Tuesday, May 3, 2011

You Human Scum!

I pretend advertising has no effect on me, but despite my best efforts to provide evidence of my fortitude, and as my watching America's Next Great Restaurant teaches, I am just as susceptible as the next guy.

Well, it was even more true in my youth. I was an avid collector of McDonald's Happy Meal toys and other fast food trinkets, which were peddled to me in the guise of Saturday morning cartoons. I lobbied my poor parents for several return visits in order to complete my sets. And what do I have to show for my efforts? Complete sets of Marvel superhero toys, McDonald's food transformers (the only Transformers I ever had), and Lord of the Rings movie toys. And before you ask the question, yes, these came out while I was in high school. So what?

But beyond these marketing successes, there was one campaign that, even if it succeeded on no other boys (a distinct possibility since it never got a second printing), had me from the very mention of its title: The Omega Virus.

The Omega Virus is an electronic talking board game from Milton Bradley. It was the boy counterpart to Mall Madness, the electronic talking board game for girls (which sold much better, at least judging by its multiple iterations). The backstory for The Omega Virus is that a malicious computer virus has taken over a space station orbiting earth. A crack team of commandos has been dispatched to the space station to destroy the virus before the virus destroys the earth. (Apparently, this space station is the Death Star.) But really, who cares what the backstory is? You are pretending to be commandos, in space, collecting cool technological gadgets to destroy an evil computer virus, all while using a cool technological gadget, at least by 1992 kid standards.

This is the central hub of the game.
Look at the perfect storage for all
of those nerdy bits!
At the start of the game, each player enters his "secret code" (a two-digit PIN that, when the virus says it on your turn, identifies where the virus is). Players then explore rooms trying to find the stuff they need to attack the virus and then the virus himself.

Players try to collect the negatron, disrupter, and decoder gadgets, which are necessary to fight the virus. They collect these by gaining access to different colored rooms and by using their probes, small robots that aid the commandos on the space station. In the center of the game board is the electronic talking component, a small black box with three numbers on it and slots to hold the game components.

The Omega Virus is semi-cooperative in that, ideally, all players should be more concerned about the virus's destruction than about getting the credit for destroying the virus. In practice, though, the credit is everything, and the game can be cutthroat (especially now that I play mostly with adults). I'd rather the Earth be destroyed than have someone else win the game. And the game, it would seem, encourages this same sort of backbiting, since players can attack each other on the station. (Maybe there's a book deal in store for the commando who successfully carries out the mission.)

The game is also timed, so if the virus is not destroyed in however many minutes (adjusted based on players' skill and number of players--it ranges from 15 minutes to 40 minutes, I believe), the virus wins. Of course, even in spiteful games where players have been more concerned with attacking each other than with destroying the virus, I can't remember a time when the virus won. I think my friends and I were always subconsciously afraid that if we didn't destroy the virus in the game, he would really destroy the world. (Watching Jumanji was a bad idea.) Then again, it was also just so gratifying to hear and mimic the virus's final, dying monologue: "You human scum! You...win! I...am termina...ted... [insert dying computer noises]"

The best (and simultaneously most annoying) part of The Omega Virus is the electronic talking component. A sickly computer voice constantly pleads for the players' help. At the beginning of each turn, the computer says something like, "Red help me--do something" or "Help me; we are running out of time" in a voice reminiscent of the girl on Small Wonder. Throughout the turn, the virus taunts players in his best arch nemesis voice. "You human scum!" "Blue must be terminated!" "Red is attacking yellow--how amusing!" Then there's the maniacal laugh that will be emblazoned on your brain after a single play.

As I mentioned, the talking aspect is the best and also most annoying part of the game. It certainly creates an atmosphere to have your board game talking to you; then again, the atmosphere can feel stifling if that board game is from the early nineties and only knows a few stock phrases. And my copy, a first (and only) edition, is wearing down a bit, so the timing isn't always accurate. Sometimes the computer and virus speed up or slow down in their speeches. This might annoy some players even more; I think it gives my copy character.

While The Omega Virus is one of the oldest games in my collection, it is also one that gets quite a bit of play. How does an electronic talking board game from the early '90s get so much play? Does it stand the test of time? The answer to that second question is no, not really, not unless you're ten years old and a boy. The answer to the first question is nostalgia. This is the same reason another one of our most frequently played games is 13 Dead End Drive. Neither The Omega Virus nor 13 Dead End Drive is a great game in itself (this has been shown in attempts to play them more than once in a row--it never ends well). But they both provide an avenue to reminisce.

I'm actually quite surprised that The Omega Virus did not catch on more when it was first published and that it hasn't been updated. It has everything a ten-year-old boy (okay, maybe a geeky ten-year-old boy) could want. And even as I get older, it's still a fun game to play when the mood is right...and only once per sitting.


  1. I loved, LOVED this game as a kid. I tried to get everyone I knew to play it with me. I was a particularly spite filled player and loved to attack my fellows - so there were a couple of virus wins in my plays.

    I'm also surprised it didn't catch on. It's a great little game, but I don't know what happened to my copy. I either lost it in a move, or its boarded up somewhere just waiting for the Omega Virus to infect again.

  2. I tried to get everyone to play, too--quite a feat when all your siblings are sisters.

    I'm so sorry you lost track of your copy! If I were you, I'd like to think that wherever it is, it is bringing joy to a new generation of geeks.

  3. I also had a copy of that game. Still in my parents' attic.

    "'Help me! Help me!' Fools!"

  4. It's worth busting out. Or you can come over and play my copy.