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Vintage Game Review: ‘Barnstormer!’

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Bringing alive a classic from the 1920s, Perisphere and Trylon present Barnstormer! As the box reads, it is “A Game of Daring Deeds” for “Aviators of all ages!” It is a relic come to life, a game with no need of batteries or anything but one’s own skill and nerve.

barnstormerThe game itself is beautiful. The art is classy and features vibrant colors harkening back to a different time of printing in primary colors alone. Its cartoony style shows planes from the old propeller era of the famous Spirit of St. Louis, when feats of air travel and tricks were truly something new under the sun. The family on the front of the box enjoys the game with the boy in a sailor suit, the father wearing a tie at home, and the mother and girl in dresses featuring wide clean collars of yesteryear.

Gameplay for Barnstormer! is straightforward. Players take turns lining up their shooters with circular wooden markers about 12 inches from the board, which is kept in the box to keep the markers from rolling all over creation. A marker that lands outside of the box is counted as zero, while the scores inside vary wildly. A wooden cup at the center of the board is the ideal landing worth 25 points. All around the cup are Safe Landing and Hangar zones worth 15 and 10 points toward the win. Apart from those, the board is a terrifying hodgepodge of potential disasters. Crashing into trees, a cornfield, the highway, or anywhere else in the busy airport causes losses of five, 10, and even 20 points.

Perhaps it may be the spoiled nature of this generation, but Barnstormer! is a hard game. The pieces are slippery from their sheen, making players use the utmost care to fire them perfectly. Too much force on the launch sends the marker sailing, while not enough will make it plink ineffectually next to the shooter. With a great deal of practice (the rules recommend “hours”), players can become aces and crack-pilots with their shooters, hurrying to achieve that golden goal of landing all three markers in the cup on one try for a bonus 50 points.

The rules include a variant called “Blind Flying.” Like “a pilot flying his plane blindly through fog, or at night, when he has no landmarks to guide him,” players set up their shooters and then are blindfolded. Truly skillful players will love showing off their abilities with this version, while others will more likely laugh at themselves and their wild shots.

Barnstormer! is a game for one to four players. Solo flights are fun for those who like to practice precision, akin to other classic games like Jacks or even Darts. Like Marbles, it is even more fun competing to see who can score first or highest.

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About Jeff Provine

Jeff Provine is a Composition professor, novelist, cartoonist, and traveler of three continents. His latest book is a collection of local ghost legends, Campus Ghosts of Norman, Oklahoma.