• 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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What’s In That Game Box? – Land Grab (1974/1981)

Ever scoured the Internet looking for what exactly you were missing from the old board game you pulled from your closet, only to find no one who could give you the answer?  Well, stop that fruitless searching through endless google results, as this featured this week on What’s In That Game Box? is Waddingtons‘ game of land speculation and development, the real estate game, Land Grab.

Box front of the 1981 Waddingtons game, Land Grab.

The contents of Land Grab are as follows:

The game box (there are two versions of the box lid, the 1981 version, which features a deep green background with a few buildings and the orange logo streaking outward like the the titles of the 1970s Superman movies; and the 1974 version with a cartoon aerial view of a city as the background with a white logo in large letters).

The game board, featuring three zones of undeveloped real estate lots.

80 player marker tokens (20 each of blue, green, red, and yellow)

A green six-sided die

A deck of 16 CROWN LAND cards, consisting of:

LOT NO. 1 – 20,000
LOT NO. 2 – 20,000
LOT NO. 3 – 30,000
LOT NO. 4 – 30,000
LOT NO. 5 – 30,000
LOT NO. 6 – 40,000
LOT NO. 7 – 10,000
LOT NO. 8 – 10,000
LOT NO. 9 – 20,000
LOT NO. 10 – 20,000
LOT NO. 11 – 20,000
LOT NO. 12 – 10,000
LOT NO. 13 – 20,000
LOT NO. 14 – 20,000
LOT NO. 15 – 10,000
LOT NO. 16 – 10,000

A deck of 16 VENTURE CARDS, consisting of:

  • A strike hits your construction company. You may not build or demolish on this turn.
  • Capital Investment Return: Receive an amount equal to one-half your total revenue on this turn.
  • Capital Investment Return: Receive an amount equal to twice your total revenue on this turn.
  • Capital Investment Return: Receive an amount equal to your total revenue on this turn.
  • On your next turn, you may buy land in any zone of your choice (Do not roll the die.) [x3]
  • On your next turn, you may force any opponent to sell you one lot of undeveloped land he owns – at the original market price. (You may do this in addition to your regular die throw) [x3]
  • TAXES: Pay 10,000 on every acre of undeveloped land you own. [x3]
  • TAXES: Pay an amount equal to your total revenue on this turn from buildings in Zone 1.
  • TAXES: Pay an amount equal to your total revenue on this turn from buildings in Zone 2.
  • TAXES: Pay an amount equal to your total revenue on this turn from buildings in Zone 3.

49 diecut building tokens, each with a different cartoonish looking art of a building property, consisting of:

2.5 cm x 2.5 cm: PRICE 30,000; INCOME 10,000 [x12]
2.5 cm x 7.5 cm: PRICE 100,000; INCOME 40,000 [x9]
5 cm x 2.5 cm: PRICE 50,000; INCOME 20,000 [x12]
5 cm x 5 cm: PRICE 200,000; INCOME 80,000 [x9]
5 cm x 7.5 cm: PRICE 400,000; INCOME 160,000 [x6]
7.5 cm x 7.5 cm: PRICE 800,000; INCOME 400,000 [x1]

A supply of play money in the following denominations: $5,000 (yellow); $50,000 (pink); and $100,000 (light blue)

The Rules sheet.

Aside from the inner cardboard filler to help hold all the pieces in an orderly fashion, that’s it.  Land Grab is a decent simulation of property development and speculation, but is certainly in the “More Obscure” category of board games.

Game board for Land Grab

Die cut property tokens for Land Grab

Game parts for Waddingtons Land Grab

Sample Venture and Crown Land Cards for Land Grab

Game of the Week: Sid Meier’s Pirates! (1987)

Once upon a time it was a lot more avante-guard to be a pirate, long before the unwashed masses embraced the Disney Jack Sparrow movie juggernaut, and even before some wag convinced enough people to celebrate Talk Like a Pirate Day.  In the heady days of the dawn of the PC graphic adventure, pirates were nothing more than literary devices or the stuff of all things dastardly; pirates portrayed in PC games were more Blackbeard or Captain Hook than Errol Flynn. And then along came Sid Meier.

