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Introducing Fzzzt!



So why should you care about a game with a name that's completely disenvoweled? Fzzzt! Couldn't they at least have found a way to put an I or an E in the name somewhere? And why should you read a review about a game that you've probably never even heard about before? Those are completely fair questions, and I owe it to you to answer them! So first of all, some of Fzzzt's credentials:

Reason #1 - It won the Best Card Game at the 2009 UK Games Expo Awards. That's right: Winner. I have no idea how many card games even qualified for that award, but I'm sure it wasn't just two or three. A shiny award like that has to count for something.
Reason #2 - Aldie likes it. That's right, he rates it a "9" with the comment "Really solid game for such a small package." This is THE Aldie, BGG Head Honcho, Big Boss, and Wizard of All Things Gamey. He's a smart guy - well he must be to run this website - and if he says it is a good game, then maybe it just is.
Reason #3 - Tom Vasel didn't throw it off his roof. In fact, he even liked the game! And he isn't the only one who speaks highly of Fzzzt: it's attracted enough attention that Gryphon Games deemed it worthy of a reprint in their new "tin box" series of card games. They've even just released a 5-6 player expansion to complement it, and they wouldn't pour money into an already released game if its initial reception was as popular as rust inside a robotic arm. You can be sure they'd stay miles away from it unless they thought it had real potential - which it has. Here it is, entry #5 in the series:



Now I've tried most of the games in the "tin box" series, and this is easily one of the better titles among them. So why might you like it? Most of us have come to like deck-building since the onset of Dominion, and Fzzzt! distills deck-building into its simplest form, combines it with auctions and set-collection, and adds a novel and cute theme. It works. It really does. There's a lot in this little box, as a catchy and meaty little filler, and you deserve to know about it. So here goes, let's get on with the review!




COMPONENTS

Game box

First of all let's show you the tin box, which has the great and catchy tag line "A futuristic robot auction game with some dodgy mechanics."



These boxes are really nice. Nice as in: When-they-wanted-to-make-the-commemorative-anniversary-edition-of-6-Nimmt-they-used-these-kinds-of-boxes type nice. It's an attractive metal container, and the artwork is colourful and attractive. Don't miss the cool looking spanner on the back of the box - it will play an actual role in gameplay, as we'll see later!



The description about the game's theme sums it up nicely: "Tomorrow's world is here today! A world where strange and crazy robots are built in a crackpot factory, and the players (mechanics) compete to collect them as they become available on the conveyor belt." Notice the word "mechanics"?! Clever emotional hook for gamers that! Don't we gamers just love talking about the "mechanics" of our favourite games? Well, finally we get a game that has real mechanics to work with!

The summary of game-play on the box tells us the following: "Fzzt! is a five-round, set-collecting sci-fi auction game with robots and production units individually sold to the highest bidder. Mechanics pay for new cards using the power (zaps) of one or more robot cards in hand which include those previously purchased. Mechanics can also assign cards to production units for bonus points. The winner is the mechanic with the most points." They probably paid some marketing guy handsomely to come up with that description, so I won't try topping it at the risk of him losing his job - it's well put, and right on.

Component list

So let's open that lovely shiny looking box and see what's inside!



A wonderful imitation felt box insert. And card. Cards? Yes, cards. What were you expecting, a fully assembled Knizia robot that walks around your game table butchering animeeples and shouting "Ra" at random moments? This is a card game remember? So no surprise there, there's 56 cards, which consist of the following:
● 4 Mechanic cards
● 36 Robot cards and 2 Robot Upgrade cards
● 4 Fzzzt cards
● 10 Production Unit cards

Don't criticize a game too quickly just because it has cards - Dominion is all cards, remember, 500 of them! This is more of a "canned" Dominion, so we get just over 50.



To be fair I do think the artwork on the back is colourful and pretty. The cards themselves are of excellent quality card-stock too.



Do note that the cards in this reprint are slightly different in size than the cards from the original edition of the game.

Rule book

The rulebook. If we're going to condense something like Dominion, or even just some aspects of it, then we need to condense the rulebook too, right? Right! This is tiny. Very tiny. Despite how big it looks in this picture!



