Custom Pac-Man Board Game
If you happen to read the Ganymede & Titan forums, you know that my sister, together with her fiance, gave me a custom, handmade Pac-Man board game for my birthday.
They worked out the rules, created a design and thought of no less than 300 quiz card questions. They printed and cut; carved and painted; sawed and glued; shopped and assembled… and crafted a true piece of geeky nostalgia beauty.
- A four-panel wooden game board
- Four different Pac-Man player gaming pieces
- Three ghost NPC gaming pieces
- Dice: D4, D6 (ranging 0-5), D10 and a direction dice depicting arrows
- A bag full of white pac-dots, red power-pellets and gold-and-white ghost pellet pieces
- Wooden fruit bonus items: apple, orange, grapes, strawberry and, of course, a pair of cherries
- 300 quiz cards
- 2-page rule set
Basic game information
- 2 players
- Ages 6+ (should be able to read, should not try to eat the fruit, and it really helps if you’re old enough to have seen movies like The Godfather and assembled a good deal of IKEA furniture)
- Duration: up to 2 hours with standard rules, can be reduced by using alternate rules
Setting up the game
As the rules make nicely clear, shift the four wooden panels together to create the maze. The layout is strictly pac, so the players will want to sit next to each other or use a Scrabble turntable, although the classic opposite seating positions work just as well.
Afterwards, each player picks a Pac-Man. The Pac-Man pieces have differently-coloured mouths to make them distinguishable. Place the two Pac-Man player pieces in the tunnel, the outermost left and right ones of the numbered fields. These will be the players’ starting positions.
Instead of Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde, only two ghosts will be able to play alongside the two Pac-Mans (or is it “Pac-Men”?) The game comes with three ghost pieces that are red, green or blue on the happy side and grey on their sad side. Place two ghosts in the ghost shed field in the middle of the board.
On the four corner fields that depict red crosses you put one red power-pellet each.
The remaining fields are covered in pac-dots. The half-golden ghost pellets only become important later in the game.
The quiz cards form an orderly pile, face-down for now. Get the fruits and dice ready. The set-up game should now look something like this:
How to play
The game’s goal is to move around, gather pac-dots (by answering questions correctly) and collect bonus points by eating fruits and catching sad ghosts.
Players take turns moving their Pac-Man through the maze. They can move D4 fields each turn - that is, up to four fields - but stop when they encounter a pac-dot. So you only need the dice when you decide to walk through parts of the maze that have already been eaten. As the rules state, this comes in handy when you’re running away from a ghost!
After both players have made their moves, it is the ghosts’ turn. Ghosts always move D4 fields and never eat any pac-dots. When they encounter a junction, the golden direction dice is used to determine where the ghost will turn. If Pac-Man is touched by a ghost, he/she is sent back to their starting field.
Each time Pac-Man eats a pac-dot, a quiz card is drawn from the pile and read out to the player.
There are different types of questions: normal questions (e.g. which movie is this quote from?), picture question (e.g. which game is this screenshot from?) and multiple choice ones. On multiple choice cards, the ghost or Pac-Man indicates which answer is the right one.
If there’s a fruit logo in the corner of the card, one of the bonus fruits is placed onto the board or withdrawn, but only if that particular fruit hasn’t been eaten by Pac-man yet. Use dice in order to find out where to place fruit (D6 = tens digit, D10 = units digit).
Each time Pac-Man eats a power-pellet, the ghosts are turned over. They stay grey for five rounds, and move the same as before. Pac-Man may now hunt the ghosts – if a ghost is caught, it is turned around to its normal colourful self and sent back to the ghost shack, while Pac-Man’s player gets one golden ghost pellet which scores 50 points in the final count, aka the “highscore”.
Each time Pac-Man eats a bonus fruit, the player may keep the fruit for bonus points in the final count.
The game ends when all pac-dots have been eaten. Pac-dots are worth 10 points, power-pellets 15 points, ghost pellets 50, and the fruit bonus points range from 20 through 40.
So my boyfriend and I play-tested the game and our first impressions are the following: My, did we love playing this game.
Apart from the apparent geek nostalgia factor, it is actually quite fun to play, not least because of the quiz cards which are a delight! I have to admit I don’t really like to play this quiz card type of games, because in all honesty I’m not very good. No, really, I suck at Trivial Pursuit. The only questions I can answer are usually the entertainment ones or anything to do with computers or languages. This awesome Pac-Man game comes with questions that make a geek girl like me happy. They’re full of references to video games, movies and such, and many of them are quite funny. They’re still a challenge: we ended up with 14 pellets each, which means we only managed to answer half the questions right. One of my favourite cards is the one saying, “How many percent of damages to photocopiers are attributed to people trying to copy their bums?”
