Friday 24 June 2022

Board Game Review: The Bertha Game

The Bertha Game will confound you, frustrate you and confuse you, but stick with it and, providing that your idea of fun is flexing your memory muscles, there’s a half-decent game in there.

Bertha only ran for 13-episodes, but it’s one of those children’s programmes which feels as though it clocked up several dozen episodes. I guess childhood memories combined with a preschooler’s rather wonky perception of time as a relative concept (PARKLIFE!) partially explains why it felt as though Bertha was churning out the episodes. A quick look at BBC Genome also reveals that it was repeated extensively between 1985 – 1994, so it was either clearly popular or the BBC were intent on indoctrinating children into a socioeconomic system whereby capitalism was supported by a machine-based means of production (PARKLIFE!).

Personally, I was a huge fan of Bertha back in 1985; it had one of the most infectious theme tunes of its day, it came from the masterful hands of Ivor Wood and it featured robots – what more could a three-year-old want? Well, perhaps, just perhaps, they would also want a board game based on Bertha.

As so often happens, I was trawling through Ebay for various vintage ephemera when I stumbled across the glorious sight of The Bertha Game. I’d never seen or heard of it before, but, MY GOD, I wanted it. However, at £25 it was a little steep and, in a move which my future self would thank me for, I passed. But I was fascinated as to what it would be like to run the gauntlet of The Bertha Game. Patience, thankfully, proved to be the virtue it has spent millennia claiming to be and eventually I secured a copy of The Bertha Game for just £12 on Ebay.

The Bertha Game was released by Falcon in… well, that’s a bit of a mystery. The only date on the box is a copyright date of 1984, but the series hadn’t even aired by that point. The Wikipedia entry for Bertha states that it was released in 1987, but it also claims that the game is similar to Monopoly, and, as you’ll see, it’s nothing like Monopoly. I can’t say I’m familiar with Falcon as a brand, but they were busy producing board games throughout the 1980s, a number of which were BBC tie-ins such as Postman Pat and Gran alongside a couple of Fraggle Rock games.

And The Bertha Game looks impressive, the box is a punchy, colourful scene featuring a marvellous illustration of the whole Bertha gang. The board itself continues this colourful theme and benefits from a pleasing simplicity – Bertha sits in the middle and is surrounded by 28 squares featuring characters from the series and objects associated with them e.g. Panjit is next to the forklift square. Accompanying the board are four wooden pawns, a dice, a shaker cup and 24 cards (12 bit cards and 12 object cards). It looks simplistic, but how do you play it?

When The Bertha Game was delivered, I eagerly ripped the packaging off to see what I'd invested in. Pleased with the contents, I headed to the rules of the game. To say they were bewildering is an understatement, to say they induced a migraine would be more truthful. But I’d just got home from work, so put it down to being brain-frazzled and decided I’d have a proper look at the weekend. My mother was visiting, so this would provide the perfect opportunity to play this with her and my daughter, who had enjoyed the theme tune to Bertha but also informed me she had no intention of watching the programme.

Fast-forward to the weekend and not much had changed, reading the rules still resulted in the cogs of my brain seizing up. However, having played the game a couple of times now, I’ll break down what the objective of the game is:
  • The ‘objects’ cards are placed face down upon Bertha’s conveyor belt

  • The ‘bits’ cards – which contain all the constituent parts of an object – are dealt out amongst the players.

  • Players move around the board and if they land on a character, they get to ask Bertha to make an object – achieved by revealing the top object card

  • If they player requesting the object card can match it to one of their bits cards, they get to keep the object card

  • If the player can’t match the object card, then the card is placed face down on one of the yellow spaces on the factory floor

  • Players can then request either Bertha to make an object or, using the power of their memory, match one of their bits cards to one of the object cards which have been placed on the factory floor spaces

  • If you land on one of the Tom squares you get an additional go

  • The winner is the first person to match all their bits cards to the relevant object cards

It’s a lot to take in, especially as the game is for ages 5 and up. Nonetheless, as you play, the instructions start making sense; at least they did to me, my mother and daughter remained confused. The game’s main problem is that it eschews simplicity and delivers a convoluted matching game. Rolling the dice and moving around the board is fun but... well... after that you'll find your cranium sending out a distress flare. Admittedly, when I played it for a second time, with just my daughter, it was much easier. With only two players, there was a 50/50 chance of matching our bits cards to Bertha’s objects. Fewer cards built up on the factory floor and less intense memory mapping was required.

In terms of the Bertha experience, I can’t say The Bertha Game successfully captures the programme’s essence. It fails to tap into life at Spottiswood & Company and feels like a missed opportunity. However, if you do want to challenge your grey matter, in a manner which beats Wordle and Sudoku into a cocked hat, then playing The Bertha Game with three to four players will achieve this. For younger children, though, The Bertha Game’s lack of simplicity makes playing it a laborious exercise and this delivers the killer blow of rendering it redundant in the fun stakes.

1 comment:

  1. This is awesome - just what I needed to read this Friday night to cheer me up and put a smile on my face. Thank you.