It's 16 pages with small print, and I really think the game would have benefited from it being a bit bigger, with more pictures and examples. Having said that, it does have some illustrations, and the formatting is clear enough. I particularly like the dot-matrix style paper which forms the background artwork in the rulebook - it's thematic and contributes to the quaint and humorous appeal that this game offers.



You can download a complete copy of the rulebook (available in several languages) from the publisher's website here:
http://www.surprisedstaregames.co.uk/Fzzzt/Rules.htm

Mechanic cards

Ah yes, we did promise you that the game had "mechanics" didn't we! Fzzzt can be played with 2 to 4 players, and everyone gets their own starting "Mechanic" card, each of which has its unique name and humorous artwork. Here's Pascal Eiffel (has a Lisp) and G.W. Baysic (likes Smalltalk):



Old-time programmers will get the pun with the name "G.W. Baysic"! But just you wait, we're only getting started - this is merely the beginning of a long list of puns and computer and robot jokes ! So keep a close eye on the artwork and the card names and you'll find much more to make any computer science major snicker! Here's our other two mechanics, Yorick Einstein (collects C Shells) and Al Gol (Hes the Forth Mechanic):



Robot cards

Robot cards come in five types, with a "power" from 1 to 5 that's indicated by the lightning bolt symbol in the top left corner:



Here's the break down:
4x robots with power of 5
4x robots with power of 4
8x robots with power of 3
8x robots with power of 2
12x robots with power of 1

As you can tell from the numbers, these cards form the bulk of the card deck, and are the heart of the game. For example, here are all the "power 2" robots, each with identical artwork, although they do all have unique names (see a complete list here). I'm told that all the robots are named after famous TV and movie robots):



There's a few things to know about what's on the Robot cards:



Power: this is shown by the number of lightning bolts, and indicates how much a card is "worth" when you're using it to `pay' for a bid in the auctions. For example, a robot card with a power of 5 represents a very powerful bid in the auction phase, and would `beat' robot cards totalling a power of 3 or 4.
Points value: this is how many points cards will be worth at the end of the game.
Construction Symbol: if you collect cards with the right symbols (there are five altogether: nut, bolt, cog, oil), you can earn bonus points for creating Production Unit widgets.
Conveyor Belt Speed: this number indicates how many robot cards on the conveyer belt are flipped face up for the auction phase.

Fzzzt cards

These four cards are simply Robot cards that have a power of three. They're worth one minus point at the end of the game, but their high power means they can be useful to get early in the game, because they're good to use for bidding to get other cards in the auctions.



Robot Upgrade cards

These two cards are also specialized Robot cards. They have no power and no points value, but their usefulness is that they are essentially wildcards that can be used for any of the construction symbols. They are useful near the game end to help you complete a Production Unit widget if you are missing a particular symbol.



Production Unit cards

These cards give you the opportunity to earn bonus points by collecting sets with matching construction symbols. At the end, you'll earn points from the points value of the Robots you've won in the auctions, but if you have a Production Unit card and have Robot cards that match the construction symbols on the Production Unit card, you'll earn the bonus points listed on the Production Unit card for them. There are ten Production Unit cards in the deck, and usually you'll want to get a few of these, as a way of earning bonus points with your robots. They come in five different values:



Complex Production Units are obviously harder to build than Prototype Production Units, but they're also worth more points (13 vs 3). Here's a game reference explaining the different elements on a Production Unit card.



I suspect that computer programmers would have fun figuring out the fine print of the programming code that forms the background watermark on the Production Unit cards! Perhaps there are some more inside jokes here!

GAME-PLAY

So by now you should have a rough idea of the concepts of the game, let's show you how it all fits together in a game!

Set-up

Each player begins with a starting Mechanic and three Robot cards - these are the same for each player, and are marked to make finding them easier. In Dominion terms, this is your starting "deck" of four cards, and as the game progresses you'll try to get more powerful cards and more point-scoring cards into your deck.



