The Games Journal | A Magazine About Boardgames

Upgrading Your Game

Greg Aleknevicus

July, 2002

There are many ways to improve the look or function of a game. As an example, I prefer to have some sort of large object to indicate "first player" rather than the card that many games use. Usually these upgrades are purely functional but every so often you'll find something that fits the theme perfectly as well. I've listed a few of these such finds below...

Midnight Party pawns used in Kill Dr. Lucky Kill Dr. Lucky - Since you need to supply your own pawns to this game anyway, it makes sense to use appropriate pieces doesn't it? I think that the pawns from Midnight Party fit the bill very nicely. I haven't played Clue in a number of years but if I ever dig out the old classic it's a pretty sure bet that I'll replace the generic pawns with these as well.
Wide World spaceships used in Merchant
              of Venus Merchant of Venus - The generic pawns that come with the game are simply no good and so I replaced them with the spaceships from an old copy of Wide World. (Before you buy that old thrift store copy though, make sure that it has the pieces you want. Some versions had boring old plastic planes. The metal ones pictures here are also available in Parker Brothers' Conquest.) I think that the retro style matches the tongue in cheek theme of the game very nicely. As an added bonus they even have superior function-ability—you can point your ship in the direction of travel as required by the rules.
Using a wooden train instead of a card in Vom Kap Bis Kairo Vom Kap Bis Kairo - While I appreciate the nice compact size of the game (it's just a deck of cards), I didn't like having to move the trains. It would be much nicer if they were actual wooden trains rather than just cards. Fortunately, these are readily available at many craft shops. A quick coat of paint and you're all set. The ones that I bought were a little thin (1/4") and so I had to glue two of them together. They're very cheap so this is hardly a problem. I also used another of these trains to replace the "first player marker" in Santa Fe Rails. The original is small and looks more like a black blob than a train.
Give Me The Brain - This one seems a natural. You need some item that the players must pass around to show which zombie currently holds the only brain at Friedey's fast food restaurant. It seems only natural that you use an actual brain then doesn't it? Well, maybe not an actual brain but a foam one at least. These are pretty common promotional items (go to almost any trade convention and you're likely to be given several).
The Great Brain Robbery - Ok, so you got a large foam brain for playing Give Me The Brain, but what about this "sequel" game? You need lots of little tiny brains. Plastics For Games has just the thing—tiny little brains in a variety of colours.
Cardboard Heroes, with bases, used in Swashbuckler Swashbuckler - I'm actually quite pleased with the look of this Yaquinto game from the early 1980s. The empty tavern is simple but very nicely done. The furniture counters are plain but still work quite well I think. The problem was with the pirate counters—the overhead shots looked more like coloured blobs than dastardly villains. Even though the counters are quite thick, it was a little awkward moving them around all the time. An easy solution is to use Steve Jackson Games' Cardboard Heroes. Originally released in small batches, you can now purchase the entire set of fantasy figures in one package. There are about a dozen or so that are appropriate for a swashbuckling setting. Using colour coded bases improves them even more. I originally planned on using metal miniatures but I found it difficult to get any that were "just right". Most tended to be too large for use in the 3/4" squares and the bases made the figures "facing" a little ambiguous. Even if you don't own Swashbuckler this idea can come in handy in plenty of other games. The zombie characters can be used in The Great Brain Robbery. Even without the Cardboard Heroes, the plastic stands make things much easier to move things around in my experience. Deluxe Ogre (the 1985 version) included these and I found it to be a tremendous improvement over the original flat counters. I try to retrofit these items to any games possible although sometimes it doesn't work all that well. I'm hoping that the figures in Kampf der Gladiators will be the right size, I'm not real fond of the plastic "sleds".

- Greg Aleknevicus

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