Posted by: gschloesser | August 1, 2011

Dilbert: The Board Game

Design by:  Eric Lang
Published by:  Hyperion
3 – 6 Players, 1 -2 hours
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser 

Anyone who works in an office – particularly those who find themselves toiling away in one of those confining cubicles – can appreciate the humor of the comic strip Dilbert.  Filled with zany, yet somehow easy to relate to characters, the comic concentrates on the day-to-day grind of office workers, and the often insane world of office politics. 

Dilbert: The Board Game, designed by Eric Lang, is an attempt to recreate the comic in a board game format.  Many of the characters are present, including Alice, Wally, Tina, Asok, Ratbert, and of course, Dilbert.  As always, they are attempting to avoid being assigned work-related tasks, and spend their time scurrying about the office attempting to kill projects, avoid the pointy-haired boss and his cronies, and increase their happiness.   

Players each represent one of the main characters, each having their own special ability.  For example, Wally has mastered the art of looking busy, so receives one less “work” token, while Asok knows the secret paths of the office and may move through cubicle walls.  Throughout the game, players track their traits of apathy, incompetence, and offensiveness, as well as their happiness, on board charts, with the ultimate goal being the happiest employee when the boss is finally encountered.

Six project cards are revealed, with characters being assigned to these projects based upon the criteria listed upon them.  These criteria will generally be based on the traits and/or happiness of the characters.  If multiple players are tied on the specified criteria, the player whose cubicle is closest to the boss’ office is stuck with being assigned to the project.  Bummer!  This will cause players to attempt to move their cubicle further from the boss’ office during the course of the game.  The cards will also list the number and type of signatures required in order to “kill” those projects.  These signatures are collected by visiting the corresponding departments, which are scattered across the office. 

A player begins his turn by taking a memo card.  Memo cards give the player a variety of abilities, often allowing the rules to be bent or broken.  Some of these can be quite beneficial to a player, or harmful to opponents.  Many can be used at any time, while others can only be played at the specified time.  A player can only hold five memo cards, so hoarding is not allowed. 

Players then scurry around the office, moving as far as their “motivation” limit, which is listed on their character card.  Walls and other characters generally block passage, unless the character has a special ability or memo card which supersedes this restriction.  A player can opt to run, which usually increases his movement capacity, but runs the risk of being caught by Phil, the Lord of Insufficient Light, who causes the character to immediately be knocked down and end his turn.  This further reduces the character’s movement on the following turn, as points are used to stand up. 

Several offices have special functions that are activated when a player enters.  The Conference room is the most dramatic, as it causes a new “Consultant” card to be revealed.  These cards can have a dramatic effect on play, and a card’s effects remain in force until a new one is revealed to supplant it.  While the cards are an attempt to further inject humor into the game, in reality many are silly – and often inane – and hinder the progress and flow of the game.  The most extreme of these is the absurd Proprietary Non-Disclosure Policy, which penalizes players for using the letters “D, X and W” in ANY word that they say.  I can appreciate the attempt at humor and absurdity, but most of these cards truly do harm game play. 

If a player enters an office that depicts a needed signature icon, he may mark the corresponding icon on any project card he is attempting to kill using one of the glass stones.  If the final signature required to kill a project is obtained, the project is killed, with the project in the “schedule” area takings its place.  The player killing the project increases his happiness by two, and characters assigned to that project retrieve their work tokens from it.  

Some offices depict a “die” icon.  Players entering this office must roll the die and consult the appropriate section of the Office Roll Chart, which sadly, is only printed on the last page of the rules.  These effects can be harmful or beneficial, and can affect traits, projects, happiness, etc.  The outcome cannot be controlled, and is based on the roll of the die.  

After all players have completed their turn, the Boss, a non-player character, checks the projects and moves.  All active projects affect certain characters as described on the cards.  Most projects cause the workers assigned to them to lose happiness, while a few actually increase the workers’ happiness.  These latter cards generally need to be killed quickly by the other players.  Losing happiness causes a player’s marker to move down on the happiness track, ever closer to the dreaded Boss. 

After checking projects, the boss is moved three spaces along the happiness track.  If his figure reaches any other player’s marker on this track, the game immediately ends.  Otherwise, a new turn is conducted.  When the game ends, players modify their happiness total based on the final position of the cubicle, which can be either positive or negative based on how close it is to the boss’ office.  The player with the greatest happiness is victorious. 

Atmospherically, the game does a good job of capturing some of the spirit of the Dilbert series.  The text on the various cards is sometimes humorous, and the names of the projects and consultant cards can be eerily reminiscent of many misguided office policies.  The idea and mechanism employed for killing projects is also interesting.  So, there are some clever ideas here, and I give the game high marks for thematic faithfulness.  Sadly, as a game, it is less than satisfactory. 

Like many games that attempt to establish humor as the main ingredient, the humor wears thin quickly and the game surrounding it is often lacking.  Here, the mechanism of scurrying around the office, attempting to reach certain departments, grows tiresome.  While a die is not always used for movement, it still often takes two or more turns to reach your desired destination, and this can sometimes be prolonged by the play of memo cards or by the presence of other characters blocking the path.  Many turns are often unexciting with little of any significance happening. 

Happiness can be lost quickly and in a variety of fashions.  It is possible for one or more players to be victimized often by various events that cause happiness to vanish.  Sometimes, it is difficult to regain these losses, and it is quite possible for several players to be out of contention for victory with quite a bit of time still remaining in the game.  That is never a pleasant circumstance. 

I have already voiced my distaste for the chaotic and truly absurd Consultant cards.  Truthfully, these could be removed from the game and the only thing lost would be a bit of humor.  Their deletion would likely speed-up the proceedings, which would be HIGHLY desirable, as my biggest complaints against the game is its length.  For me, a game involving lots of strategic choices and great depth can last for hours and I am perfectly content.  A light, chaotic game that depends heavily upon humor for its appeal, however, should play to conclusion quickly.  That doesn’t happen here.  Rather, the game drags on and on, quickly outlasting its limited appeal.  There are some changes that can be made to quicken its pace, including the removal of the Consultant cards and starting the Boss further along the happiness track.  However, even with those changes, the game simply is not that enticing or exciting.  I fear it will only truly appeal to die-hard Dilbert fans, which is quite likely the target market anyway.  All others are best advised to remain out of the office.

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