Box art for Sid Meier's Pirates!

Sid Meier is a gaming legend today, a name that is as much a brand and promise of great gameplay, but in 1987, this was not the case.  To be sure, Sid Meier’s name already carried some weight in the simulation community, as a designer of games such as F-15 Strike Eagle and Silent Service.  His games were always enjoyable and well-coded, but more importantly, sold well.  The marketing gurus at MicroProse suspected that people were buying Sid Meier games because they were designed by Sid Meier, so it seemed reasonable to help make their buying decisions for them by announcing his involvement directly in the product title.  From this reasoning the very first game to feature “Sid Meier’s…” in the game title was born: Sid Meier’s Pirates!

Sid Meier - Gamer god

Sid Meier - Gamer god

The game was for single players, made long before the mad, lemming-like multiplayer rush of today that all gaming companies seem to have embraced.  (Wait, was that an editorial?)  It was an open-ended game, letting the player make the choices on where to travel and what to do, with the only caveat being that eventually the player’s character would grow too old to continue on the pirate’s path, and would retire.  Depending on what actions the player took (that is, what rewards and successes they achieved during the game), the game would then give a litany of how their character lived the rest of their days, from a lowly beggar in the streets to the prestigious role as adviser to the King.  The game world itself was created using a series of questions-and-answers, beginning with what pirate era the player wanted to play within (1560: The Silver Empire; 1600: Merchants and Smugglers; 1620: The New Colonists; 1640: War for Profit; 1660: The Buccaneer Heroes; and 1680: Pirates’ Sunset).  This was followed by which nationality they wished to be (Dutch Adventurer, English Buccaneer, French Buccaneer, or Spanish Renegade), which Difficulty Level they wished to play in (Apprentice, Journeyman, Adventurer, or Swashbuckler).  Finally, a Special Ability was chosen: Skill at Fencing, Skill at Gunnery, Skill at Medicine, Skill at Navigation, or Wit and Charm, each with its own advantages (for instance, Wit and Charm was used to keep on a Governor’s good side; whereas Skill at Medicine kept injuries to a minimum and prolonged the character’s life).

Swordplay in Sid Meier's Pirates!

The game world was then generated from these questions.  Of course, the final variable was the copy protection, which requested when either the Silver Train or the Spanish Treasure Fleet arrived in a particular city.  Failure to provide the correct answer stacked the odds so far against the player that even the game manual stated, “Heed the advice and start over, otherwise you’ll find your situation most bleak.”  Take that, software pirates!  Actually, in some ways the manual was as interesting as the game, as there was a wealth of historical information on pirates and the historical context within which they plied their trade.  Well worth reading!

Decisions, decisions in Sid Meier's Pirates!

As for actual gameplay, the live of a pirate was sometimes short, but always challenge-filled and exciting, which the player soon discovered for themselves.  Since a pirate fought with a sword, fencing was part of the game.  Since pirates sailed the seas to prey upon treasure-laden ships, navigation and naval combat was part of the game.  Since pirates often sold their loot to merchants (money laundering was alive and well in the pirate era), trade was part of the game.  Since pirates sometimes sacked small townships, that, too was part of the game.  Since pirate ships didn’t magically manifest crewmembers to sail the seven seas, recruitment was part of the game, and since a silver tongue helped a pirate live a longer life, diplomatic contact with town governors was also part of the game.  All in all, this was an impressive pirate simulation.

Pirates! Gold for the Sega Genesis

If the Career Mode was too large of a time investment, Sid Meier’s Pirates! offered six historically accurate scenarios to test your swashbuckling mettle.  Each scenario was in a different time period, and each offered unique challenges to overcome.  These scenarios were: John Hawkins and the Battle of San Juan Ulua  – 1569 (wherein you have a slow, but powerful galleon to command, with many ports unwilling to trade and a fleet not powerful enough to force them to comply); Francis Drake and the Silver Train Ambush – 1573 (can you match the verve and skill Drake showed battling the Spanish Fleet at the height of their power with only two small ships?); Piet Heyn and the Treasure Fleet – 1628 (your fleet is powerful, but the season is late and finding the treasure ships is becoming a difficult task and will take expert planning to locate and dispatch); L’Ollonais and the Sack of Marcaibo – 1666 (an abundance of manpower but a shortage of powerful vessels make ship-to-ship battles difficult, but port sacking attractive, with the additional challenge of the fragile nature of your men’s morale); Henry Morgan the King’s Pirate – 1671 (the dangers of having a powerful pirate fleet in both naval power and manpower in that you must keep everyone fed, content and treasure laden to succeed); and Baron de Pontis and the Last Expedition – 1697 (the munchkin scenario, in which you have a large strike force and a more than reasonable certainty to win any battle, making the only challenge how much treasure can you loot?).

