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Close Encounters of the Third Kind» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Better than the Movie rss

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Randy Cox
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Clemson
South Carolina
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Disclaimer: I didn't think I had to say this, but my reviews are my opinions. While they are intended to be useful to the reader they are not intended to be unbiased, objective discussions of the game. You can get that elsewhere. My reviews reflect my opinion of the game's merits. This is part of the IWTRTMTWWW (I Write the Reviews That Make the Whole World Whine) series, as are all my reviews.

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It's been on my shelf for years. The game was printed when I was a senior in high school and was lying unpurchased in a hobby store in Greenville, SC in the late 1980s when they were finally getting rid of everything that wasn't a funny book (regionalism for comic books). So, I plunked down some forgotten amount of money and purchased it simply because I had to own everything back in the day.

There was no BGG to lean on back then, so you just purchased based on the box art and promotional blurb on the back of the box. Truth be told, that's still good enough for me. I look up games on BGG, but I don't decide whether to play them or not just because of an average rating or people's comments. No, that's what reviews are for.

Anyway, Close Encounters of the Third Kind sat on various shelves in my two dwellings over the past decades, waiting for me to give it a try. And a couple of nights ago, my wife and I sat down to play this seemingly standard-issue American style game. I'm sure the licensing fee Parker Bros. paid to print this game was steep. After all, it's tied into a Spielberg movie. But it's interesting that there's actually very little about the movie intertwined into this game.


The cover shows a scene reminiscent of the movie but the back is just a black and white picture of an abstract board. There is a short section of copy mentioning some events from the movie about seeing spaceships and being mysteriously drawn to Devils Tower. But, once there, you must compete in a race between the mountain and the mother ship to see who gets to fly off with the aliens. Or something like that. That's everything about the movie. The game itself is just an abstract Stratego/Battleship game of hide and seek. And that's OK by me, as I never saw much in the movie anyway (I see a derailment of this thread coming).

Components
Not much here.

- The board is mounted, so that's always a positive
- 4 pawns of untraditional, but modernist shape
- 20 Axis & Allies sized poker ships, five in each pawn color
- 4 laminated player boards showing the board's grid layout
- 4 wipe-off crayons which, in my case, were beginning to stick together
- rules which are very short

Exactly what you expect from Parker Brothers in 1978. Fine enough for me. The only thing I might do is to make the pawn colors a bit brighter. Seeing the black pawn on that dark board is sometimes challenging.
My markers are blue
Rules
As mentioned before, the premise is that all players are attempting to run shuttle races from Devil's Tower to the Mother Ship and back again. Over and over. The one who best thrives in this contest wins.

The board is 14x14 and in the center two squares of the top and bottom row are the two race points--Devil's Tower and the Mother Ship. All pawns start on Devil's Tower. Other than on these two "bases", pawns may never occupy the same space as other pawns.

At the beginning of the game, players secretly circle a certain number of grid positions on their individual player mats. For a two-player game, that number is four, otherwise I believe it's two. Let's call these spaces "mines," as that's their function (except that they don't kill people--they just send pawns back to their most recent base).

Players then alternate turns until the game ends.

Sequence of play:

- Player rolls two dice and begins moving their pawn up to that number of spaces, calling out the grid numbers they move onto as they advance. If they come to a poker chip on the grid, they jump over it (or multiple in succession) as only one of their movements

- If another player hears a grid number called that is circled on their individual player mat, they say "Boom!" Or at least they mention that a "mine" has just been encountered. The mine-laying party places one of their poker chips on that space, circles a new space on their player mat, and sends the moving player back to the "base" they are moving away from. (If multiple players have the same gridpoint circled, they all get to say "Boom" and place a poker chip and circle a new number)

- Should the moving player reach the opposing "base," they stop there and circle a new number on their individual grid sheet

That's it. As the game progresses, more mines turn into "jump over" spaces, but more spaces on the board are being populated with more land mines. It becomes treacherous. Eventually, someone will say "Boom" for the fifth time and win the game by placing their final poker chip on the board.

Our Game (2-player)

Most important statistic about any game--Time: 19 minutes.

Our game early on with one of my (white) tokens placed and my secret grid map shown (my wife was tending to our youngest at the time)

My wife used the horizontal blockade strategy. I'll call this the "Khan strategy." I went for the diagonal blockades. We'll call that the "Kirk maneuver." She also went for the circuitous routes, spending a few more movement points to move along the nether regions of the board. I tended to run straight up the middle, zigging and zagging from time to time (as long as it didn't cost me extra movements) just for effect.

As it turned out, she hit two or three of my mines and I hit only one or two of hers. But I was adding extra mines at a quicker pace (your own mines don't hurt you, by the way), which ultimate led to my victory.

Verdict
There really isn't much strategy here. It's only differences in style. Some players will be conservative or cautious, avoiding the numbered squares (there are a few blank squares around the bases which can't be mined) and avoiding common direct routes. Others will race forward into the breach figuring the worst that could happen would be a slight delay while going back to "base."

But the main style difference is the same as for the game Stratego or Battleship--how do you artfully set up your forces? "Ooh, I'll be clever and surround my flag with bombs" isn't really any more a strategy than "I'll bunch all my small ships together so that four-in-a-row hits won't sink anything, tee hee." So, as in those older kid games, I feel that silly notion of affecting the outcome solely by the way I set my forces in this game. But in the end, that's about as effective as thinking one types faster with their tongue out. It doesn't really matter.

But that doesn't mean it isn't fun. Silly, sure. Shot-in-the-dark, yep. But it's not horrible or painful. And clocking in at 19 minutes is, of course, a positive.

Not to be pulled out often, but welcome if it is.

The curmudgeon has spoken, so be the word.
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Andrew Ross
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Tennessee
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Any chance you could scan the rules to this? I got a copy recently but it's missing the rules.
 
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