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Subject: An Adult Revisits a Childhood Favorite rss

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Stephen Venters
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New York
New York
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Intro
I was first introduced to this game when I was 6 or 7 years old. My family would play it when we visited my grandparents who lived in a very small town in northwestern Arkansas. I would always snatch the seat next to Grandpa.... it was the good 'ol days. For many years, I have fondly remembered Aggravation as the game with marbles and dice that I got to play while sitting next to Grandpa.

Fast forward 30 some years...

A few weeks ago while browsing the game selection at Barnes & Noble, I saw a re-released copy of it for $20 bucks(!) and immediately bought it without a second thought. My fiance and I game pretty heavily (mainly Euro) and was very excited to share this piece of my childhood with her!

I have written this review from two perspectives to give it balance: (7yo Me) a 7 year old playing with Grandpa and his family and (Adult Me) a 30 something adult whose top rated games on BGG include Agricola, Tzolk'in, Small World, and Acquire (another 1960's era game) and has recently rediscovered Aggravation.

Theme
(7yo Me) This game has cool colors and marbles, which roll all over the place and can be used to play with when no one is playing the game. There are so many of them! I love when I roll and land on my Mom or Dad's marble and send them Home. It's like sending them to THEIR room.

(Adult Me) Aggravation is an abstract game with no story or theme. You are simply attempting to get your marbles from your Home, around the board, and into your Base by rolling a die and moving that number of spaces. In addition to getting your marbles Home, you try to land of your opponent's marbles, thus sending them to their respective owner's Home, thus aggregating your opponents. This concept was directly "reused" (er.. stolen) from the 1920's game Sorry!.

Price
(7yo Me) I have no idea what the price is. It's grandma and grandpa's game, maybe they got it for Christmas.

(Adult Me) At $20 bucks, this game is a steal when compared to my pimped out Agricola set and all the related expansions. Plus, I live in a city where a movie ticket costs me $18, I'm used to spending $20 for 2 hours of entertainment. I suspect you can find it even cheaper online and suggest you go that route as to reduce the amount of money you feel you spent on a game you will only ever play once.

Artwork / Visual Design
(7yo Me) They won't let me draw on the board so there's no drawings on it.

(Adult Me) There is no artwork at all. The board looks similar to what I remember from my grandparent's 1960's copy. The background is a solid royal blue (as opposed to the original light brown) and with minimal markings around each hole. The Home / Base spaces are colored appropriately to match the player marbles, but that's about it. The only splash of design is around the center hole which is some sort of weird pattern with a few colors for extra flair. In the end, the whole thing looks pretty dull, which is appropriate foreshadowing.

Parts & Quality
(7yo Me) I like the fun marbles. It's cool how they roll around and fit into the holes in the board. Sometimes I get yelled at for bumping the table and making them roll all over the place.

(Adult Me) The copy I played with as a child had nice, glass marbles, but the copy I got at B&N are only cheap plastic ones that barely have enough weight to rest securely in their holes on the board. The board is nice enough quality; it lays flat which is imperative given the marbles have to sit still in their holes. Oddly, the nicest component is the single die that is included. It is dense, with rounded corners, and roles very cleanly. I put in 5 more dice of my own into the box so each player can have his/her own die during play, thus cutting down time passing the die.

Teaching & Learning
(7yo Me) Dad showed me how to play. I get to roll the die and move the marble. Sometimes Grandpa helps me move the right marble. I like taking the shortcut through the middle, but makes me mad when I can't roll a 1 to get back out.

(Adult Me) At my most recent game night, I broke out my brand new copy and convinced my fellow (Euro) gamers to play it. It took me no more than 5 minutes to teach them. The rules are simple enough. You start at Home and must roll a 1 or 6 (on a D6) to get out. You then roll to advance your marble around the board. If you roll another 1 or 6, you have the choice to move a marble already out or to extract another marble from Home. There are a couple movement rules which are straight forward such as your own marbles cannot pass each other. So eventually you have to roll an exact number to get your marbles into your Base after a circuit around the board. Additionally, roll as 6 and get another turn. Pretty simple.

Weight
(7yo Me) I'm a strong, so everything is light to me. See? I can pick up my chair.

(Adult Me) This is an extremely light-weight game. Even as 6 highly experienced gamers searched for hidden strategies to make the game more complex, there was none. Granted you get a choice now and then such as whether or not to extract a new marble from Home or move one already on the board, or which marble you should move if you have 2 or more on the board, or whether or not to take one of the risky shortcuts, but in the end they really don't effect your ability to win. You could almost randomly choose what to do and you would still have the same chance of winning.

One of the movement rules is that your marbles can't jump (i.e. pass) each other, so the first marble in to your Base must occupy the last spot in it. If you roll something that would leave the marble in the second-to-last spot, you will eventually have to roll a 1 to move it to the last spot. This means you have to roll some pretty exact numbers to fill your Base up with your 4 marbles. The only meaningful choices you have to make is when your marbles are close to the Base and you have to choose whether to move it into the Base where it is safe, but in a non-ideal spot, or leave it out on the board (thus moving another of your marbles) and therefore at risk of being sent Home while you wait for a better roll.

