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For whatever reason, Donkey Kong was a game I just never played that much of. My peak "arcade" years (back when my town actually had an arcade) would have been the late 80s early 90s, when the huge draws were games like Bad Dudes or the original TMNT game, and the remaining "oldies" relagated to the back of the room were a sit-down version of Pole Position II, Galaga, Ring King, and the totally dope Midway version of Demolition Derby.
My cousin used to work at a run down video store that had the tabletop version of Donkey Kong (and a Gyruss cabniet that I could play for free because she showed me how to open and trigger the coin slots). I think my grade school buddy Ben, who had one of those Atari XE home computers had a version of Donkey Kong on disc as well.
Maybe it never really caught on with me because, well...I was so bad at it. I mean, let's be honest, among early arcade games, Donkey Kong didn't screw around in terms of difficulty. I played an emulated version of it just recently and could barely make it past the second stage.
So maybe it's good that Milton Bradley decided to craft a board game version of this classic; because now at least I can play a game of Donkey Kong that lasts longer than two minutes.
Have the most points at the time the game ends. The game ends once one player reaches the top of the board and rescues "Pauline" (yes this was before Princess Peach came along).
How this is done:
Points are scored by playing "action cards" that allow players to earn points by jumping over the famous rolling barrels that are constatnly being chucked at you, or by smashing them with your trusty hammer. The player that reaches Pauline also nets a bonus 500 points for doing so.
1. Each player rolls two dice, one standard six-sided die for the movement of your mario pawn, and the red, specially marked, six sided Kong die.
2. The player then moves their mario pawn. No backtracking allowed. If you come into contact with a barrell as you move, you must play one of your collected action cards in order to jump over it or smash it. If you land by exact count on a space with a red dot, you may draw another action card face up.
3. After movement, you use the number on the Kong die to determine how far each barrel needs to be moved down the girders..and (if necessary) how far the fireballs (disgorged from the oil barrel down at the bottom of the screen...err...board...need to be moved up. If a barrel or fireball reaches you during this part, like before, you must play an action card to either jump or destroy it.
4. Turn passes after a player has moved their Mario pawn and then the barrels and fireballs.
Ok..the big Donkey Kong piece is technically cosmetic, but...
When researching this game before buying it, I had a heck of time finding out just what in the world that big plastic Donkey Kong was for. A lot of sources listed he "launched" the barrels, which gave the impression that this was some kind of dexterity game where you actually had to SHOOT the barrels at the players. Thankfully, this isn't the case. The Donkey Kong figure is essentially a big Pez Despenser for the barrels, which are gravity fed, one by one, into the arm piece. When you press the arm down, the barrel slides out (with a pleasant "thunk" sound) onto the board. What's really neat about this process is that you can't actually see, as his big plastic paw sort of covers up the drop point. When you press the arm down, you hear that thunk, and when it springs back up again, the barrel is just sitting there like it magically appeared out of nowhere. Pretty cool. So yeah, the piece doesn't really have any game function, but it does add a lot of really cool theme to the game, and it's a unique thing amongst all of these Milton Bradley videogame board games, as none of the others, or at least none of the others I have, feature anything like it.
Sadly, you've got to take him apart to get him back in the box.
And you should probably be really careful about that, as (at least in my old copy) the plastic tabs that snap Kong together are a bit brittle. I actually keep the entire unit whole as a point of display on my game shelf.
I love the fireball aspect of the game.
One memory of this game I did love as a kid was that mysterious oil barrel at the bottom of the playing field. Give the designers of this board game credit, as they managed to translate this particular function of the video game to the board perfectly. If a barrel manages to make it past the players, when it gets down to the oil drum, the barrel is destroyed and is regenerated as a fireball that will now start chasing you UP while the barrels are raining down on you.
The points you can get are public, the points you have are secret.
If you read carefully, you may have noticed that you keep your available actions, and the differing point amounts they are worth (ranging from 100 to 400 points depending on the card), face up. So everyone at the table can see them. But as you play them to either jump over or smash barrels or firebals, you put the cards face down in a little stack, thus keeping the exact total secret from all other players, unless they've got a very good memory. I've always liked this, as like Puerto Rico (a game with a similar feature) it increases the suspense of the endgame, and keeps people from doing too much point math at the end of the game to see if they've won.
It's a pretty exact adaptation of the video game, except....
well, beyond the obvious, such as you jumping ability in the board game being finite through card play, and not being able to doubleback directions during a move, there are two big differences that stand out in terms of how the rules have changed:
1. You can't jump up the ends of the girders.
Yeah, the rules state, for reasons that do make sense, than unlike the video game itself, you can't move up the structure by jumping up to the next girder at the end of a lower one. You MUST use the ladders to move up. The reason for this being that all actions in this game earn you points, and it would seem cheap to earn 200 points for simply jumping up a level. Note that this rule DOES create a tiny rule hitch, but I'll get to that....
