Hot Tip From Your Stock Broker!! Roll doubles and cop $250 from the Jackpot.  With each play, sometimes you come out a winner, sometimes you’re penalized; and it’s always a gamble.

Gambler 1974 Parker Brothers Game Contents

This is not a game for the anti-gambling crowd.  When playing this game you gamble at every opportunity, and often entice your opponents to gamble with you.  You bet on the horses. You visit casinos. You play bingo. You play the lottery. If there’s a way for you to gamble in this game, the designers’ thought of it and you’re part of it.  There is even a special “Sweepstakes” dice shaker that you use to try to win big.  Mind you, my sister and I played a lot of this game in our younger days, and the biggest gamble I make these days is taking a chance on a new brand of coffee at the grocery store, so it doesn’t seem to have corrupted our psyches with its wicked ways.

If you’re looking for a retro game that you can enjoy without having to take a course in the understanding the rules, Gambler is the game for you.  It’s suitable for 2-6 players, ages 8 and up.  The more the merrier in this game, though!  Have fun!

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