Pirates! for the Nintendo Entertainment System

Sid Meier’s Pirates! was first released in 1987 on the Apple II, Commodore 64 and IBM PC (PC Booter) platforms.  It was quickly ported over to the Macintosh (1988), Amstrad (1988), Commodore Amiga (1990), and even the Nintendo Entertainment System (1991).  It would be remade in 1993 with improved graphics and sound, then published under the title Pirates! Gold, for IBM PC (both DOS and Windows), Macintosh, and – because Nintendon’t – the Sega Genesis. The remakes didn’t end there, as it was again remade in 2004 for Windows XP, returning to its original title of Sid Meier’s Pirates!, and then again in 2008 for mobile devices, imaginatively called Sid Meier’s Pirates! Mobile.  Perhaps in the next decade it will be remade once again.  (I recommend they try Sid Meier’s Pirates! Gold as the title for next time.)

Box art for Pirates! Gold

Sid Meier’s Pirates! was not only popular amongst gamers, it also performed well in the eyes of the gaming press.  It was awarded “Action Game of the Year” by Computer Gaming World, and also the Origin Award for “Best Fantasy or Science Fiction Computer Game of 1987”.  The game also ranked at #18 in the Computer Gaming World’s 150 Best Games of All Time.  Clearly, this game has remained in the gaming public’s eye for a reason, making Sid Meier’s Pirates! a worthy addition to anyone’s game collection.


Gameplay video of Sid Meier’s Pirates! ()

Happy 20th Birthday, Super Nintendo!

It was August 23, 1991, that Nintendo finally answered the 16-bit challenge in North America, releasing the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, or SNES, for short.   It’s difficult to appreciate today, with the prosperity Nintendo has enjoyed with its gaming systems over the past twenty years, but when the SNES was released, there was no guarantee of success. The competition had been in the 16-bit market for two years already, with the Sega Genesis debuting in August 14, 1989, and the NEC TurboGrafx-16 launching in August 29, 1991, and Nintendo faced an uphill battle for market share.  To make matters more difficult, on its launch date, there were only five games available for the system, which included Super Mario World (packaged within the game box), Gradius III, SimCity, Pilotwings, and F-Zero.  No Zelda, no Mega Man, no sports titles of any kind, no puzzle games…that’s it.

The Nintendo SNES Super Set

Nintendo gambled on the fact that its pre-existing userbase for the predessor of the SNES, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), was huge.  30 million homes had a Nintendo Entertainment System in them, and the NES was already regarded as the most successful gaming system in history.  The question that the Nintendo executives had was very simple: could a majority of those past customers be convinced to invest in a new Nintendo system?

The Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES)

The success of the Super Mario Bros. game franchise had not gone unnoticed by these same executives.  Which came first in the buying decision priorities of Nintendo’s customers, the desire to play Super Mario or the desire for the system itself?  Hedging the bet, and recognizing that Super Mario had entered popular culture as an iconic symbol of gaming, Nintendo helped ensure a commercial success by including a 16-bit “sequel” to the original Super Mario series within the box of the SNES, Super Mario World.

Super Mario Bros. for the NES

As we all know, things turned out well for Nintendo.  It took only one year for sales of the Super Nintendo to match those of the Genesis, and the two fought the 16-bit Console Wars until Sega sabotaged itself with its bizarre Sega Saturn strategy.  (A story for another day…)  Even in the face of stiff competition from the Sony PlayStation, the Super Nintendo continued to be a strong force in the gaming market.  A smaller, redesigned version of the system was put to market, and one of the system’s most popular games, Donkey Kong Country, was not released until late 1994, which promptly sold over 6 million copies!  The Super Nintendo sold so well that Nintendo did not cease production of the Super Nintendo until 1999, and only because the Nintendo 64 was poised to launch.

