John continues to explore what happens when you take popular culture and throw dice at it… You can even make today’s game your very own! See details at the end of the article about our exciting self-serving auction…
Last time on House Of Games we reviewed the Thunderbirds International Rescue Game, and I admitted I wasn’t that familiar with the source material. That’s definitely not true of today’s entry, The Young Talent Time Game. I watched Young Talent Time a lot as a child. Partly because I wanted to be a member of the Young Talent Team, singing wholly inappropriate songs with PG-modified lyrics, but mostly because of my obsession with Evie Hayes. Veteran song-and-dance doyenne Hayes was one of the judges on Young Talent Time, but I knew that she was also secretly my real grandmother and would eventually come to take me away to her magical kingdom. She would feed me turkish delight while we flew on her enchanted wheelchair, and Evie would ask me – over and over – if my mother helped me make my dress, and then give me 79 points. “I loves ya, Evie”, I would say. “And I loves ya back”, she would whisper in reply, that being the litany of our people.
But let’s go back a step, shall we?
The source material: Young Talent Time was an Australian variety series produced for Network Ten from 1971 to 1989. It was created and hosted by former pop-sensation Johnny Young (who must surely have been glad that in the 1960s he didn’t go with his preferred stage name of “Desmond Stinkfinger”, as then the show’s title would have been a lot less appealing). Young Talent Time consisted of two elements: one part was a talent competition, where three children would battle it out for Evie‘s love, the other performances from the Young Talent Team. The team were a group of mixed age who would perform choreographed numbers apparently chosen out of spite – witness a group of 14-year-olds stumbling through a Rocky Horror medley, or a 7-year-old looking mystified while singing Goanna‘s plea for Aboriginal rights, Solid Rock. It was effectively a Rock Eisteddfod every week. And considering that two of the team’s successes were Debra Byrne and Tina Arena, can you imagine what the failures were like? The line-up of the team would change as members reached an age at which they were no longer photogenic and had to leave – in many ways it was like Logan’s Run, or the hiring policies of McDonalds.
It was also a cultural phenomenon, so it’s not surprising it should spawn it’s own board game. Before we talk about that, however, a quick word about ebay.
Ebay may be the life-giving mother to us all, but the sad truth is that sometimes the people on ebay lie. They say things like “this game is in extremely good condition”, or “the cassette works and is in no way smeared with something unspeakable”. These are the people who have a small section of their brain missing – the piece where the notion of bubble-wrap lives. So they take their “extremely good condition” game, wrap it in a single layer of brown paper and are somehow surprised that it’s no longer intact at the other end. You can’t blame Australia Post, people – the problem is you.
And yes, you heard me – there’s a cassette.
The game: Board games have always liked to integrate new technology, to keep up with whatever the crazy kids are doing. Videotape, DVDs, dice in plastic domes, the board game is at the forefront of modern technology. The Young Talent Time Game incorporates an audio cassette – for our younger readers, cassettes were a sort of evolutionary dead-end, in which recorded music was stored inside small plastic cases that would warp in your car, and sometimes get mangled in your tape deck. What they lost in durability, though, they made up for in terrible sound quality, and they gave the world the exciting new phrase “tape hiss”. On the plus side, their portability led to the creation of the Walkman – which eventually led to the existence of the iPod – and you could use them to illegally copy music – which eventually led to the existence of the iPod. They also allowed the miracle of the MixTape, which allowed sensitive young men to finally get laid.
Here is the tape from the Young Talent Time Game. Note the unspeakable stain on the top right corner. Seriously, I don’t know what it is.
So, the game is based on a highly-popular series, and is at the vanguard of recording technology. How does it play?
Badly. Really, really badly.