The starting player is designated the Chief Mechanic and takes the gamebox to mark this - or a custom spanner from your own toolbox. We found a plastic toy spanner that works ideal for this purpose - it even fits neatly inside the box!



The Chief Mechanic is essentially the starting player, and is used to break ties - in the event a tie does happen during the gameplay, the losing player gets the spanner and becomes the new Chief Mechanic.

Flow of Play

The game consists of five rounds, each of which is made of three phases:

1. Preparation Phase

All the players shuffle their cards, and deal themselves a starting hand of 6 cards (note that you begin the game with only 4 cards), while placing the rest of their cards face down in front of them as a discard pile.

The Chief Mechanic forms a "Conveyor Belt" by laying out eight cards face down in a line. The end card is turned up, and a number of adjacent cards are turned up according to the "Conveyor Belt Speed Number" on the end card. Cards are auctioned one by one, but this gives you an idea what cards are coming up.



The "Conveyer Belt" concept gives good theme to this aspect of the game!

2. Auction Phase

Now all eight cards in the Conveyor Belt will be auctioned one at a time. Starting with the Chief Mechanic, everyone in turn chooses a number of cards from their hand that they want to bid for the first card, keeping them face down.



They're revealed simultaneously, and the highest bidder (simply add up the total "Power" of all the cards bid) wins the card at the end of the Conveyor Belt. As mentioned before, tied bids are resolved using the Chief Mechanic, with the losing player becoming the new Chief Mechanic. The winning bidder puts the cards he used to bid and his newly acquired card into his discard pile, while all the other players return their unsuccessful bids back to their hand, so they can use these cards in future bids that round. If the newly acquired card was a Production Unit, you put it face up in front of you instead of in your personal discard pile. Now you auction off the second card in the same way, and so on. Here the player on the right wins the Production Unit card that is being auctioned, with the highest bid of 5.



When all the face up cards in the Conveyor Belt have been auctioned in turns, the next card is turned up and other cards turned face up according to its Belt Speed Number. Rinse and repeat the auction process for all eight cards in the Conveyor Belt, and that brings you to the last phase of the round!

3. Cleanup & Building Phase

After all eight cards have been auctioned, players can allocate one card (from their hand or discard pile) to each Production Unit in front of them if they wish.



The main reason for doing this is to try to thin out your deck by removing the weaker cards that are less powerful and less useful for the auctions. At the end of the game you can allocate all your remaining robot cards to make Production Unit "widgets" as needed, but meanwhile it makes sense to assign 1 powered Robot cards to your Production Units, so that when drawing a hand of 6 cards from your deck at the start of the next round, you're more likely to get powerful Robots that you can use to get better stuff in the auctions that round. The disadvantage of assigning Robot cards is that once you've assigned them, you can't change them, so if at the end of the game you wish you'd assigned that Robot card with the oil symbol to a different Production Unit, that's tough luck!

Further Rounds

This completes the round, and players then repeat this process five times altogether, by shuffling their remaining cards in hand with their discard pile, and drawing a new starting hand of 6 cards from their personal deck, making a new conveyor belt of 8 cards, and auctioning these off.



Scoring

After five rounds have been completed, players can assign the remaining Robot cards in their hand and discard pile to their Production Units, to try to create as many bonus-point scoring widgets as possible. You can make more than one widget for a single Production Unit card, but each widget must have the correct combination of construction symbols. If a Production Unit has no widget, the equivalent amount of minus points is assigned. Your final score is the total point value of the Robot cards in your deck (note that while the 3 powered Fzzzt cards are useful in the auction phase, they count as -1 in the final scoring), plus the bonus points from any widgets that you made with the help of your Production Unit cards.

In the example below, the player has a final score of 57 (37 for widgets + 20 for robot cards).



If you can't quite figure it out, there's an extensive scoring example in the rulebook that's rather helpful. The publisher's webpage also offers a scoring variant that I have not tried.

Expansion

A Fzzzt! Expansion Pack was released at Essen 2010 that makes Fzzzt playable with 5-6 players - it basically adds two more mechanics and extra robot cards. Unfortunately for owners of the original game, it is not compatible with the first edition, since the cards of the revised tin box edition are slightly different sized. On the plus side, the cards of the new tin box edition are all high quality, and if you do own this edition there's more than enough room in the box to fit the expansion cards as well.