The rules don’t list all possible cases for Pac-Man and ghost moves; so when we wondered whether a certain move was valid or not, we stayed true to the original Pac-Man game: Pac-Man may move through the tunnel; ghosts cannot go back into the ghost shed; etc.
Our game lasted just over two hours. After one hour we started drinking. Towards the end there was this point when my boyfriend tried to list four out of seven dwarfs from Disney's version of Snow White, and I think that's when it became downright hysterical.
Of course, not everything could be perfect. The one catch we found lies in moving the ghosts: more precisely, to dice out a ghost’s preferred direction in case of a junction field. Now, most fields in this maze are junctions, so we spent a good deal of those two hours throwing the golden dice; and, in case of an invalid turn, again, and again, and again.
The second issue is that I had no respect for the ghost in the first place. My Pac-Man got eaten two or three times and sent back to the starting field, which not only in my boyfriend’s opinion is too gentle for a penalty, but also in at least one case actually proved to be an advantage for me because it warped my Pac-Man to a field quite close to a bonus fruit.
After talking to my sister on the phone, two alternate rule sets were established that take care of above issues.
The highscore in the end:
Me: 355 points, three ghosts caught, grapes and apple.
Boyfriend: 275 points, including two ghosts and an orange.
Alternate rules (I) – the long game
In the long but friendly game, ghosts move according to the standard rules (with D4 and direction dice), but are a little more dangerous. Players get three “lives” which they lose one by one when being eaten by a ghost. If all lives are lost, so is the game!
Alternate rules (II) – the aggressive game
In this variant, you don’t use the golden direction dice at all, which speeds up the game significantly - from two hours to just under one hour. Each player moves one Pac-Man, and one ghost going straight for the other Pac-Man! In this variant, Pac-Man has endless lives, and ghosts cannot pass through the tunnel in order to give Pac-Man the chance to escape.
We tested this variant too, and it proved more complicated than we’d thought. On one hand, it is kind of fun playing a bit more tactically; on the other side there are a number of issues you have to deal with, or find rules for/against: Pac-Man suiciding into a ghost if it suits the player; a grey ghost suiciding into Pac-Man (or not running away) if it suits the player; ghosts blocking fruit for the other player’s Pac-Man, and so on. We made it a rule that Pac-Man can only hunt or be eaten by the other player’s ghost, but it was still a bit messy.
Also, since the ghosts can move D4 steps and Pac-Man is slowed down by the pac-dots, Pac-Man gets eaten a lot in this variant, especially early in the game when the entire maze is blocked by pac-dots, and then again late in the game when only one or two islands of pac-dots are left. Since grey ghosts are slower in the computer game, we gave them only D4/2 (randomly one or two) steps to move – otherwise Pac-Man would never have been able to catch a ghost since they could hide in the pac-dot fields easily.
It is still a lot of fun, but this set of alternate rules needs some more thought.
Our score in the end was 245 for the boyfriend, 215 for me.
Alternate rules (III) – the social game
I played Pac-Man again, this time with my best friend and her boyfriend. He got to be the Game Master – he read out the quiz cards to us, managed the fruit and moved the ghosts.
Due to a human (and relatively unbiased) player moving the ghosts, the game was much shorter than a standard game, and at the same time many issues from variant II like suiciding and fruit-sitting were avoided. With 1 D4 steps per round, the ghosts are still “too fast” in the very early and very late game, but a human player can sensibly work around that.
This variant turned out to be the most fun. In future games, we want to award points to the third player for catching a Pac-Man. As ghosts don’t eat pac-dots and the Game Master doesn’t answer questions, these are the only points the ghosts can score. We have yet to find good values for a balanced game, but I’m looking forward to that.
With roughly 60 pellet fields and 300 cards, we can play this game five times before theoretically having seen each card at least once, and they should stay fun for a good while. But if we run out of cards eventually, we can always use Trivial Pursuit ones. Of course, the Pac-Man cards are prettier, have cooler questions, and have fruit information (that, I suppose, we could substitute by throwing dice).
I am now looking forward to play this game in all its variants with other people, such as my best friend and her family, and my geeky workmates. I am also trying to get my hands on the 1980s Pac-Man board game by Milton Bradley. When I get to play that one as well, I’ll let you know!