Our first problem was an unexpected one – we didn’t have a cassette player. But they’re not that old, so surely getting hold of one couldn’t be too hard? You’d be surprised. It seems that while people love vinyl and were happy to keep their record players after CDs came in, there was no such affection for tape. We talked about TV-themed board games on Boxcutters a while back and we combed the SIX studios at RRR to find a tape player, eventually finding one hidden under a desk in a tiny edit-booth. So they’re not as prevalent as you’d think. Eventually Destination Moon (aka David Ashton and Damaris Baker) found a portable player, which is when we discovered the tape was horrendously warped. Or possibly the whole thing was recorded in a swimming pool on Mars.
We did better with the RRR equipment, managing to extract these nuggets of glory – here’s a sample question:
or how about this one?
And here’s a standard challenge:
So let’s play the game. Each player chooses to be a member of the Young Talent Team, or even Johnny himself. We didn’t know who most of these people were, so we used names like “flat girl” and “mullet-boy number 2”. You move around the board and everytime you land on a red star you play the tape – like this:
Are you right?
You win points for following the instructions on the tape, and sometimes the other players use their cards to award you a score – like Olympic gymnastics only without all the drugs.
If you land on a Hit or Miss square you take a card – some are good, some are bad, and some are downright unsettling…
One intriguing innovation of the Young Talent Time Game is the inclusion of a Game Over card. If this card is chosen the game ends abruptly. I can’t help wondering how many parents carefully stacked the cards in their favour by moving this one to the top – “Oh, Game Over! Sorry kids, but rules is rules… now bring Mummy her Scotch…”
You also double the points awarded during your turn if the voice on the tape is the same as your playing piece – we couldn’t play this rule as the only two we could name were Johnny Young and a diminutive Minogue. If the voices had said things like “Hi! I’m the third guy with the mullet!” we may have done better. The objective is to score 100 points, which we quickly decided was the same as 50 points, all while hoping the “Game Over” card would soon come up…
This game doesn’t have much faith in the intelligence of those playing it. Take this example from the rules under “scoring” – “It is the responsibility of the scorer to keep a running tally of all points scored. The scorer will need a pen“. They don’t go as far as saying “…and stop dragging your knuckles on the floor and dribbling while you do it”, but the implication is there.
Or maybe they’re just being thorough, as some of the other rules sound like they evolved from intense union negotiation – “The official scorer and cassette operator are appointed, separate in each case. No one person should be responsible for both jobs”.
Does it match the source material? Well, it does involve performing for judges. It has lots of pictures from Young Talent Time, the counters show the stars and you can even their voices on cassette. And yet…
Verdict: To call this game “half-arsed” is an insult to half arses. In fact, it’s hard to even call it a board game – there’s no real start or end square, you just endlessly go round and round… The main objective is to land on a square that makes the tape play, and even the Hit Or Miss cards seem designed to help you reach those spaces. In fact, you could dump the entire board and just play the tape and the game would be much the same. It would still be terrible, but it would take up less room.
But even the tape feels like an after-thought. The questions come across like they were written in the recording studio (“let’s see you touch your toes!”), and the kids recorded in one take – regardless of how terrible their reading was. Most of the actions seem intended to cause embarrassment and ridicule, so it’s hardly heart-warming. There’s also a strange mix of abilities on the questions – one asks if you can recite the alphabet, while the next wants to know how many black keys there are on a piano. I suppose the idea is “the whole family can play!“, and they’ll all hate it equally.
Final thoughts: “The board was colourful – but I didn’t enjoy that.” “It might be fun for young kids – or drunk people. It’s a perfect game for drunken ten-year-olds.” “It is surprisingly hard to hum a tune while holding your nose.”
Why didn’t Evie Hayes ever get her own board game?
The Outland Institute is auctioning off this copy of the Young Talent Time Game on ebay, simply click here to own a piece of history! All proceeds help the Institute continue its valuable work. Read the previous entries in this series – The James Bond Secret Agent Game, and Thunderbirds International Rescue Game. Listen to the Boxcutters episode about TV-themed boardgames by clicking on those words back there. Leave your comments under the floating head of Johnny Young.
UPDATE: It took two attempts, but the game finally made its way to a new home in Queensland, for the princely sum of $18.50 (including postage).