The SNS-101, the 2nd Super Nintendo Console

So, Happy 20th Birthday to a system that more than covered its bet, and helped shape the gaming world into what it is today!


The very first Super Nintendo commercial?

Advertising From Yesteryear…Crypt of the Undead

Epyx promised to make every game as good as Temple of Apshai – or at least that was what their ad copy said.  Crypt of the Undead was a game published for the Atari 400 / 800 platform, and this full-page ad was published in 1982.   Now, I’m not saying that Epyx might have exaggerated their quality claims…no, wait, that’s exactly what I’m saying.  Enjoy!

Full page ad for Epyx's Crypt of the Undead (1982)

More FREE Board Game Rules Added – August Edition!

A few more .pdf versions of some classic board games were added at the free board game rule page at magisterrex.com.  There’s no charge for downloading these game instructions, which now includes rules for Billionaire, The C.B. Radio Game, Dark Tower, Escape From Atlantis, Goblin’s Gold, Hotels, Landslide, Nightmare II and III, Shogun, The Six Million Dollar Man, The Six Million Dollar Man: Bionic Crisis, Whatzit, Zone X, and many more

Just click on the image below to browse the selection available!

FREE Board Game Rules

Roll Call – The Villains of Batman: Arkham City

The excitement is building towards the release of Batman: Arkham City, Rocksteady’s sequel to the amazing Batman: Arkham Asylum.  The latter was an example of a comic book property done right in the video gaming world, with a respect for the characters and subculture they inhabit.  Casting Mark Hamill as the voice of The Joker and Kevin Conroy as the voice of Batman was one of many examples of this attention to the details of what makes the Dark Knight’s universe so popular.  The villains are the key, of course, and if done right, will keep comic book aficionados coming back for more.

So which villains do we know are in the game thus far?  I’m glad you asked!  Let’s review what we’ve seen thus far:

The Joker in Batman: Arkham City

Of course the Joker has to return.  This villain has been around since Batman #1, and some of the very best Batman stories star the insane Clown Prince of Crime.  The trailer shows a Joker looking a little worse for the wear, however.  Looks like getting the snot beat out of him by Batman took its toll.  Hopefully he’ll recover enough to present a physical challenge, too.  Regardless, he’s once again voiced by Mark Hamill, so surely a memorable Joker experience is coming.

The Penguin in Batman: Arkham City

The Penguin has been viewed as one of Batman’s deadliest foes, and this version seems to validate that.  This Penguin is both intelligent and vicious, and always seems to be able to keep Batman on his toes.  The Penguin of the comic books runs the Iceberg Lounge, and from within it, controls a variety of criminal enterprises across Gotham City, all the while posing as a legitimate businessman.  There is a striking difference with the game’s version, as this Penguin has no trouble committing crimes in front of witnesses, such as shooting a police officer in the back.  The character is voiced by Nolan North, who has a long resume of voice-over work in the video game industry.

Two-Face in Batman: Arkham City

The Batman’s rogues gallery spans the entire spectrum of insanity, but Harvey Dent holds a special place on that rainbow of madness.  Two-Face is the ultimate split personality, both sides fully aware of each other and acting together with the mere flip of a coin.  Good or evil? It’s just a coin toss away.   Troy Baker provides the voice for Gotham City’s former District Attorney.

The Riddler in Batman: Arkham City

Edward Nigma has always been my favorite Batman villain, as he challenged Batman’s intellect with twisted logic and puzzles rather than brute force.  As an interesting aside, most major Batman villains are physically deformed in some way, whereas The Riddler is only suffering from a strange compulsion. The Riddler desperately wants to be acknowledged as a criminal mastermind, and his crimes show it.  Wally Wingert reprises his role from the original game, bringing just the right mixture of irritating condescension and malice to the Prince of Puzzles.

