Thursday, January 16, 2014

It just doesn't feel like Doctor Who

Doctor Who fans often talk about the show's "undefinable magic." The vague something that makes it such a great television series, that inspires incredible devotion among its fans, has consistently defied all efforts to, well, define. Personally, I think it has something to do with the way Doctor Who manages to pile unique idea on top of unique idea. Its malleable format allows for an incredible range of stories to be told, free from the constraints of series with more conventional settings and characters.

That "undefinable magic" may be what makes the show so compelling, but it could also be the very reason why no one has managed to create a Doctor Who game that really feels like Doctor Who.

Cubicle 7's amazing Doctor Who: Adventures in Space and Time role playing game may be the one exception. Perhaps a free-form game format like a role playing game, as opposed to the more constrained nature of most board and card games, is the only way to get the feel of the Doctor's adventures onto the table top. Nevertheless, when Cubicle 7 announced that they were releasing a Doctor Who card game, I had high hopes.

Doctor Who: the Card Game is certainly an interesting game. Players put location cards into play, which they must then defend from their opponents. Monster cards are used for attacks, and the Doctor and his companions are used for defense, thus allowing each player to play the heroes and the villains. Successful defense allows a player to place a "defended" token on his location, and a successful attack means the opponent's monster stays at the location. A player wins if they ever has five "defended" tokens or five monsters in play at the beginning of their turn.

The game manages to avoid the trap that a lot of card games fall into, where a player's victory rides on getting the right combination of cards, by virtue of a "pass the trash" game mechanic that requires each player to end their turn with three cards in hand, which they then pass to their right before drawing two new ones. It's fast paced and features some great artwork of the Matt Smith Doctor, companions and monsters, but I can't help feeling that the theme is secondary to the game's mechanics.

Rating: 3 (out of 5) While the Doctor Who theme feels a bit painted on, the game itself is pretty engaging.

Date played: December 30, 2013

The Doctor Who Collectible Card Game, published in 1996, features characters and photo images from across the original series' 26 year history. However the game itself is an unremarkable attack and defense numbers game similar to Magic: the Gathering which, while not uninteresting to play, doesn't really feel like Doctor Who. I suspect that this game was developed with no particular theme in mind, just waiting for whatever licensed property happened to come along.

Rating: 3 (out of 5) Not a bad game by any means, but fairly uninspired, and the only thing about it that really calls Doctor Who to mind is the card images.

Date played: January 1, 2014

Apparently, Doctor Who: the Game of Time and Space from 1979 started out as a fantasy treasure hunting game. Games Workshop bought the game design and decided that it would work for the Doctor Who license they had purchased but weren't using. Featuring many monsters such as Astro-Rats that are nowhere to be found in Doctor Who, and a few bizarre illustrations that look nothing like the characters they are supposed to be (in some cases their names are even spelled wrong), this game clearly used Doctor Who for brand recognition rather than inspiration.

Rating 1 (out of 5) Dull to the point of being unplayable, yet it remains in the collection for nostalgia's sake.

Date played: January 1, 2014

It is a testament to its "fill in the blanks" nature that there is a Monopoly set for every conceivable licensed property, and despite its utter lack of any connection to real estate investing, Doctor Who is no exception. The Doctor Who 50th Anniversary edition of Monopoly is a mixed bag. The board is actually quite lovely, and the traditional Monopoly properties have been replaced by episodes of the series with recurring monsters, which is an inspired idea. The text on the "chance" and "community chest" (here renamed "Gallifrey" and "UNIT") cards displays a fair knowledge of the show. But the playing pieces, which are supposed to be Doctor Who artifacts like the fourth Doctor's scarf and the sonic screwdriver, just look like bland lumps of metal.

In general I don't really like Monopoly, but playing this one I found myself having a good time, for a while at least. Unfortunately, we soon found ourselves just passing money back and forth across the board, and the game's fatal flaw as an elimination game that takes way too long to play reared its ugly head.

Rating: 2 (out of 5) As good as Monopoly can possibly be, but at the end of the day it's still Monopoly.

Date played: December 25, 2013

Doctor Who SceneIt was probably the most entertaining of the Doctor Who games on our list. I like trivia games, but I often find that the questions are a bit too easy if the subject is one I'm obsessively familar with, as I am with Doctor Who. However, in addition to the standard questions on cards, SceneIt adds unique video challenges where puzzle solving and reaction time play as much a part as trivia knowledge.

Rating: 3 (out of 5) More fun than your average trivia game.

Date played: January 2, 2014

At the end of our list of Doctor Who games are two versions of Top Trumps; one from 1978 and one from 2006.

The first one pits Doctor Who (a crudely illustrated Tom Baker) and the Legendary Legion, a bizarre group of fictional and historical figures, including Lord Nelson, Sherlock Holmes and Annie Oakley, against the Alien Attackers, a motley collection of monsters pulled from the first 15 years of Doctor Who. It's a simple game, but the descriptive text is surprisingly accurate, both for the monsters and the Legendary Legion.

As you might imagine, the 2006 edition is much slicker, with crisp images from the new series and somewhat overdesigned borders. The game is basically the same, with the cards divided equally among the players, who then compare statistics such as intelligence, darkness and courage, with the winner keeping the losers cards and play continuing until one player has all the cards. Great for a playground game, but a little juvenile for us.

Rating: 2 (out of 5) An overly simple game, although to be fair, we aren't really the target market.

Date played: January 3, 2014

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