When I was in college and Magic: The Gathering was the new hotness, I tried my hand at creating a Pac-Man card game. Bear in mind, this was before the World Wide Web was littered with print on demand operations and making a card game meant going to a print shop, having several sets made and hoping the local comic book shop would agree to sell them on consignment with the lingering threat of a cease-and-desist letter from Namco hanging over their heads, so “trying my hand” at making a Pac-Man card game really just meant filling a notebook page with vague ideas during English class and never showing them to anyone.
What I didn’t know at the time was that Milton Bradley beat me to it. Like most people my age, I knew about the Pac-Man board game. Though I didn’t own a copy at the time, I’d seen the commercials for it on TV as a kid and sort of played the copy that was in the rainy day cupboard of one of my elementary school classrooms. (Sort of played because by that time it was a couple of years old and missing most of the marbles.) But I didn’t learn about the Pac-Man card game until I stumbled across a copy at a thrift store in the early 2000’s.
The goal of Pac-Man: The Card Game is to score points by creating math equations. I know what you’re thinking. “I don’t remember a math level in Pac-Man. But I didn’t know there were intermissions until I saw a YouTube video last summer, so maybe I just never made it that far.” Rest assured, you haven’t missed anything. Barring the revelation that the gibberish on the screen of level 256 is actually a complex math equation and the solution is entered by pressing the start button the appropriate number of times, there is no math level in Pac-Man.
While the Pac-Man board game proudly boasts that it’s “Based on the Exciting Arcade Game,” Pac-Man: The Card Game only claims to be “A Card Game Featuring the Characters from the Popular Arcade Game.” Translated from marketing speak, that means the only thing Pac-Man about the Pac-Man card game is the artwork.
To play the game, two to four players take turns placing cards on either their game board or an opponent’s game board. Once an equation is complete the cards are removed and the player scores points equal to the answer to the equation created. Regardless of who played the final card in the equation, the points go to the player whose board the equation is on. So it’s possible to give your opponent 0 points by placing a 0 card after a ten and a multiplication sign or -5 points play placing a minus card between a 0 and a 5. This sounds like it makes for an exciting, cutthroat game. And occasionally it does, but more often it’s just four people sitting around a table completing their own equations after they realize that giving their opponents zero points gives them a satisfying feeling but doesn’t actually gain them any points.
As quick cash grabs go, the Pac-Man card game is particularly heinous. Everything about it screams “Game that got shelved because no one thought it would sell until Doug in marketing suggested adding Pac-Man since the license was already paid for.”
I think I speak for all of us with this sarcastic “Thanks, Doug.”