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March 17, 2003

The Perils of Licensed Game Designing

Greg Costikyan has been ranting about the current state of the computer games industry. One of the conclusions was that people working on licensed product can and should use that as an opportunity to produce meritorious work. (Think of the only pin table ever to make a profit, The Addams Family).

When you have small children, people give you family games. A close friend gave us "Clangers: the Board Game" for Christmas. She knew we liked board games, and knew I liked The Clangers. It was an obvious present. My theory is that the people who make licensed board games know that.

Yesterday, it being Sunday afternoon, we played it. There's a board, with a number of spaces onto which you put round cards with a dustbin lid on one side and a picture of a character or event from The Clangers on the other. There's a deck of cards with the same picture on. There is also a sound chip that makes a squeaky clanger noise. Each person in turn takes a card from the deck, turns over a dustbin lid; if they match, they get to keep them both and press the sound chip.
The person who ends up with the most cards wins.

OK. So for an amount of money -- I'm guessing 9.99 here but it was a present -- you get something which has less gameplay than Pelmanism (pairs). Plus, Pelmanism is played with a deck of cards that you probably have around the house anyway. The main fun of Pelmanism -- hoovering up all the cards that you remember the locations of but your opponents don't -- is gone, because you don't get to choose your targets in this version. Also, the fact that there are four cards of a type in a deck is a feature of Pelmanism, not a bug; I'm always amazed at pairs decks produced for small children that only have two cards of a type. As with the Clangers game, it makes it very much harder to hit on a correct answer by chance.

The Clangers game does have one extra-special feature; some of the photos are very, very similar but not quite the same. So you pounce on a previously turned card with glee only to discover that it's Tiny Clanger pointing the other way. This does cause hilarity, but it's not really a benefit of a family game.

You do, of course, get a squeaky clanger sound chip; just the same ones as are inside the squeaky clangers, only much less cute because it doesn't have any clanger around it.

We had to work through the card deck about six or seven times to make all the matches; we were well through our second pass before getting a single match. Overall, Marianne got bored and distracted. I was amused by thinking about reviewing it on the blog. Jonathan repeatedly pressed the squeaky clanger sound chip, which may get pressed into service in all manner of other board games, and Steven endured the game with a pained expression. He's not the greatest fan of multi-player board games at the best of times, and this won't have helped.

Update, 27 April 2004: I've amended this review, removing some unkind thoughts about Susan Prescot Games, who made the Clangers game. Why? Because I got an e-mail from Susie Prescot, saying how sad she was that we didn't like the game, that licensed game designing is a perilous enterprise (which is of course true), that her development time and choice of images was limited, and that her daughter loved the game and Oliver Postgate liked it. It was, in fact, quite rotten of me to be nasty about a small game company; I love games of all kinds and I've known all my life what a difficult industry it is. I'm sorry.

Posted by Alison Scott at March 17, 2003 10:23 AM

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Well, it was originally priced at about 15. It actually cost quite a lot less than your guess (or so I'm told). Possibly it was reduced because it wasn't a good game? But it had Clangers on...


Posted by: Steve Davies at March 17, 2003 06:56 PM

It's games like this than means we only really play German board games these days. You get good game design, quality components and much replay value. German games companies seem to understand family games design.

The last time I went to the toy fair, I was horrified by the quality and originality (or rather the distinct lack of) in british game designs.

I should probably stop ranting now :-)

Posted by: Neil Ford at March 17, 2003 10:45 PM

Steve: I'm sorry for looking a gift horse in the mouth like this -- I did very much appreciate the thought, and it's scarcely Giulia's fault that the designers weren't able to fine-tune the gameplay. I'm glad to hear she got it reduced; but as my guess is that nearly all board games are bought as gifts, I doubt it was connected to the gameplay.

I didn't even get on to the time that someone gave us a plastic version of 'Beetle' -- yes, you can keep a 2ft square box of clutter in order to play a game that a four year old can play on pencil and paper. Or the word-based version of Connect 4 that Marianne was given for her birthday, which is so obviously impossible to play that it's not even worth opening the box. Another post: "how to design games so that they will be fun for adults and children to play together".

Posted by: Alison Scott at March 18, 2003 09:31 AM

hi,i want to know how to make such beautifull games like resident evil,fifa2002,maxpayne etc..plz send me an email as soon as possible ...

Posted by: khalid at September 6, 2003 03:47 PM

Let's diversify Mexico!

Posted by: Jose at January 9, 2005 04:08 AM

Hi...Have just updated my website..Have a look.

Im doing Have I Got News For You for Christmas..Will send you a copy in August when I get stock if you give me your address

Susie Prescot

Posted by: Susie at February 10, 2005 03:06 PM

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