Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Friday 26 January 2024

Friday Filler: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

One of the amazing aspects of modern games is that we can have great board games based on intellectual properties, but not just intellectual properties from this year or next year, even from a decade ago, but intellectual properties from decades ago. Go back even two or so decades and the board games based on intellectual properties would be nothing more than simple, tried and tested designs with the imagery of the intellectual properties slapped on them. Simple, tried and tested designs means unsatisfying, means dull, means feeling nothing like the intellectual properties such board games are based upon. Not so in the twenty-first century, when designers are expected to match the themes of an intellectual property with the mechanics of game play. The result has been some very playable board games, all based on well-known intellectual properties and all feeling like they are based on those intellectual properties. For example, Jaws: A Boardgame of Strategy and Suspense is a genuinely tense experience, as is Horrified. All of which have tended to be co-operative in their play style and have tended to appeal to a family audience rather than a dedicated board game player audience. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial: Light Years From Home Game is a similar game, a co-operative board game based on a decades old intellectual property, designed to be played by a family audience.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial: Light Years From Home Game is published by Funko Games and designed to be played by two to four players, aged ten and up, in just thirty minutes. The players take the roles of Elliot, Gertie, Mike, and Greg in their search for parts that E.T. needs to build a communication device to contact his home world. This takes time and effort as the four of them race around the neighbourhood, but their efforts will be hampered by the police in their cruisers and Federal Agents who are searching for E.T. Fortunately, Elliot, Gertie, Mike, and Greg know the neighbourhood though, and can make use of ramps and shortcuts to avoid the Federal Agents and the Cop Cars. To win, the Kids need to build the Device which will summon the Mothership to the Forest Clearing and then get E.T. there to be picked up. The Kids will lose if all three Cop Cars reach the Forest Clearing and block access to it or if E.T. becomes too weak because his Heartlight is reduced to zero.

Open up E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial: Light Years From Home Game and what you see first is the bowl of chrysanthemums—the one that E.T. restores to life in the film and then takes it with him when he leaves—on the back of the board. Turn the oddly squished board over and it depicts the neighbourhood in the San Fernando Valley where the film and thus this game are set. In one corner is the home of Elliot, Gertie, and Mike, whilst in the opposite is the Forest Clearing. Below that in the box, there are lots of striking components. Elliot, Gertie, Mike, and Greg have playing pieces which depicts each of them on bicycles that not only click together so that they can move together, but also have a basket into which E.T. can sit. The Mothership is pleasingly detailed plastic depiction of the starship from the film which sits on a stand. Although the board game does not use any photographs taken from E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, the artwork it uses in their stead to depict scenes and characters from the film is excellent. Make no mistake, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial: Light Years From Home Game is a good-looking board game.

The board itself is crisscrossed with roads which breaks up the lots and houses—known as zones—of the neighbourhood. Some have diagonal red routes across them which are shortcuts that the Kids can take, but the Cop Cars and the Federal Agents cannot. They, instead, must stick to the roads, which the Kids can also use. Three routes run from one corner of the board, from Elliot’s house to the Forest Clearing, and it is these that the three Cop Cars will follow over the course of the game. Three zones are marked with a coloured square—yellow, green, and blue. At the start of the game, the various zones are seeded with a single item represented by an item piece. These are also colour-coded yellow, green, and blue. During the game, the Kids will find and transport item pieces (or a wild token) to the zone of the corresponding colour. Once there are four in the zone, the Kids must transport E.T. to that zone who will then build a device, represented by a Device Die. The Device Die must then be transported to the Forest Clearing. There they can be rolled to generate the ‘telephone handset’ symbols that indicate that the Mothership has been contacted and is moving closer to the Earth and landing to rescue E.T. There are three colours of Device Items and three Device Dice. So, the more Devices that E.T. can build, the more Device Dice the Kids will have to roll. Another item that the Kids can find is a ramp. This can placed to leap over spaces, even over the Cop Cars and the Federal Agents, just as happened in the film.

Each of the four Kids, has their own card and their own special ability, which can used once per turn. Elliott can discard Candy to move E.T. extra spaces; Michael can move along a Shortcut for free; Greg can take a Dangerous Move without rolling the Danger Die; and Gertie can take a Dangerous Pick Up without rolling the Danger Die. Sixteen E.T. Power Cards give a range of different abilities that a Kid can use if he or she is carrying E.T. in the basket on their bicycle. For example, ‘Flying Kids’ lets a Kid move three spaces without the need to roll the Danger Die is enemies are encountered, ‘Trick or Treat’ lets the Kids skip the Move Enemies Phase that turn, and with ‘Hiding’, Special Agent Keys moves during the Move Enemies Phase, it is away from E.T. rather towards it. There are always three E.T. Power Cards on display and when one is used, it is discarded, and a new one drawn. There is a reference card and an E.T. counter with dial on it for tracking his Heartlight.