2. You're safe on the ladders (from the barrels only).
In the video game, hanging out on a ladder and waiting for a barrel to roll on by was dangerous because you never knew when that barrel is going to drop down and kill you. Although I can swear that I read a tip in one of those old "How to win at arcade games" paperbacks that mentioned that if Mario could get his pixilated hands just at the top of the girder it would keep you safe.
While this game does feature rules for barrels dropping down the ladders (they slide down the ladder when they end their exact movement on a space atop one) they only do so if on one is on that ladder, thus making being on a ladder a safe place to be. I can understand this rule as well, as if you didn't have at least some temporary refuge from the barrels, it would kind of be a point bloodbath by the time you got halfway up.
It must be noted that the fireballs rising from the bottom of the board actually DO zoom up the ladders if they end their movement underneath one.
Just because something awesome happened, doesn't mean you did much.
I say this not as critique, more as an observation. In other words, you don't actually control the barrel and fireball movements as much as you cause them. So when some of your competing players get destroyed by a runaway barell they can't stop or avoid, keep in mind that you didn't actually DO anything to make that happen, other than roll the die, of course. Doesn't mean you can't laugh heartily at their misfortune though.
Along those lines, it's easy to forget a very simple fact about the game...
Nothing can actually slow your ascent up the building. There's so much going on in the game, especially when playing with four players, what with card draws, obsticle movments, card playing, and card losses, that it's easy to overlook that nothing in this game actually "impedes" how fast you get up those girders. The barrels and fireballs don't send you back steps, cause you to lose lives, or take away movement points on future rolls; they only make you lose points. So technically your rise to the top is only going to be hindered by you having to juke around to avoid those barrels when you don't have the jumps or hammers to deal with them. But isn't that pretty much just like the video game?
Also keep in mind that you don't steal points from other players...you steal actions.
When a player gets dinged by a barrel on someone else's turn, you get to steal one of the cards from their facedown "point pile". But remember that you don't actually get those points right away. That stolen card gets turned back face up and joins your available actions to earn later on.
There is some kind of strategy....
1. Those hammer cards are probably the most important cards to have, as not only are they generally worth a bit more points that the cards that jump, but they remove the smashed barrel or fireball from the board. This means your best move is to get out in front of the other players and smash approaching barrels so they don't roll past you and give the players trailing behind you a chance to get points off it as well. Of course if the players behind you are card strapped...jump away and let them deal with it.
2. Another little "trick" you can use is running "backwards" back down the girders when you start your turn with a barrel past you, jumping back in front of the barrel, so that you can then use a hammer to smash it when it catches up to you, thus letting you earn points twice for the same barrel. It really does kind of make you feel like you're playing the arcade game.
Ok...the wonky rules.
All these old games have them. Luckily, the two main wonky rules in this game are eaisly "fixed" with a bit of fill-in-the-blank logic.
1. The overly wordy rulebook does mention what to do when a barrel or fireball ENDS its movement in your space and you manage to jump over it. This is one of those "two pieces can't ever exist in the same space" games, so if you jump over a barrel or fireball that ends in your space, it gets to move one extra space beyond you.
But the book DOESN'T mention what happens if YOU end your movement in the same space as an obsticle and you jump over it there. Logic would dictate that you then get to move forward one extra space as momentum carries you over whatever it is you jumped over. This creates a few hitches, mostly when the mario pawns are all bunched up right after the barrel you jumped over, because that means you could, in effect, cheat even more movement points out of that jump. Plus, it doesn't seem fair that you could use that extra "bump" to even jump onto a ladder, wheras in the video game you had to climb on to them, but hey, since the rules state that you are allowed to use a "Jump" card while on a ladder to let an ascending fireball pass through you, then I guess jumping over a barrel to grab onto a ladder rung for dear life is acceptible.
2. Ok, remember that rule about not being able to "jump" your way up the girders? well, what happens if you land by exact movement or even try to jump over a barrel or fireball that's at the end of a girder? There's no where to move forward to in this instance.
The "fix" for this is simple; if you jump over a barrel or fireball at the top end of a girder, logic dictates this WOULD work just like the video game, and you'd appear at the top of the next girder.
Yes! If the goal of all these old video to board games was to replicate the arcade experience for a tabletop at a time when home consoles were a luxury, then the Donkey Kong board game nails it. I mean, other than the few difference made to keep it "gamley," most times, it really does feel like you're playing the arcade game, running all over the place while trying to scoop up points.
Sure the constant movement of the obsticles every turn can be a bit fiddlily, and it's very easy to lose track of/forget to move some of them, and it's also very easy to lose track of who has to give up what card to whom sometimes, and VERY easy to forget how much farther that barrel has to KEEP rolling because you were too busy giving someone one of your point cards to remember that the barrel wasn't done moving yet, the game is still a blast to play to this day, just the like video game it was based off of.
If you're seeking to start your collection of this particular sub-genra of board games, I'd suggest this as your starting point, mostly becuase I own it already and don't have to worry about tracking down a complete copy of it anymore.