Professor Hugo Strange in Batman: Arkham City

Hugo Strange has performed some sinister mind games on Batman in the past, going so far as taking over Wayne Manor and assuming his identity.  He’s one of the few villains who knows that Bruce Wayne and Batman are one and the same.  From the clip, it would appear that he is up to similar nefariousness in this game.  Corey Burton (who was the voice of James Bond, Jr.), brings the bad Professor to life.

Catwoman in Batman: Arkham Asylum

Catwoman has always walked the line between friend (with benefits) or foe to Batman.  In this game, she appears to be an ally, and looks suspiciously like Halle Berry (or is it just me?).  Sultry, sexy, and extremely dangerous, Catwoman has been a major character since her first appearance in Batman #1 (the same debut issue as The Joker).  In Arkham City, she is voiced by Grey DeLisle.

Talia al Ghul in Batman: Arkham Asylum

Talia al Ghul, the Daughter of the Demon, has the distinction of being the only woman to both wed and bed Batman.  Like Catwoman, she walks a tightrope between ally and enemy; on one hand she aids her father, Ras al Ghul, in his eco-terrorist plans, on the other, she aids Batman, such as when she wiped out Lex Luthor’s financial holdings and rendered him penniless.  What role will she have in Arkham City?  All we do know is that she’s voiced by the lovely Stana Katic, who no doubt will lord her Batman involvement over her Castle co-star, Nathan Fillion.

Mr. Freeze in Batman: Arkham Asylum

Mr. Freeze has gone from a pathetic second-stringer to an actual threat to Batman thanks to the Batman Animated Series of the 1990s.  He has an origin immersed in epic tragedy, becoming a monster in his pursuit of saving the life of his beloved Nora.  Victor Fries is voiced by Maurice LaMarche, who veteran geeks may remember as the voice of The Brain in the classic Pinky and the Brain TV cartoon (“Gee Brain what are we gonna do tonight? The same thing we do everynight Pinky. Try to take over the world!”)

Solomon Grundy in Batman: Arkham City

Solomon Grundy, born on a Monday. Christened on Tuesday, married on Wednesday, took ill on Thursday, grew worse on Friday, died on Saturday, buried on Sunday. This is the end of Solomon Grundy.  Except, for poor Cyrus Gold, it is never the end.  After committing suicide in Slaughter Swamp, he finds himself transformed into a zombie that cannot be killed.  He can be destroyed, but only rises again and again, each time a little different physically, and sometimes intelligent, and sometimes not. For the game, he appears to have a crude intelligence, but that’s judging from his one line he gives before attacking.   Solomon Grundy is voiced by Fred Tatasciore.

Harley Quinn in Batman: Arkham Asylum

Wherever the Joker goes, Harley Quinn follows.  She is a recent addition to the Batman mythos, having been added by the creative team in the 1990s Batman animated series, and then later migrated to the comic.  She survives the Joker’s attentions thanks to the efforts of Poison Ivy, who gave her enhanced speed, strength, and an immunity to poison.  She is voiced in this game by Tara Strong, who actually looks much like what I’d expect Harley to look like.

Mr. Zsasz in Batman: Arkham City

Mr. Zsasz is a serial killer – a very dangerous serial killer – who marks his body with a single line every time he succeeds in taking a life.  Seeing his body is thoroughly covered in marks, Victor Zsasz is someone best detained under lock and key. The game portrays him as being easily influenced by the greater Batman villains, such as The Joker and The Riddler, but in the comics he is extremely intelligent, and completely remorseless.  Mr. Zsasz was voiced by Danny Jacobs in Batman: Arkham Asylum, but it is not yet known if he will have the same voice in the sequel.

Poison Ivy set to return in Batman: Arkham City

Batman always seems to draw the attention of beautiful women, though some are as homicidal as they are lovely.  Such a lady is Poison Ivy, who uses pheromones to enhance her sex appeal (and to control others), and has an affinity for plant life with a potency just short of a DC Comics plant elemental.  She had a starring role in Batman: Arkham Asylum as a “boss” character, and it appears that she will have escaped her Titan-enhanced doom to vex Batman once more, again voiced by Tasia Valenza.

Who else might be showing up?

Will The Creeper make an appearance in Batman: Arkham City?

