Video games as board games, the good and the bad


You’ve probably heard that Angry Birds will soon to be a board game. I’m not sure how well cute birds flying through the air will work on your dining room table, but Angry Birds is far from the first video game to become a board game.

One person’s trash…

My childhood was filled with board games, especially prior to fourth grade when I got my Nintendo. My mother was smart and bought most board games at garage sales, which meant our closet was full of all sorts of games, good and bad. However, without those yard sales, games like Pac-Man and Turbo wouldn’t have made it to our table.

Four Pac-Mans, two ghosts and a lot of marbles.

Woka, woka, woka, woka…

Pac-Man needs no introduction as a video game. The board game however might need a little more explanation. Like many children’s games, the Pac-Man board game made use of some moving parts so that there would be “something to do” while playing. Every one of the up to four players controls their own Pac-Man and moves around the board stomping on white marbles. The plastic Pacs actually pick up the marbles with each move; a neat mechanic that works pretty well. As a kid, I used the Pac-Mans to pick up other small things around the house, but it never quite worked.

Using the Pac-Man to eat marbles is most of the fun.

The goal of the Pac-Man board game is to eat the most marbles, but unlike the video game, eating ghosts doesn’t really serve much purpose. One interesting part of the game is that players get to move the ghosts in an effort to eat other Pac-Mans and block pathways. If you manage to eat a Pac-Man with a ghost, you not only send the player back to their starting position, but you also get two marbles from their stash. With more than two players I can see this gimmick working quite well, but with two players you end up just passing the same two marbles back and fourth. There are, of course, power pellets that give you the “Ghost Gobbler Privilege” and let you eat ghosts, but again, that doesn’t do much more for you but keep you out of trouble.

I remember loving to play Pac-Man when I was a kid. Moving the Pacs around and eating up marbles was a lot of fun. I’m not sure I ever played by the actual rules but it was fun all the same. However, even as a kid, I hated having to place all 72 marbles on the board just to take them off again. I’m not sure how else you would translate Pac-Man into a board game, but I think I’ll just wait until Pac-Man Battle Royale comes out and enjoy multiplayer Pac-Man where it is done best…on my TV screen.

It looks impressive, but looks can be deceiving.

Some video games should stay in the arcade

Pac-Man was a successful arcade game that probably deserved a board game. Turbo on the other hand, was not. Turbo was a Sega arcade game from 1981 that I only just played recently and I can tell you the video game is pretty bad. It has clunky controls, choppy graphics and just isn’t that much fun…and neither was the board game.

There are only a few redeeming values to Turbo the board game. One is the huge tri-fold board that unleashes a curving, four lane track. The game also uses spinners, which I thought were more fun than dice, and the game is about race cars, which I’ve always loved.

There’s not a lot of strategy or even thinking in Turbo. You just move your car around the track, hoping to be the first one across the finish line. Your success lies solely in the luck of the spinner. Even when I was a kid, Turbo wasn’t much fun. I used the board more as a race track for my Micro Machines than I did as a game. When my friends and I played Turbo, we just made up our own rules to make it…well, fun.

As you can clearly see, girls can enjoy turbo, too.

While the game itself stunk, the real value in Turbo is the game box. The box art on the front and on the board is great in that cheesy-awesome arcade kind of way, but what’s even better is the back of the box. As is common for board games, the back of the box shows children overly enjoying the game, and this box was no different. If only Turbo was a much fun as the fine feather-haired children made it look.

The curse of licensed games

Sometimes converting a video game to a board game can work, and other times it doesn’t. All licensed games like these rely on the player buying it because they know the source. That’s great when you start with a good source, like Pac-Man, but trying to turn a crappy video game into a good board game is probably not a good idea. As for an Angry Birds board game…if it involves me slingshotting birds across my living room, it can’t be that bad.

More photos of Pac-Man, Turbo and other toys

Want more articles on obscure board games? Check these out:

Board Game Week: Spy Web Retrospective

Because Sometimes Death Can Be Entertaining: A 13 Dead End Drive Retrospective

Forget-Me-Nots: The TMNT Pizza Power Board Game


About Author

Brian is a staff writer at TMA. He races Hot Wheels at while watching cartoons with his kid. You can follow @morningtoast on Twitter.


  1. My dad bought 2 Turbo games, threw away the boards, painted the cars in the colours of the teams of the day, and painted his own replica race tracks on “2 by 4s”. The cars were arranged into groups according to their real life performance, each group had different movement values according to their dice throws, pit stop rules, retirement rules, basically a whole new game was invented. Oh the fun we had!

  2. I looked for a Pac Man Board game and found this nice review that now reminds me on Turbo! But unlike you we liked that board game. If you used your 2nd dice for also moving the other light blue cars on the way (and not only the rescue van), the game really was ok!

  3. Nice article. I’ve never seen that Turbo board game before and had forgotten about the Pac-Man board game. Although the Turbo arcade game is not much by today’s standards of course, back in the day when it actually came out it was pretty darn cool. Not that it was a favorite of mine or anything – but it was pretty cool.

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