Tell me, have you ever sat there in your regal armchair, a glass of red wine dangling lazily from your fingers, gazing absently into a roaring fire as you contemplated times gone by? Not quite? Replace regal armchair with mattress your friend crashes on, red wine with a Budweiser, and roaring fire with reruns of Saved by the Bell. Better?
Regardless of your preferred setup (and daily intake of Screech), you’ve no doubt spent many a lost hour, reminiscing. Typical culprits are when you visit a place you hadn’t been in years, or when a session of channel surfing lands you upon your favourite 80s cartoon. You begin to ponder who you were, once upon a time.
One of the more typical statements of our past is that they were ‘simpler times’. And sure enough, this is usually true: you didn’t have to go to work every day, bills and taxes were merely obstacles in Monopoly, and the biggest concern you had was whether Santa was going to get you that Mighty Max playset.
Ever notice kids are unusually good in the month of December? That shit’s entirely an act to con Santa Claus into assuming we deserve the lavish toys we were after. In hindsight, surely saying ‘please’ and eating our green vegetables for 24 days wasn’t enough to make up for eleven months worth of being a prick, but often enough, it paid off all the same.
We were geniuses! We’d fooled St. Nick! Unless your family was poor, which for some reason always led to shitty gifts from Santa. I know we were just kids, but we really should have put two and two together a lot earlier than we did.
As an aside, when I have kids, I’m going to be pissed off knowing that I have to accredit at least a few presents as being from Santa Claus. It’s not going to be the cool stuff, I’ll tell you that: my kids are getting crappy socks and sweaters from the fat red man.
One exception to the rule of simplicity in childhood comes in the form of board games. Because when I was a kid, the exact opposite was true: incredible excess bordering on insanity. With every decade, board games became more and more extravagant and complex, taking longer to assemble than to ever actually play them. Upon finally constructing the monstrous cardboard and plastic behemoths, your parents would inexplicably leave them in their entirety on the coffee table afterwards, secretly not wanting to bother ever doing that again.
Then, strangely, something happened. Once the new millennium rolled in, we went back to square one: like the manufacturers themselves had grown tired of brainstorming, and declared, ‘Fuck it, repackage CONNECT FOUR’.
13 Dead End Drive was perhaps 90s board gaming at its finest: the game board would become a mansion (three hours later, after hearing your dad mutter strange words you’d never heard before, and got in trouble for repeating at school), complete with five deadly booby traps that allowed you to live out your fantasies of pushing a butler down the stairs and throwing a gypsy into the fire.
Dear Aunt Agatha has just passed away, and twelve potential heirs lumber about her estate, meeting unfortunate ends at the hands of malicious gigantic children. The twelve character cards are dealt between the players, and who possesses which character is a mystery throughout the game, because any player can move any piece. If the player possesses the corresponding trap card, they can move a piece onto a deadly trap space, finishing them off for good. One character’s portrait hangs in the mansion, representing the current favourite to inherit the money, and every time that particular character is snuffed, the next portrait in line goes to the front.
Gameplay ends either when every other character is killed, when the character whose portrait is on display escapes the mansion, or when the Detective (an independent piece outside the mansion who moves one step closer every time his card is drawn) reaches the front door. Me personally, I always liked it when Poopsie the cat won. The concept that the Detective arrives to a house full of mangled bodies and a particularly satisfied Persian amuses me greatly.
A long deal later, I’ve finally got the damned thing standing. And even then, it’s not exactly an architectural masterpiece; the rear walls are teetering precariously over the inhabitants as we speak, and everything threatens to come crashing down at any moment. It’s like your own miniature earthquake, and it’s truly heartbreaking.
By this time, all of the frustration you’ve suffered makes you really want all of those people to die. So it’s quite appropriate to let whoever constructed the mansion play with you, even if they forego the rules of gameplay, and just fling the gardener into the fireplace eight times in a row.
Tragically, I have nobody to play with at this point, and a game based on mystery and treachery becomes a particularly schizophrenic practice when enjoyed alone. So instead, I’ll just fiddle with the key features of this set: the wonderful assortment of traps.
My first order of the day is to kill off the doctor, Charity. Because of all the people involved, I find it hardest to believe that Agatha’s going to give her dosh to the woman who gives her aspirin. She decides to stroll on over to the bookcase to grab a copy of Are You There, God? It’s me, Margaret. I always had a house rule going that if the piece landed back on its feet after falling from the bookcase, it was an automatic win, because such athleticism should be rewarded. Unfortunately, Charity is not so lucky. As a result, she is unable to treat any of the other residents for their injuries.
I really struggled to murder Lulu, because she looks strikingly like my nana. However, she’s a wicked gossip and must be done away with, so I decide to escort her over to the chandelier. This one’s a pretty neat trap, as it sways back and forth over the pieces, you always wonder who’s going to get smushed. In this case, it’s an octogenarian. Which I’m certain makes it just that little bit funnier.
Yawn. This was always my least favourite trap, because it was the least amusing of all the possible fatalities. A tumbling statue isn’t terribly thrilling, unless Laura Harrington’s dead body is inside of it (now I’m getting really obscure). I decided the way to make it more exciting was to enlist the services of Clay, Agatha’s personal tennis coach. Why is he holding a tennis racquet? He’s indoors, and it’s the middle of a stormy night! How inappropriate. Clay, you deserve to die for your poor manners.
According to the box, this one is actually a trap door, but I cry foul on that assumption. There are in fact five trap doors around the mansion, and they’re used as ‘warp points’ to move around the board quickly. So why should this one be deadly? Nope, the way the mechanism works, that hapless soul is being thrown into the fireplace. I suppose it was just a little bit harder for the illustrator to envisage on a children’s board game. This time, the unfortunate victim is Dusty, who looks like a young, hot Lucille Ball. As best as I recall, there never was such a thing as a young, hot Lucille Ball.
And finally, the stairs. The switch at the top is theoretically only supposed to be tipped over enough to allow the piece to topple over down the stairs. But funnily enough, each and every kid was so excited to kill something that we hit it as hard and fast as possible, causing the piece to launch off the platform, and fly across the room. In most playtime sessions, this death wasn’t so much a fall down the stairs as being catapulted into space. According to the portrait, it’s the chef’s turn to die, but unfortunately, his piece has gone missing. So I’ve had to make due with whatever substitute I could find.
A few hours later, after countless tragedies, and four bodies at the bottom of the bookcase (why did they keep climbing up there?!), there is only one remaining heir. It’s my favourite, Beauregard the III, Agatha’s boy toy. He’s my favourite, clearly, because he’s hilarious, and the notion that he is able to assassinate ten people and a small cat is simply delightful.
Then, there’s a knock on the door. The Detective has arrived, and could have potentially prevented a lot of deaths had he not been such a slow walker. He apologises for his choice of playing hopscotch en route, and comes face to face with Beauregard, who appears to be offering him candies and a bouquet of flowers.
But the Detective has unfortunate news. Although Beauregard was in actuality the one whom Agatha had left her estate to, the Detective has keenly noted multiple dead bodies on the floor. Beauregard is charged with ten counts of first degree murder, and one count of animal cruelty.
Beauregard attempts to fight his way to freedom, but the Detective is actually ten feet tall, and easily wins the struggle. As Beau is dragged away, he catches the doorstep out of the corner of his eye. Ironically, it says, ‘GAME OVER’.
Good fun. Now I have to disassemble this thing and find the missing chef piece before it turns up somewhere weird, like in an underwear drawer, or a birthday card.