CONCLUSIONS

What do I think?

Fzzzt! has an interesting blend of mechanics. It's worth repeating that Fzzzt has mechanics. Real mechanics. But also game mechanics:
Auctions - Blind bidding (although it's not completely blind - because of the turn order you do get to know how many cards other players are bidding before you) for the Robot cards which earn you points.
Set collection - Robot cards earn points individually, but if you are able to collect the right sets with construction symbols matching Production Unit cards, you get bonus points.
Deck-building - Playing weaker Robot cards onto Production Units early in the game will help `thin' your deck and make it more powerful for winning auctions in future rounds.
These game mechanics are blended together well, none really dominating above the other, and give the game an interesting flavour.

Fzzzt! has a theme that works. I've played other card game filler, like Knizia's Circus Flohcati, where one might rightly ask: "But why are these flea cards being turned face up in a row, and why am I collecting them?" In contrast to that, Fzzzt! gives meaning to the row of cards being auctioned, by calling them a `conveyor belt' - you then collect robots as they come off the end of the conveyor belt, and you also collect different construction items to piece together into widgets or machines. Now you only need to look at the cartoony artwork to realize that you're not supposed to take this theme seriously. But it does gives some sense to the mechanisms of the game and what you're doing. In a game like this, that's a real plus, and makes it stand above your average card game with a pasted-on theme.

Fzzzt! is like Dominion. I really do think the comparison with Dominion is a legitimate one in some respects. There are significant differences, not least of which are Fzzzt!'s auctions and theme. But when considered from the perspective of Dominion, the core mechanic (tired of the pun yet?) of the game is really a deck-building one. And just like in Dominion, there's an aspect of set collection - although instead of `buying' victory points like you do in Dominion, in Fzzzt! you win them in auctions, and you'll also use the cards you win to bid for other cards in future rounds. They two games don't really feel similar at all, but analyzing Fzzzt! with this comparison helps understand the motor that's driving it and is perhaps the best way to explain part of how the game works and what you're trying to do.

Fzzzt! is not at all like Dominion. After playing Fzzzt! a couple of times, my 12 year old made this comment: "I really like this game. It's like Dominion but for kids. I like it better, because Dominion can be confusing worrying about all the words and the money, this is simpler." Which you'll like better is a matter of taste, but she's right that there are similarities and differences. Unlike Dominion, Fzzzt! doesn't have card combos and strings of actions - it is really deck-building condensed to its simplest form. So the comparisons with Dominion shouldn't put you off, because Fzzzt is no Dominion rip-off or clone by any means - the deckbuilding is just a very small element of the game, alongside auctions and set collection. If Dominion is a luscious ice-cream filled dessert that can sometimes be enjoyed as a complete meal on its own, then Fzzzt! is a ice cream sundae with bits of chocolate mixed through it. We might recognize the taste of ice cream, but the overall taste is quite different because of the additional elements; furthermore, if you're zipping through the drive-through while you're on the run, the small box of Fzzzt is a much better choice than big-box Dominion. This is not another Thunderstone or Ascension, but a very different game.

Fzzzt! is a thoughtful filler. Despite its somewhat unassuming appearances, light theme, and inexpensive price-tag, there's more than meets the eye when it comes to the decisions you need to make. The current BGG weight is 1.6, which puts it on par with games like Bohnanza, Bang, and Money!, and well above simpler games like Saboteur, For Sale, and Guillotine. The simultaneous auction mechanic forces you to evaluate what your opponents might do, and outguess them. There are also fun moments where you desperately don't want to win an auction (e.g. a Fzzzt card in the last round), and yet find yourself doing so! The Production Cards earn end game bonuses, which means that you will need to get them at some point, but you'll need to make decisions about which ones to get and when to get them, to ensure that your deck doesn't get imbalanced by not having enough Robot cards to use for bidding. And then there are Fzzzt cards - which hurt at the end of the game, but could give you the leverage you need in the middle of the game to put in high bids for the cards that will get you more points in final scoring. For a game that plays quickly and easily, it's a satisfying mix. In some ways the auctions even make it more interactive than Dominion, and although it's really just a filler that plays quickly, it has enough depth to prove rewarding and make you want to play again. It might not have the staying power or long-term replayability like Dominion, since it lacks the myriad of card combinations, but for just 56 cards in a tin box, it has a pretty decent serving of game inside. For its price, it's good value.

