Everything old is new again.
Several years ago, around the time that I finally broke down and got one of them new-fangled “smartphones,” I made the prediction that even though today’s kids won’t touch anything that’s not digital, the kids of tomorrow will actually value tangible objects, because they’ll be so much of a novelty.
Well, I was right sooner than I expected, but wrong about the audience. Turns out oldheads like me get sick of screens, yearning for simpler times, and thus came the 21st century board game revolution. The eye strain has gotten to us SO much, that even when we get nostalgic about our very first video games, we’d rather see them in a wooden and cardboard format.
At least, that’s what IDW Games is banking on. A division of, yes, IDW Publishing, the group has been pumping out the licensed games you’d expect, along with a few original IPs here and there. They recently made a deal with Atari, of all things, to make board game adaptations of their classic arcade games, and Centipede is the first of this anticipated line.
Now I like board games, but I’m not what you’d call a “gamer’s gamer.” My girlfriend Kara and her cousin Luke even less so. We’re not always that concerned with how revolutionary a mechanism or how elegant a design is. We’re looking for something that’s fun and simple enough we can play with the family, but with enough meat to not feel like we wasted our time. I guess you could call us “Un-Gamers.”
Centipede was right up our alley. The first thing you notice are the components, and they really do look like the 8-bit renderings from the classic game. The centipedes come in segments (for obvious reasons), there are a ton of mushrooms but only a few spiders and fleas, all made sturdily out of wood. Plus engraved dice that the gnome(s) use to move and shoot in different combinations. The gnomes look vaguely accusatory as they point their magic wands across the board.
Yes, there are TWO gnomes, because Centipede can be enjoyed as either a two or four-player game. The two-player game is just what you’d expect — gnome vs. centipede, and the arcade game is translated almost directly here (which confidentially, being a Centipede veteran since the very beginning, gave Luke a big advantage).
I even cheated! I was the gnome in our two-player game, and I mistakenly used all the available “gnome control cards” instead of just a few of them — because the rules didn’t say not to. IDW takes a lot of flack for their rulebooks, which I thought was overblown after reading the one for Centipede, but certain things definitely are omitted, and others could be easier to find. Even with my unintended advantage, I still lost. I figure it’s harder for the gnome to win (seems like it should be), so there’s something to aspire for in subsequent games.
And we argued about the endgame for another few minutes.
The rules are also silent on what happens when two opposing centipedes encounter each other. In a four-player game, players are split into teams of two, with one person controlling a gnome and the other a centipede. You try to kill the other player’s centipede while also trying to eat their gnome. It sounds complicated, but I think it’s actually more fun than the “standard” 1 vs. 1 version. There’s more going on, there’s opportunity for strategizing and teamwork and there’s even a little bit of “hate-buying,” as both gnome players share the dice, so choosing one effectively means your opponent can’t play it.
As you can see, we definitely goofed on a bunch of rules, some we might still not realize. But it was still fun, and we’ll probably play again, now that we’re starting to discern new strategies. The more you grasp, the more you try to out-think your opponent, suggesting that the replay-ability of Centipede might be higher than you imagine.
And of course, you can always refine your rules mistakes. Do they even matter, though? With a game like this, it might be better to just not be a stickler so everyone can join in and have a good time. Centipede can be a great gateway game or just a new way to play for old guys who still have sore thumbs from joysticks and button-mashing.
Yes, centipedes count as bugs. And please, don’t eat magic mushrooms because you thought AiPT! told you to. You had that idea ALL ON YOUR OWN.