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Barney Google and Spark Plug Game» Forums » Reviews

Subject: A somewhat historical review from 1923 (and 2017) rss

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Gene Miller
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Okay, imagine it's 1923:

Your cracking open the box with your best friend, since he owns the game, for the very first time. It's plastered with iconic cartoon characters in vivid colors along the box & board, it also contains 4 character pawns on wooden bases and has 2 wooden dice cups containing a die apiece.

It's obviously a racing game, but it has an unusual mechanic which allows each race horses' partner to travel in the opposite direction to potentially meet up with the horse and then double their roll result (almost guaranteeing victory). Throw in an extended and a shortened pathway along with an automatic end game space (glue factory) and you have the makings of a great game right?

Well for 1923, the answer is probably a resounding yes! Owning little to no games at that time likely allows for very little comparison. Branding a game with characters of the time was definitely a genius move on Milton Bradley's part (remember no Mickey Mouse until 1928). All the aforementioned components are nice and the board is very bright & colorful with little snippets of cartoons at the center of the board.

It's the roaring twenties, the beginning of our mass culture and consumer society and Man O' War has just finished a brilliant career...so this was likely a very well timed product for the time. Obviously I unsure of how many were produced but you do see this game come up from time to time on auction sites so either it had a broad distribution or people took really good care of their prized possessions.

There were not a lot of manufactured games geared at children for this time period but there were a few dominant ones: Snakes and Ladders, Go Fish, Minute Maid, Black Jack, Chess, Dominoes, Pick Up Sticks and Marbles.

With all of that in consideration I would have rated this game a 7 out of 10 in 1923. I would have liked to pretend to be the cartoon characters but I would generally have opted for more of a strategic 2 player game like Chess, Checkers or Dominoes which have more replay-ability.

Fast-forward 94 years 'cause it's 2017:

We've covered the game pretty well in 1923 so let's skip right to the gameplay and rating.

1. Components: The box art, colors and game board are still visually appealing even if you don't know who the characters are anymore (most folks will have to check them out on YouTube). The components fare well against contemporary racing games but the cardboard pawns lack any color- odd, but grace is given since it's probably due to the fact that the cartoons were in black & white at the time.

2. Game Play: The mechanic of a reverse pawn for assistance is intriguing even for today's standards and the multiple pathways throw in some variability. But what about the specifics?:

a. Movement: Rolling 1 die is agonizingly slow by today's standards but it can prevent a run-away leader since the probabilities are higher for a specific dice roll (1:6) as the number between them is potentially less than with two dice. I'm not a math teacher so all you statistically- minded gamer just bear with my "explanation" or go ahead and smirk and do the eye-roll thing.

b. Supporting Characters: The chance that the supporting character (going in reverse of the horse) is going to land on the exact same space to provide a doubling of your dice roll is low. Having said that, on my first game I actually did just that with both characters. Yeah, I'm not even attempting that statistical analysis since my head already hurts from point #1.

c. Variable Paths #1: There are two spaces specifically made to help or hinder Spark Plug but not it's opponent "Sassy Susie". Obviously Spark Plug is a main character but there is little to hinder the other horse but the "over the fence" path. This pathway can affect both horses yet it seems like Spark Plug is at a general disadvantage. Yes, he might be able to take 11 fewer spaces towards the "winner's circle" (hay), but he can also lose outright on the "glue factory" space. After viewing the online cartoons the disadvantage tends to make some sense, yet the player with the main character on the box is traditionally deemed to have the winning advantage...or is at least championed as such.

d.Variable Paths #2: There are only 3 spaces that either end the game or offer additional pathways, with 92 outside spaces those odds are 3.3%. Low odds...but again I somehow managed to land on one of the spaces during a 3 lap race.

3. Game Length: It calls for one lap, which is about right, but two or three can be implemented. Since I amazingly made both connections with each horse and their supporting characters on the first lap, I decided to let 'em run for a full three laps. Without that, there's no way I would have attempted almost 300 spaces with a single die roll. Not to mention, there are no rule contingencies for the supporting character's role should they fail to meet and additional laps are implemented.

4. Game End: Like most racing games the victory is greeted with a "meh" and "what else can we play", this one is no different so it passes the smell test with many of it's current day successors.

Final 2017 rating: At the risk of sounding like a "neigh-sayer" (really?...holding back the reins that long for a lame pun...wait, what?), I would only give it a 4 out of 10. Anyway, for it's time it had some innovative ideas and the colorful characters give it some visual appeal, yet it feels like just another pawn mover and it doesn't feel like a horse racing game. I give it merits largely based on it's nostalgic value of the characters and it's visual appeal...most likely it's producer's original intent.
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Steve Herron
United States
Johnson City
Tennessee
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Never play block wargames with a dentist, they have those little mirrors to peek behind the block.
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Here is the song to go along with the game.
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Gene Miller
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I had never heard of this character even though I remember reading the comic pages as a kid and being exposed to Snuffy Smith. Thanks for the post.
 
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