Luck
(7yo Me) I'm lucky if I can win.

(Adult Me) To quote my childhood self, "I'm lucky if I can win." This game is 95% luck. Like I mentioned above, you have a few choices you can make, but they really don't matter in the flow of the game because no matter which option you chose, all another player needs to do is roll the right random number to land on your marble. Your ability to control your destiny in this game is simply an illusion and is quite aggravating.

Interaction
(7yo Me) I love playing next to Grandpa. Sometimes we'll be on a team where he tells me which marble to move and I get to move it. It's fun playing with Grandpa.

(Adult Me) The only saving grace for this game as an adult is the player interaction. Truly, this is an aggravating game. We played aggressively meaning if you could land on an opponent's marble, you took the opportunity. You would get your marble all the way around the board only to have it poached at your Base's door step. And it was fun hoping to roll that one number you need to do so. Or it was fun hoping an opponent lands on another opponent's marble.

We played a 6 player game which made for lots of marbles on the board and lots of interaction. Anything less that that, particularly a 2 player game, would reduce the interaction and thus reduce the only thing interesting in the game.

Down Time & Waiting
(7yo Me) Is it my turn yet?

(Adult Me) This game has very little opportunity for AP, so turns go fairly quickly. During a our 6 player game, a full round of 6 turns less than 2 minutes. After about 15 minutes, we really ramped it up because there was simply nothing to do but roll and move a marble. How long does it take to let the die settle down, then move a marble 2 inches? About 10 seconds. Still, as fast as we went, it was still hard to keep people focused on the game because boredom was really setting in by midway through the game.

Game Length
(7yo Me) I'm going to go watch TV.

(Adult Me) Teaching takes about 5-8 minutes due to the simple rules. Set up and take down probably only takes a minute or two each. Our 6 player game took almost exactly 45 minutes, though it felt like 2 hours. A large portion of the game was simply the back and forth of rolling dice and moving marbles. If there is a variant where the game took 15 minutes, then I want to learn it, because 45 minutes is far longer than our interest was held.

Re-Playability
(7yo Me) I love to play this game and can't wait to visit Grandpa and Grandma's again so I can play again.

(Adult Me) None. Zero. This game, which I loved so much as a 7 year old, was so boring as an adult. The first few rounds were simply rolling our dies in succession as fast as we could just to get a 1 or 6 (33% chance) to get our first marbles out of Home. That "phase" of the game lasted about 10% of the 45 minutes the game lasted. Once we were all out and moving around the board, the next 80% of the game was exactly the same over and over: roll, if you can land on an opponent, then do so, otherwise make your legal move or choose between 2 or 3 legal moves. It was so excessively repetitive that we couldn't get through it fast enough. During the final 10% of the game, a bit of excitement was added as one player had randomly gotten close to winning and the focus would be put on keeping him from doing so by landing on his final marble and sending it back Home. Then the boring repetitive rounds would begin again.

In the end, 90% of the game was blandly repetitive with very little strategic choices to be made. The final 10% was somewhat interesting, but totally not worth the 40 minutes it took to get to it.

Overall
(7yo Me) I would play this again with my parents and sister. But I want to be the green marbles.

(Adult Me) I was so disappointed in my adult experience of Aggravation. I had so fondly remembered the game and was not just sad that it was a terribly boring game, I was embarrassed I had introduced my gamer friends to it. I felt like I had lost some clout with them when it came to game choices! I seriously doubt I'll every play my $20 copy again. At least not until I have my own 7 year old... which is no less than 7 years, 9 months away.

All that said, I do remember how fun it was as a child and wouldn't argue that it is a worthy family game. It plays well enough for children over the age of 6 or 7. It might be a bit boring for a parent, but it's still more interesting than Chutes and Ladders. However, I will say parents need to have some patience when playing with their children as, I will attest, they will make it a point to take out their parent's marbles before those of their sibling's. Plus, if you're the type of parent who thinks you should win because of your superior strategic skills, then you will be doubly aggravated because those skills are mostly useless.

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Aaron Cinzori
United States
Holland
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If you want to play again in less that 7.75 years, you could adopt a 7-year-old.
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Kristopher Hickman
United States
St. Joseph
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I too fondly remember playing this game at my grandparents (who, coincidentally, are also from Arkansas). I read this today because my wife and I are having my grandparents over for dinner and they are bringing their copy. Hopefully I can find a little more enjoyment than you describe here, but I think its all about the mindset that there's little to no strategy here.
 
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Jon Den Houter
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Thanks for the review! Clearly organized and well-written. Made me decide not to get it as a present for someone.
 
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Karen Robinson

Colorado
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What a beautifully-written review!

I was given this game as a birthday present 50-some years ago, but I don't think I ever played it. It was too similar to Parcheesi, which is more interesting because you roll two dice and can split your roll between two pieces if you like, as in backgammon. Parcheesi also had a prettier board. Our family played Parcheesi a lot, so my sweet family memories are of that game instead.

Recently a friend was moving and gave us a really nice hand-made Aggravation board, so I set it up and played solo, taking turns between the four colors. It's pretty darned tedious. I wonder if using two dice would help. It would be an easy rule change to make, and might make the game a lot more interesting.
 
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