Thursday, 31 May 2012

Review - Eragon

Eragon: The Official Motion Picture Board Game
Published by Mega Brands
Designed by Jim Bousman
For 2-4 players, aged 8 to adult

Having already reviewed Star Wars Episode I Customizable Card Game, Indiana Jones Akator Temple Race Game, and Operation: Aliens, I thought I would continue the theme by reviewing another game based on a movie: Eragon.

To be more exact, this is a game based on a movie based on a book. I love a good franchise. Unfortunately, Eragon is not a good franchise. The film is a tragic waste of human endeavour, managing to suck all the fun out of an adventure story involving knights, monsters, and dragons. I didn't even think that was possible.

It's not entirely the film's fault. The CGI is ropey, the acting is bad, the action sequences are boring, and some of the casting is way off (Rachel Weisz is not the person who springs to mind when I am asked to think up a good actor to voice a dragon); but the biggest problem is it's based on a book that simply isn't very good. The theme is a rehash of Star Wars, the plotting and characterisation is severely lacking, and it's all just a bit dull. I actually have a lot of respect for the author, Christopher Paolini. Not because he is good; but because he has managed to be so incredibly successful without actually being any good. However, he hasn't had everything his own way, and he has taken a lot of abuse for his writing "style" over the years (just like he is right now).

I am sure he sits in his mansion, surrounded by his piles of money, and cries himself to sleep.

But we aren't here to talk about the merits of the book or the film. We are here to talk about the merits of the shameless board game cash-in that came out off the back of the movie. With such great source material to work with, I am sure you can imagine how this is going to go...

At first glance, the production quality seems really rather good; but it very quickly becomes apparent that things haven't been thought through very well. The box is good enough: It's nice and glossy,  with a cover featuring all the actors from the movie looking suitably surly (but no picture of the dragon, which is clearly because this game was made using promotional artwork from before the movie's special effects had been completed); but once you remove the box lid, you start to realise what sort of game this is.

Eragon board
The board for Eragon. The squiggly writing isn't much easier to read close up.

The game board is big, and features  a series of paths overlaid on a map of Alagayseewhatsit (the fantastically not Middle Earth world in which the story unfolds). It seems very nice until you look closely, and you notice:
  • All the text is written in spidery italics and is almost impossible to read without pressing your nose against the board.
  • The bit of the board used for the game could actually fit on a board one-third the size, meaning that the rest of it is just for show.
  • It's covered in stupid words from the book, which have ridiculous umlauts and apostrophes scattered over them like fairy dust.
The other interesting thing about the board is that there are little punch out sections in the four corners, so that when the board is laid on a table, there are little "wells." The aim of the game is to collect cute little plastic crystals, and the "wells" on the board are where you place the crystals. The need for the "wells" becomes apparent as soon as you place one of the crystals on a flat surface. The crystals look impressive enough, but they are rounded, and they roll. Fast. You can't just pile them up beside the game board, not unless you want to spend most of the evening rummaging under the sofa for them.

Eragon dragon crystals
You wouldn't believe how difficult it was to take this picture.

The problem is, the "wells" are only big enough to hold about six crystals. Not nearly enough. I would say that's a massive design fault. But it isn't. The massive design fault was including crystals that were so difficult to control that it became necessary to cut "wells" in the bloody board in the first place. Seriously... Why not just cubes? Or cardboard chits? They probably would have been cheaper, and the publisher wouldn't have needed to pay for diecut game boards.

The game also ships with a deck of cards. Despite having a gloss finish, they still manage to be cheaper and flimsier than most of the other cards I have seen (including the ones in Hasbro games). Furthermore, the printing is terrible. All the character images are grainy; it's actually difficult to figure out who some of the people on the cards are supposed to be.

Eragon cards
The word "action" on a card is the closest thing to action you will find in this game.

However, the components are not a complete bust. The game includes three good quality dice (six-sided, 10-sided, and 20-sided), and four really nice player pieces designed to look like the hilt of a sword. Each playing piece has a translucent plastic "gem" in the pommel with a matching colour base. They are sturdy, and look great. Makes you wish they had used them in a better game.

Eragon playing pieces
The playing pieces. There must be a better use for them!

Ah yes... the game. The game isn't much of anything really. It's a simple roll-and-move game where you interact with the spaces you land on, occasionally get to draw a card, and need to roll the exact number to land on the final space of the path. (Really? Why do people still design games that require you to roll an exact number to win?)

As already mentioned, the aim of the game is to collect the horrible, rolling crystals. On your turn you roll the dice, and move that number of spaces (unless you land on a "stop" space, in which case you... er... stop). Occasionally you may have a choice of two directions to chose from, but all roads lead to Rome, so it doesn't matter which way you go.

If you land on a "challenge" space you get to challenge an opponent to a contest of magic or strength. It doesn't matter which you pick, it just determines if you roll the red dice (strength), or the green dice (magic). Both players will roll the same dice, so there is no real advantage to picking one ability over the other.

Before rolling the dice, you both wager some crystals, then the person who rolls the highest gets to keep the crystals. Re-roll ties.

I'm not kidding.

Sometimes you will land on a "draw a card" space. Guess what happens then?

There are three types of card:

Battle cards: Drawing one of these means you are involved in a bit of a scrap. You will either lose or gain dragon crystals (with no chance to do anything about it), and you may also get moved a few spaces forwards or backwards.

Action cards: Do pretty much the same as battle cards, except sometimes they ask the players to do mental things like "pass this card over your forehead three times." Oh yeah... and they say "action" on them.

Protection cards: You keep hold of these cards, and use them to block challenges. Some block strength challenges and some block magic challenges. The existence of these cards seems to be the only reason there are two types of challenge at all; and as you will never know if an opponent has a protection card against your selected challenge, it all seems rather random and pointless.

And that, my friends, is the game.

Roll the dice. Move. Do what it says on the space you land on (unless you got lucky and landed on a blank space). Apart from the blank spaces, "challenge" spaces, and "draw a card" spaces, you may have the good fortune to land on the thrilling "take another turn" space, or the earth-shattering "raid" space that allows you to roll a dice(!) and take crystals equal to the number rolled from one of your opponents (assuming you found anyone willing to play the game with you in the first place).

The game ends when someone reaches the end space on the board. That player collects five bonus crystals. Then everyone counts up their crystals (while trying to stop them rolling off the table), and the person with the most crystals wins. Although they don't, because everybody who has taken part in this sorry waste of time loses something (precious moments of life, a piece of their soul, their minds, whatever).

I think one of my favourite things about the game is the small section entitled "strategy hints" in the rules. The hints include gems like: "When playing with more than two players, it might be important to keep one player from getting too many Dragon Crystals in his or her possession." Surely, that is also the case in the a two-player game?!

Anyway, enough of this nonsense. This game has drained more of my life than it has any right to: First, because I played it; and now because I've written this review. This game is one of those typical movie tie-ins, quickly thrown together without due care and attention. It was designed to sell while the movie was popular (which it never was) before being relegated to the bin.

Having reviewed this game, I am now getting rid of it. It doesn't deserve a space in The Vault. It barely deserves a space at the local land fill.

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