Fzzzt! should be judged on its own merits as a light game. The above considerations don't mean that Fzzzt! is the perfect game. The numbers, symbols and even the rulebook are quite small, perhaps too small for some people. The rules about how the chief mechanic changes and breaks ties can be a bit finicky. And if you don't win decent cards in the first round, it can be hard to catch up. The criticism has also been made that last couple of auctions in a round tend to make remaining players desperate to get anything - and while there's truth to this, it's partly their own fault, because it's often a reflection of the fact that they didn't bid enough for cards that were auctioned earlier that round. There's some randomness, to be sure, and you can get hosed if you get your mechanic and all your low-powered Robots when drawing your six cards, but there are ways to mitigate the luck. And what's a card game filler without a dollop of luck anyway? Had a bad game? - just shuffle up the cards and play again! The complaints I've seen can't really be considered legitimate criticisms of the game, but are more a reflection of what people are looking for - Fzzzt! is what it is, a solid filler card game, and as such, does better than average in what it tries to do. There's good reason Tom Vasel didn't throw this one off his roof!



What do others think?

Fzzzt was well received when it first hit gaming tables at Essen 2009, and the new edition that was released at Essen 2010 will only help its cause. Here's a few of the positive things others are saying about the game:
"Fun, attractive, and certainly good value for money!" - John Mitchell
"Like Dominion without the attitude and with auctions. Love it - deck efficiency,auctions, screwage. Great filler." - Paul Lister
"Lovely little filler. Hefty amount of decisions for its short playing time." - Mulan Wong
"Surprisingly deep Filler. Plays fast, but lots of options." - F. F.
"This game is a little gem and could become the quick card game of choice. Players bid for robots. Robots fill your hand as in Dominion, but there is an element of hand management as you can discard robots onto any production units you have acquired as long as there are matching symbols. Lots to think about. Recommended." - Jonathan Badger
"This quickly has become a short filler favourite. Nice with 4, 3 and 2." - Pee di Moor
"Fzzzt! is a fun little filler; definitely a cross between the Ticket to Ride card game (fulfilling orders/tickets, but without the memory element) and Dominion (deck building)" - Erin O'Malley
"Such a big game in such a small package! I love it!" - Jess
"Great blend of elements, quick and easy to pick up, and offers a plenty to think about." - David Winter
"Quick and fun - some deck building and some set completion. This is a well designed game. " - William Crispin
"This card game is a cross between Ticket to Ride the Card Game and Dominion. Quick, easy to learn and interesting. Recommended." - Simon Neale
"Fast paced auction game with clever mechanics (ha!) and deck building elements. Quick to teach and quick to play, but with more depth than your average filler game. Recommended." - ALGO
"Very good little card game. Deckbuilding with auctions." - Marcio Silva
"I'm a sucker for clever little card games, deck building, and auctions. Fzzzt! has all three and they mesh together for a great game. Not deeply strategic, but it combines the right amount of strategy and luck, plays quickly, and it easy to learn." - Tim Thomas




Recommendation

Is Fzzzt! for you? I think that our gaming heavyweights Tom Vasel and Aldie got it right: for such a small package this is a solid game. It shares very little with Dominion aside from a very simple deck-building element, so don't really let some comparisons with Dominion make you avoid the game, or for that matter buy it for that reason alone. Buy it for its own merits, as a thoughtful filler with a fun theme. The new tin box edition is a quality product that's good value for your money. And let's face it, haven't you always wanted to bring a game with real mechanics to game night?



