Missing Pieces: ‘Bonkers!’

Bonkers

Every week in Missing Pieces, we explore the thrift store shelves, searching out games from yesteryear that trigger our nostalgia, pique our curiosity, or just make us say, “What were they thinking?!”

Bonkers!

Several years ago, in the days before I kicked the cable company to the curb, I was flipping through the channels and came across a MacGyver marathon. Up until this point, I had nothing but fond memories of MacGyver. It was an after school staple of my childhood, much like The A-Team, Fall Guy, and Dukes of Hazzard. Had you told me any one of these was a terrible show, I would have called you crazy and launched you into the next town using a trebuchet made from a broken radio, duct tape, and aluminum tubing.

Then I watched again as an adult and came to the startling realization that these were bad shows. I don’t mean a little bad, like that eighth season of Scrubs. I mean darn near unwatchable by any sane human being. I tried to rationalize it away. Perhaps all television prior to 1995 sucked! But then I re-watch shows like M.A.S.H. or Roseanne, and I have to ditch that theory. What I’m left with is the sad realization that 10-year-old me simply had terrible taste in television.

What does all that have to do with a board game from 1978? Just look at that photo above. Those colors! That fantastic style! Those swooping numbers and stars that just scream of 1970s Sesame Street. There was no doubt this was an awesome game just like I remember it 30+ years ago. I had to buy it.

First, credit where credit is due. This is a gorgeous game if you’re a fan of the style of this era. I have saved several shots of the game board and cards to use as a base for future website designs. As a cultural symbol of the style of 1978, Bonkers! is a hit. Unfortunately, as a board game, it has all the fun of a rousing game of Chutes and Ladders without the schadenfreude of seeing that little cookie stealing brat fall and bust his… cookie jar.

The rules are simple. Players roll the dice…

I need to take a moment to talk about these dice. I don’t know if they were the original dice that came with this game, but if they are, it’s clear that the designer who created the board and the one who created the dice were not the same person. If you handed a drunken toddler a pocket knife, a sharpie, and a hunk of cheap plastic, he would be hard pressed to turn out a pair of dice any worse than these. None of the pips were aligned, there was plastic flashing everywhere, and they were only cubes by the most generous of definition. If the Soviet Union at the brink of its collapse manufactured dice to distract the people from their plight, this is what I imagine they would have looked like.

Bonkers Dice

Anyway, as I was saying, players roll the dice and move around the board. Land on a Score! space, get a point. Land on a Lose! space, lose a point. First one to 12 points (or the last one to fall asleep) wins. Along with arbitrary rules, like a double six scores a point and two people can’t occupy a space at the same time (usually), the only thing that makes Bonkers! slightly more entertaining than a cake walk with no promise of a cake at the end is the cards you can play alongside the track. These cards allow you to make exciting strategic moves like going ahead 12, moving back one, and even, brace yourself, going to the nearest Score! Now, anyone else who lands on that space also has to take that action.

Also, you have a single “Lose” card that you can play once per game and send any other player to the Lose! space, which you’ll want to save until that strategic moment when your big brother has no points and everyone else has like eight or ten and is about to finally land on a Score! space. Because that’s what little brothers are for.

I will say we had a lot of fun playing this game, but it was all at the game’s expense. If you’re looking for a mindless game to laugh together at for 20-30 minutes, Bonkers! would be a good choice, but probably only once. I don’t imagine this will ever leave the game closet again until it goes back to the thrift store.

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On the plus side, the red token was missing, so this is the first Missing Pieces article to actually live up to its name.

Randy Slavey lives near Denver, Colorado with his wife and two boys. When he's not writing code, you can usually find him behind a camera or on a trail in the mountains. Or both.