Everybody Remembers Their First
Many many moons ago when I was still a knee high to a grasshopper and the thought of playing board games had never even crossed my mind, I came down from my bedroom one Christmas (circa late 1980’s) to find a monster box waiting under the tree. With the kind of glee which can only be described as monstrous (not childish) my brother and I set to unwrapping this monster box to find…. our first gaming system. None other than an Atari 7800.
Awww yeah! They don’t make ‘em like those any more.
Needless to say that for a good couple of years, my spare time was filled with classic gaming: Asteroids, Missile Command, Dig Dug and of course Centipede.
I think recently someone at IDW Games has been having a bout of nostalgia too as they agreed some licenses with Atari to make their classic games into board games, the first of which has been Centipede.
Admittedly, after I finished asking myself quite why someone would do that somewhere near 40 years later, my second question was whether Centipede would lend itself especially well to a board game. And has it? You’d best read on and see!
Ewww! That’s so Ugly!
First impressions can be quite important when looking at board games, because let’s face it, despite what anyone says, we are all a little guilty for judging a book by its cover. IDW went full retro (or is it now classic?) with Centipede and just did a full reproduction of the original box art. Now that I’m old enough to have rose tinted glasses, I have to say, man that box was ugly. Still, if I judged a game by its box all of the time then I’d have missed some real gems.
The thing which first grabbed my attention once I got into the box is something which seldom gets done any more; random free things! I’m not sure whether it’s going to be a theme with all of their “throwback” games (my words, not theirs) but Centipede came with a cool sew on badge. Alright, maybe cool is a bit of a stretch… it is a little gaudy, and very late 70’s style neon, but it was still a really nice thing to find in the box.
The rest of the components are really solid but there has to be some points taken away from Centipede for the pointless insert category. It looks great, but it’s just not really that useful. The whole game could well have come in a much smaller box, so I wonder if the insert was just filler.
Bringing Centipede Back to Life
So how do we play Centipede? IDW did definitely put some thought into this part at least. It’s either a 2 or 4 player game. In a 2 player game of Centipede, one of you will play as the magic wielding gnome trying to bus’ a cap (sorry, I had some Snoop Dogg on in the background while I was writing this) in the titular centipede and the other player plays as the centipede trying to kill the gnome by straight up eating him, or sending a minion to do so.
During the game setup, there are mushrooms placed all over the board (3 in each column to be exact) which act as an obstacle to both players. These can be destroyed by the gnome blasting them out with magic or they can be shifted by the centipede moving through them.
Since the gnome is trying to murder the centipede, how do we go about it? The gnome has 6 D6 dice in their armoury and 4 cards with bonus actions to help them along. The dice have movement and attack instructions on them, so you can have something like “attack, move x, attack” and some have card symbols on them too. The card symbols are used to refresh the bonus use cards that the gnome player has in front of them. The cards can give you extra movement, an extra shot, removal of an extra mushroom and a dice re-roll. Once these cards have been used during the game, one card will be reset for every turn played without using any of them.
The centipede has no dice, but an entire deck of cards that can be utilised for movement and attack actions. These cards vary from letting you move directly toward the gnome instead of horizontally to spawning a flea or spider to send after the gnome.
The 4 player variant of Centipede sees the same style of gameplay except you play on teams. Both teams play as one centipede and one gnome each.
I know that sounds like a quick overview of gameplay for Centipede, but honestly, there’s not much more to it than that. There are some rules governing movement and such, but let’s face it, you’re probably not interested in that right now. What I’m sure you want to know is whether it is worth playing. So without further ado, allow me to start dropping the knowledge bomb.
Retro, or new classic?
I’d like to think that I came to Centipede with cautious optimism instead of my usual copious amount of cynicism and I’m still undecided about whether that was the right thing to do.
First things first, I have to give some Kudos to IDW for making Centipede look the part. The centipede pieces are 8-bit looking, as are the cards, gnome meeple and different vermin which can be spawned by the centipede, and even the art on the board; so it is like seeing a card and wood equivalent recreation of my childhood. Which is great if that’s what you’re looking for from it.
However, a good looking game doesn’t always make a good game.
Anybody who has been playing board games for a little while will likely know that the guide times on the box are frequently nonsense and Centipede is no exception. The guide time is 30-45 minutes for a game. Rubbish! I think even with a learning game you’d be lucky to eke 25 minutes out of it. There’s just not enough going on to extend the game play much more.
I think that Centipede is actually a faithful reproduction of the original Atari game, but maybe that is part of the problem. It was relevant all that time ago, but I don’t think it stands up well to the test of time. There’s no real sense of urgency or any real sense of threat from one side or the other.
There’s also the problem that even if you’re being generous, Centipede falls into the heavy filler category. It’s certainly not a 10 minute game, but there is no way that you could make an evening out of it. Given the price point (over £30) I’m not sure that the gameplay can justify the price tag.
Admittedly, when I first found out that IDW were making board games out of some of my most beloved video games I was terribly excited. Having now played Centipede, that enthusiasm has waned somewhat.
I’m not sure that they could have done to make it better (except maybe bring down the price in line with how much gameplay there is) but it feels like its missing something and playing it feels a bit of a flat experience.
7800 or PS4?
I think that you’ll like Centipede if you’re a massive Atari fan and I expect the price will have a lot to do with the cost to license them, but you’d have to be a die-hard Atari fan to be willing to pay over the odds for a filler game with some pretty fluff.
All in all, Centipede for me was a somewhat deflating experience. I feel like it could have been better, even if I’m not sure how. As it stands, Centipede scores a mushroom munching, gnome shooting, spider launching 5 out of 10. Best take out the cartridge and blow on it to see if it comes out any better next time.
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I am just a regular guy that fell into board gaming. That's why I am no longer allowed in my local Toys R Us. I'm a huge fan of deckbuilding games and games with unusual themes or mechanics. OK, maybe I'm not that regular after all.