Jack Ryder is a television reporter in Gotham City.  He has a presence in Batman: Arkham Asylum as the final battle with the Joker is covered by The Jack Ryder Show, albeit not a physical appearance.  Jack has a secret, and that secret is that he can transform into The Creeper, a colorful superhero whose manic laughter and mannerisms are, well, creepy.  The Creeper has battled The Joker and Batman in the past, and with Ryder making a full appearance in Batman: Arkham City, can The Creeper be far behind?

Is The Scarecrow returning in Batman: Arkham City?

Jonathan Crane was once a promising and brilliant psychology professor who explored the dark side of the human psyche, focusing on fear in all its forms.  Dr. Crane pushed the envelope too far in his classroom, and after being let go from the university, sought revenge, becoming The Scarecrow to mask his identity and scare his enemies to death.  His appearance in Batman: Arkham Asylum is widely lauded as being some of the most imaginative levels in the game, as his fear gas brings hallucinations that Batman must battle his way through.  Will he return in the sequel, and if so, how can Rocksteady bring something new to The Scarecrow gaming experience?

Calendar Man in Batman: Arkham City

Is there a Batman villain so obscure as Calendar Man?  Julian Day was just another costume with a gimmick until two mini-series, Batman: The Long Halloween and Batman: Dark Justice, reinvented him as a more sophisticated criminal mastermind.  The image above, with the tattoo of the running across his bald head, is the same as that found on the version in the miniseries.  It does not appear that Batman will battle Calendar Man, but he will interact with him, perhaps to give clues to other crimes.

Is Black Mask in Batman: Arkham City

Roman Sionis was a bit of loser with rich, loser parents.  Suffering indignity after indignity, he finally set his familial home on fire and killed his parents, inheriting their fortune.  He thought he was going to be a winner by designing a new cosmetics line for the company his father built, Janus Cosmetics, but neglected to test the products before rushing to market.  His failure further strengthened his psychosis, and he eventually donned a mask made from the ebony lid of his father’s casket, and became  Black Mask, and eventually a crime lord of Gotham City.  No images have been released of Black Mask thus far, but a tantalizing image of Sionis Industries keeps the possibility open.

Will Bane make a return appearance in Batman: Arkham City?

The last we saw of Bane, he had been Patient X, the source and test subject for Dr. Penelope Young’s and The Joker’s Titan Project, trapped within the medical wing of Arkham Asylum.  He fought Batman as a “boss” character, and was ultimately smashed into the sea by the Batmobile.  He was last seen grasping a floating Titan case, which meant that he could very well return for the sequel.  Will he be an ally or an enemy?  Or both?

______________________________________________________

That’s it for now, but at the rate the reveals are coming, perhaps a few more villains are on their way.  However, like The Shadow, only Rocksteady knows!

 

Yesterday’s Copy Protection Schemes – James Bond: The Stealth Affair

There have been some crazy ideas developers that came up with to attempt to defeat the software pirates copying their games.  Sometimes the desire to protect their product overcame the need for convenience of the consumer of that product.  Some were simply annoying: turn to page 145 of your game manual and enter the first word on the third paragraph.  Some, however, transcended mere annoyance to become a true pimple on the gamer’s backside.  Such a copy protection scheme was found in James Bond: The Stealth Affair.

The copy protection screen for The Stealth Affair

At first the design seemed elegant. A picture was divided up into various colorful geometric patterns, and presented on the back page of the game manual as a reference.  When the copy protection screen loaded, the picture was in grayscale except one geometric puzzle piece.  The game demanded which color was this piece.  Simple, right? Except the colors were slightly off, and the first guess was always wrong.  It didn’t matter if the piece was red and you selected red.  You were still wrong. The computer is your friend, citizen.  If you had the good fortune to have an easy color to distinguish on the second attempt, the game began.  If not, you were 0 for 2, and it was time to restart.  (Note to developers: the only thing worse is making me go online to unlock the game, especially if my Internet connection is down.  No one at Blizzard or Valve would ever make us do something like that would they?)  At any rate, below is the original color copy protection page from the game manual. Enjoy!

Full color copy protection screen for The Stealth Affair

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