Once the game is set up, each Kid’s turn consists of three steps—‘Take Actions’, ‘Phone Home’, and ‘Move Enemies’. During the ‘Take Actions’ step, a Kid can take three Basic Actions and as many Free Actions as he wants. The Basic Actions are ‘Move’, ‘Take A Candy’, and ‘Pick Up An Item or Device’. ‘Take A Candy’ means taking a piece of Candy—or Reece’s Pieces in the film—from the general supply and adding it to the Kids’ Candy Pool. Candy is spent to move E.T., one space per Candy. If during a ‘Move’ or ‘Pick Up An Item or Device’, a Kid runs into or near an enemy, then his player must roll the red Danger Die. Depending on the result, this can move a Cop Car closer to the Forest Clearing, Special Agent Keys closer to E.T., the Federal Agent assigned to the Kid closer to him or her, or all assigned Federal Agents closer to their Kids. If a Cop Car or Federal Agent lands on the same space as a Kid, he is caught and must drop any Items or Devices carried. If E.T. is caught, Special Agent Keys takes charge of it and the Kids will have to rescue him! In both cases, E.T.’s Heartlight is reduced by one.

The Free Actions include ‘Drop An Item or Device’, ‘Move E.T. With Candy’, ‘Pick Up or Drop E.T.’, ‘Use One E.T. Power Card’, ‘Team Up’, and ‘Build A Device’. Of these, the most fun is ‘Temp Up’. This is when two Kids are in the same location. It not only enables Kids to swap Items, Devices, and even E.T., but it also enables their bicycles to click together and let them move together and even make use of their abilities together.

In the ‘Phone Home’ step, the player will roll any Device Dice which have been built and delivered to the Forest Clearing. For each ‘telephone handset’ rolled, the Mothership moves one step closer to landing at the Forest Clearing. Lastly, in the ‘Move Enemies’ step, the player rolls the two Enemy Dice (plus the red Danger Die if a Cop Car or Agent is on the location as a Kid or E.T.). Like the Danger Die, the Enemy Dice will move the Cop Cars closer to the Forest Clearing, the Agents closer to their assigned Kid, and Special Agent Keys closer to E.T. Play continues like this until the victory conditions are met by the Mothership picking up E.T., or the game is lost because either E.T.’s Heartlight is reduced to zero or the Cop Cars reach the Forest Clearing.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial: Light Years From Home Game is thematically great, but a busy game. What the Kids have to do is collect enough Items to build as many Devices (and their corresponding Device Dice) as they can, get E.T. and the Items to the right zones to build each device, take the Device Dice to the Forest Clearing, roll enough of the right symbols on the Device Dice to bring the Mothership to the Forest Clearing, and then transport E.T. to the Forest Clearing. All the while avoiding both the Cop Cars and the Federal Agents. Which is six steps. Add to this is the number of possible actions that the players can take. Not just the three Basic Actions, but six Free Actions! Now an experienced board game player will grasp the rules and how to play the game with ease, but the number of actions available in play and the number of steps necessary to win mean that the game is not as easy to teach or learn as it could be for less experienced or younger players. Which includes the family audience that E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial: Light Years From Home Game is intended for. Yet for the experienced board game player, the game play itself does not offer anything new or exciting and bar adjusting the number of Items needed to build devices and their corresponding Device Dice up or down to make game play harder or easier, there is very little variation in game play.

Of course, what E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial: Light Years From Home Game is not about is E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, the film, as a whole. It only focuses upon the climax. Upon the part of the film which is exciting and action-orientated and so gameable. Nevertheless, it is good adaptation of that part of the film and it is clear that a lot of effort has gone into making the game play match that part of the film. Fans of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial will appreciate E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial: Light Years From Home Game for that reason alone. As a game overall, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial: Light Years From Home Game is more serviceable than a success. It is not a poor game, but rather straddles a difficult line of being too easy and not offering enough variation for the experienced board game player and slightly too difficult with too many choices for the less experienced or family audience. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial: Light Years From Home Game is definitely a game that fans of the film will appreciate more than dedicated board game players.

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