by Mark Zimmer
One of the problems with family games is that ones that are easy enough for the children are often dull for the teenagers and adults, while adult games can be frustrating or too difficult for younger kids. This new DVD-based game from b Equal, in conjunction with The History Channel and The Princeton Review, allows everyone 6 and up to play together and test their knowledge of history.
The conceit of this game is that Special Agent Wormold (John Cleese) of "IM-6" has gone rogue and taken his time machine invention with him, with a goal of recruiting agents or "time troopers" to go back into the past. The game proceeds in the form of a race to advance 12 spaces on an onscreen board, through answering questions and some random events.
The really ingenious part of the game, which requires no special equipment beyond your DVD player, television and remote control, is the Dynamic Leveler, which makes sure that the questions are individually tailored to the knowledge level of each contestant: the more answers you get right in a row, the tougher they get for you; as you miss some, the difficulty level decreases a bit. Three broad groupings are used at the beginning: Cadet (ages 6-9), Captain (10-14) and Commander (14+), and you go up or down from there (though mercifully there is no onscreen indication of your intelligence beyond the score). Having tried a couple of test games, this feature works very well. Even playing with another professional trivia buff, we ended up having several stumpers. Playing on the cadet track, if you get a couple wrong you end up with questions such as when New Year's Day falls in America (with multiple choices).
Game play is quite straightforward, with everything you need to know shown onscreen, but there's also a thorough instruction manual. Options include shutting off the variable level of difficulty, or timed games (though the ten-minute game I tried ended up running nearly 15 minutes, so the definition of time is appropriately flexible). Cleese pops in occasionally to deliver a factoid or provide a snarky remark, and he also doles out random Fate Cards that move you a space forward or back. The main drawback of the game is cutesy costar Emma Taylor Isherwood, who is insufferably chirpy throughout and quickly becomes maddening. Unfortunately, she does most of the talking. The speed of response after a question can range from very slow to quite prompt, depending on your DVD player. It ran best on my Sony, with hardly any lag time at all between questions.
The case promises over 1650 questions; that's not a tremendous amount for repeat play, especially if all the players will be at the same difficulty range. However, I didn't experience any duplicated questions during my testing sessions. Pressing the menu key allows you to skip a repeat, so that's really not a huge concern. The questions are introduced with History Channel clips, though players should be aware that sometimes these clips are repeated for different questions, so don't be too fast to hit the Menu button.
A second "bonus disc" is included, but it's pretty skimpy, with two featurettes of Cleese selling the program to parent and kids, and a third with a bit of behind-the-scenes footage. The three total about ten minutes. Sitting through some ads will get you coupon codes for historychannel.com, Harman/Kardon and JBL products.
Although the bonus disc doesn't amount to much, this is a very clever game system that allows the whole family to have fun playing, automatically, competitive trivia together. And who knows, you might learn something painlessly. Available from timetroopers.com. My only advice would be more Cleese, less perkiness.