The history of franchised boardgames is not a particularly happy one, though I would be forced to admit that of late there have been some better tie-ins: X-Wing, Spartacus etc. It was with this in mind that I approached the adaptation of the old Atari Centipede Game from IDW Games with a certain amount of trepidation, considering that this is the second time that someone has tried to bring it to the tabletop. Who knew?
In order to make a fair comparison I spent a little time with its digital original in an emulator and found all the things I expected to in a game of this type and that era: trigger finger reactions, scoreboard and an increasing difficulty over time. I also found this thought entering my head: why would you try and adapt this into a boardgame? Let’s put my worries aside and see what we have in this box of 8 bit themed nostalgia.
Huge box, small footprint
The box for Centipede is mahoosive and belies what you actually get inside: a simple board, just a might more colourful than the computer game it hails from, and some lovely chunky 8-bit inspired tokens. Oh and a patch for reasons unknown.
Your first problem comes when you are choosing which side to take. Do you take the role of the noble gnome with his magical wand or the majestic centipede being twain in two at a moments notice only too descend ever faster towards your meal with not one, but two gaping maws. The choice is yours.
Lining up on opposite ends of the ‘screen’ you seed the playing area with a bunch of adorable 8bit mushrooms and set about shooting them to bits.
The gnome player is bouncing back and forth shooting mushrooms, insects and the centipede of his opponent looking to remove all the segments of it from the board. They achieve this by grabbing one of the dice from the pool they rolled at the start of the game and doing the things on that dice in the order they appear, from left to right. This means that you have to plan ahead a little anticipating where the centipede will move to get into position to bring about its doom, much like the computer game.
In an added little mechanical manipulation the gnome player also has access to 4 powers that can manipulate the dice they choose: shooting again, moving a little more etc. Those cards can be refreshed over the course of the game, by not using one on a turn or activating a die, and knowing when to use them and getting them to refresh before you need them is part of the trick of the Gnome’s strategy.
The Centipede player in the meantime is playing cards to manipulate the screen: planting or removing mushrooms, summoning spiders and fleas and of course more centipedes. The insects, including the centipede, or all programmed to move in a particular way taking their AI from the computer game. Insects move faster as more centipedes are created, and the centipedes themselves move faster the shorter they are. Get into the Gnome’s movement area to eat it, or the space just above it with a spider or flea and you win.
It’s worth noting that there is a 4 player variant in the box as well but I have not had a chance to play it.
Inspired by a real computer game
What you have here is a not bad asymmetric game that apes the gameplay of its digital predecessor pretty well. What you don’t have is that highscore mechanic that was the main driving force of a lot of these games when they originally hit the arcades nor the trigger finger reactions that such games required. This is definitely a case of inspired by rather than direct copy, which is totally fine and I think they’ve done a pretty good job overall.
However, I guess my issue is this: I don’t know who Centipede is for. Do people have enough nostalgia for the computer game that they want a boardgame version of it? There is a Missile Command one now as well, and it has me equally baffled as to why it exists. The mechanics may be perfectly fine, as they are in Centipede, but the thematic side of it has me raising an eyebrow. We also need to talk about price.
A quick google says the game is round the £30 amount and I just can’t see you getting your moneys worth out of it. Patchwork, which I’ve just realised I haven’t reviewed yet, is £20 and it’s a 2 player game that I just keep coming back to again and again as it has such replayability. I just don’t feel that Centipede justifies the price point amongst all the other excellent 2 player boardgames that are out there.
If you have a nostalgia for this period of Atari design and are looking for a light asymmetric game then this is not a bad little game at all. If you actually want something that is likely to stay in your collection and that you will come back to again and again then I would suggest checking out Patchwork for a straight up 2 player game or the fantastic Yomi for something computer game inspired and asymmetric.