Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Mall Madness

This weekend I did something I thought I would never do: I played Mall Madness.

Mall Madness is a board game where the players are shoppers, trying to visit different stores and to purchase something from each of them, then be the first to leave the mall. The game has been in production for over 20 years, and is targeted to middle-schoolish-aged girls. Since my sister didn't have a set, I never played. (I did play Pretty Pretty Princess, but that was for a babysitting gig.)

It turns out this game is not just about a shopping spree, but actually about finding the best order to visit different locations. Each of the different shops has an item you want to buy at different prices from the other stores. You could choose a path to purchase all the cheapest items, but those are not all located together. In addition, you don't begin with enough cash to buy everything and must periodically stop by the ATM to withdraw more money. I actually found myself not having enough time between turns to try to figure out the next two or three stops I should make. "I could go buy a 'Compact Disc' at the music store for pretty cheap, but the gift store and department store are a good deal, and they're on the other side of the mall..." I don't know if this is standard rules, but we didn't have to visit all the stores, just a subset of them of some given size.

Additionally, some stores run sales so that the price of their item is even cheaper. These change, so you have to make decisions about whether to try to make it across the mall for a given sale or just to ignore it and hope it changes soon. Thus, the more flexible your plan is, the better.

Unfortunately, this also means it doesn't pay off very much to actually plan ahead. There are a lot of widely varying random factors: you can move between 3 and 12 spaces each turn (or something like that), sometimes the stores have lines that prevent you from buying things, sometimes the stores charge more than they advertised (isn't that illegal?) and sometimes they have secret sales. I'm not sure if you can normally buy things even half the time; these other scenarios kept coming up! (The randomness in the game is controlled by an electronic component, so the probabilities aren't obvious.) Even when you went to the bank, you received a random amount of money somewhere between $50 and $100. (The phrase "Daddy doesn't love you as much as he loves me!" came up a bunch whenever someone received $50.)

Just to really shake things up, at any point the game could have players "warp" across the board to visit the ice cream stand or other random locations.

I'm not entirely sure what lessons this game was teaching young girls. There were certainly some sexist elements, and having to make multiple trips to the ATM in one shopping adventure may be a bit dangerous of a plan. Still, even when you try to look ahead and figure out the next two stores you should visit, you have to do a bit of calculation. Any motivation to get kids to do that is good.

So, Mall Madness, I forgive you for thinking you are a completely ridiculous game since I was a kid and agree that you do have some good qualities.

Now please don't send me to the arcade again!

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