Review – Zaxxon Board Game
I remember that the first time that I ever saw this game was Christmas morning, 1985. Yep, this was one of my gifts that year and to this day I remember how much fun I had setting up the gameboard and then playing through the game by myself . . . the game was honestly so bad that I couldn’t convince anyone to try it more than once. But that didn’t matter to me, since all I cared about was that I could play Zaxxon at home. I was a really stupid kid.
And a really stupid adult, it seems, because a few years ago I found this game cheap and bought it. Why? Because all I could remember about it was how much fun I had playing with it as a kid. Well, shortly after reaquiring my own copy of the game I convinced Gina to give it a try . . . and now I don’t even want to play it again.
Published in 1983, the Zaxxon Board Game was one of Milton Bradley’s numerous attempts to translate video games to board games. More information on the game than you could ever want is waiting for you at BoardGameGeek, but all you really need to know is that the components and presentation of the game are far cooler than the gameplay itself. With ten pages of rules, the game’s actually a lot more complicated than you would first expect . . . or is it?
Playing the Game
Game setup involves placing the turrets, fuel barrels, Zaxxon robot, walls, and missile silos on the board and then handing each player two fighters. Players then roll 1d6 each for initiative . . . but they don’t call it that, instead writing the initiative rule in a fairly confusing manner:
1. ROLLING THE DIE: both players roll their die AT THE SAME TIME. Reroll the die if there is a tie. On EACH turn, the player rolling the Lower Number on the die ALWAYS plays first. Then the player rolling the Higher Number plays second.
Why they wrote all that instead of something simple I’ll never know, but I do know that if I tried to present a game with initiative/player order described in that way I’d likely lose a lot of sales as people started discussing the terrible rules writing. And if this was the worst section of the rules I could move on with life but, unfortunately, it gets worse.
What do you mean by “worse?”
Really? You wanna ask that question? Okay, but I warn you that the next rules quote is really terrible. Please keep in mind as you read this that the game was intended for players seven to fourteen. Milton Bradely really seemed to hate kids back in the early eighties because they included a simple spinner and then gave it this wall of text:
2. USING THE SPINNER: the player rolling the Lower Number spins the spinner. The spinner controls enemy fire directed at the fighter planes from missile silos and gun turrets (later in the game the spinner will also control the movement of Zaxxon). When RED is spun, any plane that is in or enters a missile silo area CONTAINING A MISSILE SILO is shot down and returned to its home base. When BLUE is spun, any plane that is in a gun turret area CONTAINING A GUN TURRET is shot down and returned to its home base. If a missile silo or a gun turret has been shot and removed from the board, there is no enemy fire from that area so any planes in that area are safe. Notice that the missile silo areas are surrounded by a red border and the gun turret areas are surrounded by a blue border. See Figures 5A and 5B for locations. When WHITE is spun, all planes are safe. Please Note: If your plane is shot down by a missile silo or gun turret in the inner fortress, return it to a RESTART space in your outer fortress.
You got all that, kids? What’s sad is that it’s actually a very simple set of rules that have been presented in a confusing manner. Bullet points, people! And “Lower Number” is gonna get old really fast if we don’t define initiative as a term here pretty soon. What’s really scary is that we’re only on the basic game rules and we haven’t even gotten into the special cases or specifics of inner fortress and outer fortress play.
You say you played this game as a kid?
I sure as hell did, but I wouldn’t swear to you that I was playing right. I am also a bit surprised that this game didn’t drive me away from gaming forever — can you believe that a kid who had to suffer through these rules grew up to work in the game industry? — because these are seriously some awful examples of rules writing. I should drag this game into the office so that I can show everyone what bad rules really look like. But no, that would just be an example of a mean boss and I’d really rather save my “mean boss days” for something a lot more fun.
So you say the pieces are neat?
Hell, yes, the components included with the game are neat. Plastic bits that sit on a colorful, fun gameboard always attract my attention and these are some cool plastic bits. Notice in that shot of the fighters earlier in the review how one is raised higher than the other? That’s an actual part of the gameplay and I love how these ships slide up and down on that simple post. I’m gonna have to steal this idea one of these days, because it may just be my favorite concept locked inside this horrible game.
There were other board games based on video games?
Absolutely. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and more were unleashed as board games back in the early eighties and even today computer games are translated into board games. Most all of them suck, but every now and then a good translation hits the market. I’m not going to take the time to mention a ton of examples, but I will point you at this Geek List at BoardGameGeek. If you’re really interested in what has been published check that out. But you had better not blame me when you start searching eBay for your very own copy of The Legend of Zelda Board Game.
I should probably apologize for showing this to you, but I figured that some of you might have fun getting a peek at a game from the early eighties. It’s not at all good, but it’s a fun oddity in my game collection and I have to admit that I’d love to grab some other arcade games turned into board games from that time.
Does that mean I have a problem?
For a little more fun check out the actual Zaxxon arcade game at Wikipedia. The entry even has information on the board game. How much info? This is it:
In 1982, Milton Bradley made a Zaxxon board game.
Philip Reed has to admit that he was smiling as he wrote this review, but he isn’t sure that it was because he was having fun going over the game again or because he was thinking of the comments that could easily find themselves attached to a game review at a toy site. And a terrible game at that.
6 thoughts on “Review – Zaxxon Board Game”
Ah, I’d always wondered about Zaxxon! I nearly purchased it on ebay a few years ago, but the reviews on BGG weren’t kind. You’re review at least clears up why it was so confusing!
I would have played the crap out of this based on the box-art alone!
No need to apologize for this review, the game looks great, and the review mirrors many of my own childhood experiences.
@Jay – Happy to help clear up some confusion. Don’t worry, though, this game has plenty of confusion to spare. If you can find it cheap — and you collect games — I recommend grabbing one because it’s a strange addition to any collection.
@Seth L – I do love the box art. I could totally go for that as a poster.
I don’t like games in general but what i like is the brickwall piece and that robot wit the launcher.
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