Zathura: Adventure is Waiting is another in a long line of movie-based games that get turned out everytime a halfway decent kids film hits the theaters. In this case, the game follows right in the footsteps of its predecessor Jumanji. The game isn’t that complicated, so this review isn’t going to be as lengthy as others I’ve done.
Now don’t get me wrong! I’m not saying the game is all bad, but neither is it all good. At its heart, this is a kids game, so you have to look at it from a child’s point of view. This said, I played the game with my son a few times and watched his reactions to the game play, then interviewed him for his overall impression. For a nine-year old, he’s a pretty astute reviewer.
First we unpacked the game and spent ten fun-filled minutes applying all the stickers to the game pieces. Then we set up the board and played a couple of games.
The Look - Okay, I’ve definitely seen worse looking games. In appearance, this bears a pretty good resemblance to the game in the movie. It’s not mechanical, nor is the board as thick, but I doubt kids will complain too much. It’s close enough. The board is fairly large, and the upper track is made of sturdy plastic. The Zathura planet (which anyone who has seen the movie knows is really a black hole), actually spins (wobbly, but it’s still a spin), but it’s the console that spits out the cards that’s going to be the big hit with kids. It actually works (sometimes, but more on that later), and the ship and robot figures are nicely detailed, if a bit small. One piece that the kids loved was the planet Tsouris-3. This gets placed on the board and swallows your ship when you land on it, only to emerge if a player spins and even number. The game also includes a house puzzle and eight round defense tokens of thick cardboard that will stand up to a lot of repeat play. The defense tokens are, FIRE, ASTRONAUT and REPROGRAM. There are eight spaces on the board for these, and you can pick one up if you land on that space. The game also includes one asteroid die, which has to be one of the coolest dice I’ve seen to date.
Kid’s Impression - “This is awesome, Dad!”
Dad’s View - “Okay, it's not too bad, but the plastic track slides all over the place.”
Gameplay - Okay, the game is simple. On the console is a spinner numbered 1 - 9, which determines how far on the track a player moves. Give it a spin, then move your ship. Players then turn the key and press the GO button to dispense a card. Resolve the card effect and the next player takes their turn. Simple!
The three types of cards cards have varying effects, some of them right out of the movie, like, YOU ARE PROMOTED TO ADMIRAL - Move forward to the head of the fleet, or METEOR SHOWER - Attempt to navigate (well, close enough). But here’s where the game got annoying to me. At least half the cards are ROBOT cards, which attacks and sends your ship back 5 spaces if you can’t reprogram him. This means you get attacked a lot, and spend the majority of the game moving back and forth to the point of frustration. If you’re fortunate enough to have landed on a token and have a REPROGRAM, you can send him back where he came from. Granted, this happens more in a two-player game, but it gets old fast anyway. The only place the robot can’t get you is the on the final few spaces leading to Zathura. If at any time you just happen to land on the same space as the robot, back 5 spaces you go. The robot quickly becomes the most annoying piece in the game, but without it, there wouldn’t be much action.
Throughout the game, ZORGON cards allow the nasty aliens to attack from time to time. You can foil their attempts by using either a FIRE or ASTRONAUT defense token. If you don’t have one, you’re allowed to beg one from another player (who then gets to switch places with you on the track), or the attack succeeds and you lose another piece of the house. If all the pieces of the house are destroyed, the game ends.
NAVIGATE cards always say, ATTEMPT TO NAVIGATE. When you pull one of them, you roll the asteroid die. If you are on a white space, you roll it one time. If on a blue space, you choose one other player to also roll. If on a red space, every player gets to roll. Only one SAFE roll is needed to navigate safely. If you don't get at least one result, off goes another chuck of the house.
There are two shooting star spaces on the board. If your ship lands on one of these, your wish is granted and you move ahead of the player in the lead. I tried wishing for the game to hurry up (to no avail), but that dang robot kept hitting me.
The game ends when either the house is destroyed or a player enters Zathura by spinning the orb and hoping the orange spot ends up facing their ship.
Kid’s Impression - “Neat game, Dad!”
Dad’s View - “It’s nice spending time with you, son.”
PROS: Kids who love the movie are going to like the game, especially if they’re under twelve. It looks enough like the game in the movie to satisfy their imaginations, and it moves quick enough even in four-player games that they won’t lose interest. They’ll love it when someone else gets moved back. Vicious laughter is sure to erupt.
CONS: From an adult perspective, if I had paid any more for this game just for myself, I’d be taking it back the next day and demanding my money back. There’s really not much game, and that stupid console does not work! This seems to be the biggest problem in most cases. Most of the time the cards do not come out when you hit the go button. We solved this by riffing the cards a lot and not using the weight that’s supposed to go on top of the stack. It helped, but we still had problems. To be honest, if you want to avoid a lot of frustration, stack the cards off to one side and just draw them. Luckily, the spinner works just fine, but I've heard stories... Finally, adults are going to want to take a hammer to the robot after just one game.
Overall, the game is just fine for kids, and if you get it for yours they’ll probably thank you and mean it. Mine certainly did. I’ll play it again with my boys, but I’ll take steps to make sure it isn’t a regular game on the table, and pray they outgrow it soon. If you don’t have kids, don’t waste your time unless you have nephews that come over a lot.
The kids liked the movie, but there was no way I was gonna get the game. We're too advanced in our gaming habits to go take that step back.
I'll just get them the DVD instead.
My son likes to use the gameboard and pieces to simulate the movie. He has more fun on his own than actually playing the game. The game is very simple. If it were not for having to read the cards, 4 and 5 year olds can have fun with this game.