Ever since the first recognisable intellectual properties in video games, designers have tried to translate them to boardgames. I remember playing the Pac-Man and Frogger! board games in the 80s. 8Bit Box develops that concept with their “board game console”: a series of games using shared components and joypad-style control dials.
8Bit Box is unique, but I suspect it has been overlooked simply because bad box design will deter most potential customers. A new idea like this needs packaging which clearly communicates the concept. Sadly, the blurb on the box is misjudged. The game features “controllers with digital rotation technology”, “72 Pixel 3D mobile high definition”, and a “DJIB TX1080 graphics card”.
These are intentional jokes. “Digital rotation technology” refers to turning a dial with your thumb, “72 Pixel 3D” is 72 plastic cubes, and “DJIB TX1080” is a play on the name of the graphic designer. The problem is that if you’re not already in on the joke, it’s easy to take these at face value. Controllers with “digital technology” are an actual thing, a DJIB TX1080 sounds like a real graphics card, and “72 Pixel 3D mobile high definition” is no more absurd than much of the techno-jargon which litters electronic products. There’s even an image of a standard ‘kettle’ plug adapter, along with SCART and Phono outputs. I’m sure in a design meeting these jokes were on the money, but to the uninitiated consumer unclear on the contents of a box on the shelf, they are confusing. There’s nothing to assure a potential buyer that this is an entirely analogue product. This (along with many other games) would benefit from a picture somewhere on the box which shows the games set up and being played.
Which is a shame, because the games in the box are great fun. The star is probably Pixoid, instantly recognisable as a take on Pac-Man. Players take it in turn to be the hunted Pixoid, while the others chase them. Moves are chosen secretly on the controllers and then revealed simultaneously, with the Pixoid scoring for the number of turns they survive. It’s a brilliant and clearly-communicated concept, in which the narrow escapes and light frustration created by the inability to communicate make it a light, amusing, and gripping game.
Next is Outspeed, a futuristic racing game, in which players work through a series of obstacle cards towards either victory at the finish line or through eliminating the opposition (think Wipeout for reference). Each card has a choice of lanes, again chosen in secret and revealed simultaneously. Interestingly, the cost and reward of each lane can vary depending on how the players bid. For example, one lane may offer a significant boost — but if more than two players choose that lane, they all lose a turn, allowing the player who chose the ‘slow but steady’ lane to move ahead. There is some nice tactical play here, such as dropping back to allow a weapon to be more effective, but the best thing about Outspeed is its experimentation with the Prisoner’s Dilemma, forcing players to try to second-guess each other.
The third bundled game is Stadium. I found this the most interesting (in the base game), but also the hardest to get played, since it requires exactly four or six players, split into two teams. Players compete in a series of sporting events, such as golf, fencing, swimming, and basketball. Most games are a mix of secretly bidding an amount of stamina, and dice rolls. For example, the Pole Vault is in the style of a dutch auction, where each player chooses whether they will jump or wait. If all players wait, the height of the bar is lowered to a lesser stamina cost. The first player who jumps gains a gold medal, but will have paid the highest cost. Stadium isn’t a game you’ll perform well at on your first play, since the knowledge required to eke out your available stamina across ten events comes from experience. However, I really enjoy the variety of each event and the random selection of games each time, even if each mini-game requires its own page in a supplementary rulebook.
Last, Double Rumble has just been released as the first expansion. This is a Streets of Rage-style game, in which two martial artists battle through a series of advancing enemies, eventually challenging a boss. Unlike the others, this is a co-operative game for two players (or solo) and is more of a strategic/puzzle experience. Enemies have a weakness to certain moves, but changing moves on the players’ controllers costs a health point, while overcoming some enemies provides bonuses such as health regeneration and free stance changes. In spirit, it channels a Pandemic-style puzzle of resource management and tactical choices.
Where your own mileage may vary with Double Rumble is in two-player. Often the strongest solution is for one fighter to take a back seat while the other cleverly chains reward combos to clear levels in an efficient manner. If your enjoyment of a co-op game comes from agreeing the strategy between you, then Double Rumble is very satisfying; but if you want to use your own character to choose moves and get rewards, this may not be an equal experience for both players.
8Bit Box is a strange beast. None of the games on their own make 8Bit Box an essential purchase, and, since each game has different player-count requirements, it’s potentially going to be difficult to bring out on board game nights. On the other hand, because every game has different requirements, usually at least one of the games in 8Bit Box will be suitable. With influences such as Pac-Man, Wipeout, Track ‘n’ Field, and Streets of Rage, many will want to play for the nostalgia factor alone.
Ultimately, it’s a box of casual mini-games: a light party game for board gamers who dislike party games. If it reminds me of anything, it’s turning up to a friend’s house with a SNES and a bag full of controllers and games. Each title is simple, short, and not too mentally taxing — and hopefully at least one of the cartridges will lead to stories of a fun night.
Double Rumble (expansion)