When it comes to gathering the family around the TV for a night of gaming on the Nintendo Entertainment System, there aren’t a lot of choices. Sure, you’ve got perennial hits like Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt (both included with the Action Set), but those types of video game require hand-eye coordination and a high degree of practice to be entertaining to all age groups. On top of that, they’re mostly single player experiences, where everyone else has to sit around and twiddle their thumbs until it’s their turn. GameTek has had some success in bringing the family together with games like Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy, but it’s Nintendo’s own Anticipation that I think will truly be a blockbuster hit.
The past few years we’ve seen hit board games like Pictionary and Win, Lose, or Draw. These are instantly popular because nearly anyone can play and have a good time. Nintendo has taken that idea and tweaked it for the video game market with Anticipation. Instead of a player drawing something and the crowd trying to guess what it is, the NES is the artist and up to four players (yes, four!) can play at the same time to try and win.
Combining a board game and a video game is risky, especially when it’s a completely new idea that doesn’t borrow from an already popular license. The game is rather simple to understand, and that will be a key to its success. You start on a board and with a roll of a dice your pawn moves around different colored spaces. The goal is to collect the four different colored pieces to move on to the next board and eventually win. Each color represents a different category of puzzle, which ranges from Food to Clothing to Math to Travel, and more (16 in total). Once you land on that color the drawing begins and the CPU begins to draw a picture. As the picture begins to fill in a player can buzz in at any moment and guess what it is. You’ll have to be careful to spell correctly or risk losing the round! If you’re correct you earn that color tile. If you already had that color, then you really don’t make progress, but at least you stopped one of your rivals from earning it.
That’s the basic gist of the game, but there are a few strategies to be aware of. First of all, as the computer is drawing the picture that needs to be solved, there’s a dice block in the upper right of the screen that counts down. It serves as the timer for the session, so if it reaches zero and no one guesses then the play moves to the next player. But, the die serves a dual purpose! You see, if you know the answer to the puzzle you might want to wait and time it just right to guess the answer when the die is showing the number that’s advantageous to you. If you guess right, your player piece moves that many spaces on the next turn. If you plan out your moves you can guarantee you land on a colored space that you need to get one step closer to winning.
There are various degrees of difficulty and you’re free to select how hard you want the game to be at the beginning of a session. Easier modes have small dots that are placed on the drawing and the pencil connects the dots to form the picture. This is great for beginners and younger players. Beginner modes also show the exact number of letters needed to answer the puzzle, whereas more difficult ones do not. It’s great there are a variety of options here so players can customize the game to fit the audience.
Like many board games, Anticipation really shines when you have a full set of players. The game technically supports up to four at the same time. Now you may be asking how that’s possible when the NES only comes with two controllers and there are only two controller ports. Nintendo has come up with the ingenious solution whereby two people share a controller. Each player holds half the paddle and must buzz in when they think they know the answer to the puzzle. One player uses the Control pad as the buzzer and the other uses the A & B buttons. Once someone buzzes in they take hold of the controller and enter the letters into the solution field. If you have more than 4 players you can do what we did at a recent party: team up! To do this you assign a point person that buzzes in for your team and the team blurts out possible answers and the point person inputs the one he/she thinks is the right one. This has to be done very quickly as the countdown timer ticks down rather quickly.
If your family is like mine and loves a good board game, Anticipation has some obvious advantages. First of all it’s entertaining because it’s on the TV and everyone can gather around and play very easily. There’s no setup and no cleanup afterward either. The puzzles are fun and varied and a huge range of age groups can be entertained at the same time. Perhaps the only major concern is that there might not be enough puzzles to guess. I’m not sure how many are present, but even after playing the game maybe four or five times we saw some reappear, which can hold a very unfair advantage to those who have played the game the most. Still, this is a minor quibble and I think this Game Pak is novel enough to warrant a purchase for board game loving families everywhere.
Final Thoughts: GREAT
There are a million space shooters and twitch action games on the NES, but very few family-friendly pieces of software that can be played by virtually any age group. Anticipation brings the fun and excitement of watching the NES draw a picture and trying to buzz in and guess before anyone else does. It’s a fun board game played on the TV!