Wednesday 9 May 2012

Review - The Muppet Show

The Muppet Show box

The Muppet Show
Published by Palitoy Ltd
Designed by someone who doesn't want to admit it
2-4 players, aged 8 to adult

Yes, it's time to put on make-up (or is that just me?), it's time to dress up right (actually, I'm at home in just my pants, so what?)... It's time to review another out of production board game from The Vault!

Ah, the Muppets. I have a soft spot for those fuzzy little guys. I grew up with them (and their Sesame Street colleagues), my wife has a complete set of Muppet statues in a glass display case in the study, and I never fail to watch Muppet Christmas Carol every December 24. So, of course, when I saw The Muppet Show board game in a local charity shop, I had to pick it up.

The copy I found is pretty bashed up. There is sticky tape on the corners of the box lid, and some of the components are a bit "used," but even so, I paid £4.99 because I couldn't bear to leave it on the shelf.

The cover of the box declares this to be an "hilarious, fun-packed family board game" and that right there is the first warning that this game isn't going to be that special. You know that guy in your office who wears the comedy ties and thinks he's the funniest man alive when really he is just an annoying idiot? Same rules apply here. If something describes itself as being "hilarious," what it really means is "a bit boring, and trying to hard."

But before we get into that, let's lift the lid and see what we get:

First up, you get a flimsy four-page rules sheet. One page is a cover picture, one page is a contents list, half a page contains the rules, and the remaining space is taken up with descriptions of how the different cards work. Yeah, this game isn't that complicated.

The Muppet Show rules
The Muppet Show rule book

As the game plays up to four people, you get four groups of player pieces. Each group comprises two Muppets (cast members) and one matching "set." So, for example, the red set comprises Dr Teeth, Animal, and a set showing the band's instruments.

If you are really that interested, the other groups are:

Green: Miss Piggy and Rowlf dressed as surgeons, with a surgery set.
Blue: Gonzo and Zoot, with an orchestra set.
Yellow: Fozzie Bear and Scooter, with a park bench set.

The cast members are made of card, with plastic stands, while the sets fold up into 3D standees and then fold flat again for storage.

The Muppet Show playing pieces
The red team.

I own the Palitoys version of this game, in which movement of game pieces is determined by playing cards. As I understand it, there are other versions where movement is determined by a spinner. I think using cards is better, as it allows for at least a small amount of strategy; but I'll get to that in a minute.

So, you get a deck of 46 cards. They are thin, they are monochrome, they are boring. Don't expect any cool Muppet art here. You just get words and arrows, printed in blue. Missed opportunity. Very poor.

The final component is the best. You get a wonderfully illustrated game board depicting the stage on which the Muppets perform. The crowd comprises lots of familiar faces from the show, including Kermit (which, I guess, is why he doesn't actually exist as a playing piece in the game).

Overall, the components are what you expect for a game that was published in the 1970s: Flimsy, and not even remotely comparable to the components of a modern game. Even so, I can't help thinking there was some cost-cutting going on here. The components could have been - nay, SHOULD have been - better than this.

However, a game rises or falls on its gameplay, not its components. So, what is this game all about? Let's check the rules to see what they say:

"It's a fast moving game that captures all the humour of the show itself."

Honestly? I'm not seeing where all this hilarity and humour they keep banging on about is coming from. Really, guys. You can't just put the name of the Muppets on a box and use the word hilarious and expect the game to be fun. It doesn't work that way. Trust me.

Here's basically how the game works:

Each group of cast members starts at the back of the board next to the doors of the appropriate colour. Their matching set piece starts on the board in completely the wrong place. The aim of the game is to get both of your cast members and your set into the correct spaces at the front of the board (i.e. each cast member is standing on a space containing his or her picture, and both cast members are in front of the set, which is also on its indicated finishing space).

The Muppet Show board
Detail of The Muppet Show game board

You achieve this frankly less than hilarious goal by playing a card each turn from a hand of three cards (drawing back up to three afterwards). In the version of the game with the spinner, you simply spin and do what you are told; but the version with the cards allows a small amount of strategy, as you have three cards to pick from. Most of the cards do the same bloody thing, but at least there is a bit of choice.

The Muppet Show cards
Hilarious cards, featuring all your favourite Muppets... Oh, wait.

The cards allow such hilarious actions as, moving a Muppet orthogonally, moving a Muppet diagonally, moving a set up or down (they can't move diagonally or sideways), moving a Muppet AND a set (stop, you're killing me), or moving (wait for it) an OPPONENT'S Muppet. There are also some "hazards" which you can play on an opponent's turn. They hilariously allow you to move a Muppet to one of three different spaces on the board (backstage, the wings, or the dressing room). Yeah. Really.


The strategy comes from trying to move the different playing pieces in a way that helps you and hinders your opponent. As no pieces are allowed to move through a space containing any other piece, the aim should be to trap an opponent's pieces in places where they cannot move. However, the large playing area, and the limited number of pieces on the board, mean it really is very difficult to stop an opponent from making useful moves, so you might as well just race for your own finishing spaces as quickly as possible.

Not hilarious. Not humorous. Not fun.

What else can I say? This is obviously a children's game, but even by that standard it falls short of being a "good" game. It's actually quite an interesting concept: Moving your cast and the set into place to begin the show is a neat idea, with good potential. Unfortunately, the very small deck of cards, and the limited actions you can perform, mean there is little replayabiliy and absolutely none of the humour the game seems determined to enforce. Furthermore, the shocking lack of Muppet artwork and in-jokes on the cards is a massive oversight that really damages the enjoyment of the game for fans of the characters.

It should also be noted that the game is craptacular with less than three players. With only one opponent to play hazards on, and with only a few cards in the deck to cycle through, what should be a quick game turns into a painful chore where one person moves a piece, his opponent moves it back, and then the cycle repeats. The winner will be determined entirely by luck.

Having said that, I do intend to keep my copy in The Vault. I might play it occasionally (just so I don't break my rule of only keeping games I actually play), but this one is mainly being held on to for nostalgia.

Maybe I'll just go and watch my Muppet Show DVD instead. Now, that really is hilarious.

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