Dale Yu: Review of Atari: Centipede


Atari: Centipede

  • Designers: Jon Gilmour, Nicole Kline, Anthony Amato
  • Players: 2 or 4
  • Ages: 12+
  • Time: 20-30 minutes per game
  • Times played: 4, with review copy provided by IDW

Atari: Centipede pits two players/teams against each other in a re-creation of the classic video game from my youth, Centipede.  If you recall (or if you’re not old enough, check it out on YouTube) – the game had a little Gnome at the bottom of the screen who shot magical bolts of energy up into the air to kill the always descending centipede and its evil minion partners: the spider and the flea.  Unfortunately for my stash of quarters, inevitably the Gnome always lost.  In the board game, the Gnome seems to have a chance to actually win in this battle.

In the game, the Gnome is armed with a set of dice that grant actions while the Centipede relies upon a deck of Action cards.  Play goes back and forth between the two sides until the winner manages to eliminate the other player.

The board is placed in the center of the table and the players take turn seeing the board with 3 mushrooms each in a column.  This continues for all 9 columns until there are only 3 mushrooms left in the supply (27 are on the board).  Then, the players decide on which role they would like to play.  Whichever player ends up the Gnome can choose which side of the board he wants to use for his area (the game is somewhat double sided in that respect).

The Gnome moves to his chosen side of the board leaving the other free for the Centipede player.  The Gnome will be limited to move only in the bottom-most row on his chosen side. He takes the 6 Gnome dice, rolls them and places them on his dice card.  He also gets to take his Gnome Control cards.  The Centipede player takes one centipede of 6 segments and takes the matching 11 card Centipede deck.  He shuffles them and draws a hand of 3 cards.  The Centipede starts at one of the spawn points and the moves 6 spaces on to the board.

Like the videogame, the boardgame Centipede moves from side to side, and each time it encounters something in its way, it moves down a row and then starts heading the other direction.  The longer that it is, the slower it moves.  The max length centipede of 6 segments only moves 1 space at baseline while a 1 segment centipede has a base speed of 4.  The only exception to this is when the Centipede initially spawns on the board – when this happens, it always moves 6 spaces on its first turn to get itself started.  Afterwards, it always follows the speed chart based on its length.

The players will alternate turns until someone is eliminated and the game is won by the other player.  At the start of the game, all 6 Gnome dice are rolled and placed on the dice card.  At the start of each Gnome turn, if there is only 1 die left on the card, you take all 6 and re-roll them to form a new pool.  Then, the Gnome player activates any one available die and does the actions shown on that die.  These actions include: firing the magic wand, moving your Gnome, or recharging a Gnome Control card.  

When you shoot your magic wand, it goes straight upward from the Gnome’s current location.  If it hits a mushroom, the mushroom disappears.  If it hits a flea or spider, the bug is removed and replaced with a mushroom.  If it hits a Centipede segment, that segment is replaced with a mushroom.  If it was in the middle of the Centipede, there will now be two smaller Centipedes on the board. Flip over the new head of the newly formed segment.

Note that at any point during his turn, optionally, the Gnome can use one of his Gnome Control cards – these give special one-time abilities to the Gnome. Once used, the card is flipped over.  The card can be restored to the active side with a “Card Restore” action on a die or and one card can be flipped over at the end of a turn where the Gnome does not use any Gnome Control cards.

The Centipede player starts his turn by playing a card from his hand – the player starts with a 3-card hand.  Read it aloud and follow the instructions on the card and then place it on the Discard pile.  Then, move all the bugs (Centipede, Flea, Spider) on the board.  You must move all the bugs, but you must complete the movement of a bug before moving onto the next one.  The Centipede moves according to a chart based on its length, a Flea has a base speed of 2 and a Spider has a base speed of 9.  When you move the centipede, it heads in its current direction until it hits an obstacle (wall, other bug, mushroom), then it drops down a row and starts heading in the other direction.  If there is anything in the first square that you move down into, that thing is removed from the board. Spiders can only move vertically or diagonally UP to 9 spaces. They cannot change direction on their turn.  Any mushrooms that the spider hits are removed from the board.  The flea drops down in a straight line from the top of the board.  You may place a mushroom in any space that the Flea exits. The Centipede player can choose the order that the bugs move.  Finally, draw a new card to replenish your hand to 3 cards.

If, after movement, the Centipede is in the bottom row of the board OR a spider or flea is in the space directly above a Gnome, the Gnome is hit and the game is won by the Centipede player.  The Gnome player wins if there are no Centipede segments on the board.

My thoughts on the game

Atari:Centipede is an interesting idea – trying to port a classic videogame and turn it into a physical boardgame.  I like the asymmetrical actions of the players – the Gnome relies on the luck of the dice while the Centipede player has to manage the cards in his hand.  The action goes back and forth, and there is a good flow.  The actions seem to be meted out in small fashion so that no one turn can upset the balance of the game.

Thus far, we have found that the Centipede player seems to have the upper hand.  Of course, we’re still pretty new to the game, and maybe we just haven’t figured out how to best use the Gnome’s abilities.  On our last play, we had a pretty decent idea which was to go thru setup as usual, but then take a picture of the starting position… then, we each played one game in each role.  Kinda like duplicate Centipede!

Most of the centipede cards allow you to spawn new bugs, and if you get a lot of bugs on early in the game, it’s pretty hard for the Gnome to dodge them all.  Getting a spider out early seems to be especially good as you can then use it to block the Gnome from at least three columns of the board.  With a range of 9, it pretty much can sit near the middle of the board and block the column it is in as well as the two downward diagonals.  This really seems to limit the movement of the Gnome.  Even better if you can hide the spider behind a mushroom as It will absorb a hit from the magic wand.

For the gnome, it’s all about using the dice wisely. Each time you roll, you know that you will be using 5 of them for your next actions.  There is a Gnome Control card which allows you to refresh your dice pool, and good timing with this card can be critical to your success.

When the game starts, you have to be careful to look at how the board is setup.  Knowing where the mushrooms are going to force the Centipede to move will be helpful in planning your strategy.  You might see a tunnel that will funnel the Centipede straight down.  This is good for the Centipede player as it gets you closer to the bottom… but, if the Gnome can line up in the column (and he has the right dice), you could be an easy target for mass destruction.  I have found that sometimes I can use a spider well to remove mushrooms or a flea to add mushrooms in a way to make my centipede movement less predictable.

The game is a nice two-player diversion, and thus far I have only played it in a two-player setting.  There are rules for a four-player game, with 2 Gnomes and 2 different colored centipedes, but I haven’t tried it yet.

The graphics and text on the card are all old-school 8-bit pixelated things, which is very thematic and reminiscent of my childhood.  The wood bits are nice, and I’ve been impressed with the detail on the spider pieces.  My copy of the game also came with an old-school shirt patch.  I remember being young and sending in my proof-of-purchase from my Atari 2600 games to get something similar.  I don’t know if these are the same patches, but they sure look like it.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale Y
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me…


About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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