Arcades of the 1980’s were dens of sin and vice. Despised by right-thinking American parents as dark, smoke-filled places that turned wholesome suburban tweens into dope smoking video game zombies. Or so I learned later from reading things like Charles Beamer’s 1982 book Video Fever. Both of my parents liked video games, so family excursions to a nearby arcade were common weekend occurrences.
While my early ’80’s arcade experience wasn’t as uncommon as Mr. Beamer would like you to believe, I know plenty of kids didn’t have the good fortune of getting a ride to the arcade every time mom wanted to play some Q*Bert. Some hopped on their bikes and went on what I always imagined to be Spielberg-movie-esque journeys to a former laundromat turned Video Palace (or some such thing). Others didn’t even have that option. They had no choice but to sit on the living room floor playing inferior home ports until Magnum P.I. came on and they were forced to turn the game off.
If that was you then, or if you’re one of the approximately 27 Americans who don’t live within reasonable driving distance of a recently opened “beercade” and it’s you now, there is another option: Milton Bradley’s Arcade Mania board game.
Unlike Milton Bradley’s other arcade-based board games, which sought to recreate the experience of playing individual games like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, Arcade Mania sought to recreate the experience of hanging out at the arcade with three of your friends.
The centerpiece of Arcade Mania is The Machine, a 9-inch tall plastic arcade cabinet with nine large, colorful buttons and nine painfully bright LEDs. With the help of some colorful overlays it can be transformed into one of four different video games inspired by the arcade hits of the era: Alien Raiders (Space Invaders), Sneak Attack (Missile Command), Rattler (Centipede) or Run Amuk (Berzerk). Despite being nothing more than the same nine lights flashing in different patterns, the four games manage to offer distinct and decently entertaining gameplay. Sneak Attack and Rattler in particular do a commendable job of re-interpreting the original games with The Machine’s limited resources.
The non-electronic half of Arcade Mania operates like a simplified version of Monopoly. Players take turns moving their pawns along the track. When a player lands on a space representing a game “owned” by another player, rather than pay that other player rent, the two face off on The Machine with the winner receiving tokens as a reward. The players who aren’t taking part in the duel can wager tokens on the outcome. They can also affect the results by playing cards that do things like add or subtract points from a player’s score or force one player to play at a higher difficulty or play using only one hand. The game ends when one player completes a lap around the board and the player with the most tokens is the winner.
Even if a toy arcade machine with super-simplified versions of four games isn’t the draw it was in 1983, that doesn’t mean Arcade Mania can’t be part of your next retro game night. Invite some friends over, have a few beers and set the board up next to your MAME cabinet.
One-handed Missile Command, anyone?