Board Games & Me: The Lost World
Here we are at the end of the road — hm, scratch that — at the end of the onramp that set me on a lifelong Board Game Highway. I’d already decided I liked at least the social aspect of board games thanks to Risk, and later that I was fascinated by their components thanks to Forbidden Bridge. I still hadn’t found the right game though, the one that was more than just a social catalyst or pretty components, that would convince me that board games were more than a once- or twice-a-year hobby. I hadn’t found the one that was good.
Sometime around 1997, I found it. If the header image is broken, read on to discover what it was.
I saw the first Jurassic Park movie when my parents were out of town. It was barely out on VHS (I almost wrote DVD right there) and my sisters and I were being watched (not babysat, I was assured) by an uncle and his wife — I say “wife” and not “aunt” because the latter descriptor doesn’t really work, not sure why. I’ve talked about a cool uncle before, and while I have a good handful of those, this uncle didn’t fit that category. This was the uncle who wanted to be cool. Screening Jurassic Park for children aged eight and five was probably one of his better efforts.
I’ve always been very good at immersing myself in fiction, which is a gentle way of saying I’m a sissy when it comes to stories with horror elements. Jurassic Park terrified me, everyone could tell, and so when I got something in my eye and had to leave to wash it out, my uncle’s wife (ah, here’s why) was there to berate me for not being as brave as my baby sister. “How are you such a baby when your five-year-old sister is so brave?” my uncle’s wife asked me as I shoved my head into the sink. Thing is, I did have something in my eye. I’m not saying it wasn’t a relief to leave the living room where human beings were being tormented by genetic demons straight out of hell, but I wasn’t about to chicken out in front of everyone. I really had something in my damn eye. BELIEVE IT.
Anyway. Years later my dad took me to see the second movie in theaters. After my previous verbal beating, I was afraid I’d chicken out in front of my dad, or just need to have a poo or something and make him think I’d chickened out. Which may have happened the year before when I went with my dad to see Independence Day. I really needed to use the damn bathroom. BELIEVE IT.
(Sidenote: My dad didn’t verbally abuse me like my uncle’s horrid wife. My dad’s a good guy. I was a nervous kid.)
I liked The Lost World. I mean, it wasn’t great, especially that bit where the velociraptor was defeated with the power of gymnastics. Even at eleven that stuck out as idiotic. Still, I caught dinosaur fever a bit later than most kids, and next Christmas I became the proud owner of The Lost World: Jurassic Park: Board Game.
It looked great. The map was colorful, the dice were big, and the rules looked pretty easy to learn. The buildings were 3D, which actually mattered with the mechanics. The dinosaur sculpts were cool. It had a helicopter. One of the survivors looked like my dad when he went fishing (second from the right in the picture above), which of course meant that was the one I’d always cheat to have survive (the rodeo clown with the purse died first). The rulebook and box said the game was for 2-4 players, but that was a sham. It was really for two, an asymmetrical duel between unarmed tasty humans and merciless raptors. The human goal was to get to the other side of the board, clambering onto rooftops and occasionally jumping the gaps between buildings, hiding in the wreckage at the center of the board that the raptors couldn’t squeeze into, and praying for the dice to roll your way. The dinosaur player’s goal was to eat lots of humans by chasing down anyone caught in the open, finding holes in the sides of buildings, and praying for the dice to roll your way. It was basically a gory version of Red Rover.
Problem was, the game wasn’t very good. First, the dice mechanic required a dragon’s hoard of luck. The humans had two dice, one with a number of how many spaces you could move and the other with “Stop” and “Go” results. Get a “Go” and you repeated your turn, potentially infinitely; inversely, a “Stop” meant your turn was done. The dinosaurs had the same dice, except they also had a T-Rex die that would gradually march the T-Rex towards the human team’s starting safe zone — and it was rerolled every turn, including if you’d had a “Go.” So the T-Rex might arrive really, really quickly. Which brings us to the second problem: it was phenomenally unbalanced in the dinosaurs’ favor. The human goal was to get 3 survivors to the helipad. This rarely happened.
Now now, I know you’re saying, out loud, in an angry voice, “Wait! You said this entry was about a good game!” Calm down. It is. Just not out of the box.
I played The Lost World maybe three times before giving up on it in disgust and proclaiming it broken. Once again, my dad came to the rescue. He read the rules and figured out a solution, one that bent the game’s imbalance to its favor. Play it twice, he said, and switch off teams. Whoever gets the most survivors to the helicopter wins. My very first house rule.
And what do you know — it completely fixed The Lost World. What was once broken was now a tense game of wits, with the human player relishing his chance to turn the tables in the next life as the dinosaurs. A good game.
We dug it out of my parents’ closet over the holidays, and it was every bit as good as I remembered. We had fun with it, and made dinosaur noises, and someone got mad because half his survivors were eaten by a T-Rex and then when he had the T-Rex it didn’t get anyone. While we played it, flaws and all, our house was full of happiness. The Lost World isn’t going to win any awards for innovation, but still possibly one of the best roll-and-move games I’ve played.
After Risk and Forbidden Bridge started me down the road to loving board games, it was The Lost World that showed me that they can be memorable, fun, epic experiences. Even if you have to force them to be. Fortunately, you can do that with board games.
So, dear readers, what is your board game story? What games led you to where you are today, living a life as an avid board game lover? Tell all.