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mb The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596

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Michael Wohlwend
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Quote:

Old-time programmers will get the pun with the name "G.W. Baysic"! But just you wait, we're only getting started - this is merely the beginning of a long list of puns and computer and robot jokes !


indeed, the even more older-time programmers, which beside having fun with playing games also have fun with programming languages will notice the the whole bunch:

Pascal, Eiffel, Lisp, Basic, Smalltalk, Algol, Forth and the c-shell

I would like to know if it has been hard to convince the product manager to put those strange names onto the cards

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Fred CS
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I am happy to say it was not difficult to get us to keep the names. The designer (Tony) mentioned all these Easter Eggs and we were happy to keep these very clever references in the game.

Keith
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Anthony Boydell
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unfortunately, I AM an old programmer and I had great fun seeding all these references! the BIG question is can you identify the books, films and life sources for all of the robot names?

Best wishes,
Tony
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Michael Wohlwend
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no not all, maybe 10 - nice to see Maximillian there

 
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Chris Stanton
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tonyboydell wrote:
the BIG question is can you identify the books, films and life sources for all of the robot names?
Tony


Far, far too many of them. The question is was that a wasted youth...or a well-spent one
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Robert Stetler
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Termite wrote:
no not all, maybe 10 - nice to see Maximillian there


Got a few more myself, and there were a couple I should have known. The ones I knew (many were obvious):

Card 00 - Fembot - Various, but most famous in "Austin Powers" (movie)
Cards 01-03 - Dewey, Huey, Louis (Louie) - "Silent Running" (movie)
Card 04 - ED-209 - "Robocop" (movie)
Card 06 - Robbie (Robby) - "Forbidden Planet" (movie)
Card 07 - Ash - "Alien" (movie)
Card 08, 21 - Maximillian, V.I.N.CENT - "The Black Hole" (movie)
Card 09 - CP-30 (C-3PO) - "Star Wars" (movie)
Card 0C - H.A.L. (HAL 9000) - "2001: A Space Odyssey" (movie)
Card 10 - Gort - "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (movie)
Card 11 - Maria - "Metropolis" (movie)
Card 13 - Eliza - Psychotherapist parody/emulator (software)
Card 14 - Priss - "Blade Runner" (movie)
Card 15 - Herbie - "Fantastic Four" (comic, cartoon)
Card 18 - Colussus - "Colossus: The Forbin Project" (book, movie)
Card 19 - Proteus - "Demon Seed" (book, movie)
Card 1A - Gunslinger - "Westworld" (movie)
Card 1B - D.A.R.Y.L. - "D.A.R.Y.L." (movie)
Card 1F - Bishop - "Aliens" (movie)
Card 20 - Deep Thought - chess computer (software)
Card 22 - Twiki - "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" (movie, TV)

Ones I should have known right off the bat in a kick myself way, but sadly didn't remember until I looked them up:

Card 1E - Tik-Tok - "Tik-Tok of Oz" (book)
Card 2A - Marvin - "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (book, movie, TV)

Wild guess:

Card 05 - Johnny - "Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot"

The rest weren't familiar to me, or the name was sufficiently munged it was past any guesswork.
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Steve Duff
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KGBRadioMoskow wrote:
Card 00 - Fembot - Various, but most famous in "Austin Powers" (movie)


I'd have said Six Million Dollar Man.

Quote:

Card 05 - Johnny - "Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot"

The rest weren't familiar to me, or the name was sufficiently munged it was past any guesswork.


Whoops. Massive fail on this one. laugh

Johnny 5 is alive!
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Robert Stetler
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UnknownParkerBrother wrote:
Whoops. Massive fail on this one. laugh

Johnny 5 is alive!


Gah. "Short Circuit". I think I should be glad I did miss that reference - bad enough I remembered D.A.R.Y.L.
 
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Anthony Boydell
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2A Marvin is correct (HHGTTG) but did you notice what its number, 2A, is Hexadecimal for..?
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Fabien Conus
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tonyboydell wrote:
2A Marvin is correct (HHGTTG) but did you notice what its number, 2A, is Hexadecimal for..?


42 !

Brilliant !

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Claude Sirois
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Great review (4 years later)!

Now I want this game!cool

K
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