In 1995, Star Trek: The Next Generation had ended its TV run a year ago and VHS tapes had about 2 years left before DVD was introduced and quickly took over. So it was probably not a great time to release Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Interactive VCR Board Game, AKA “A Klingon Challenge.” A lot about the game seems phoned in, from the title to the fact that exactly zero cast members appear on the VHS tape (Jonathan Frakes does a quick voiceover as Commander Riker to explain that the ship is getting repairs and is empty). I found the game recently for $5 and expected a shitshow of a gaming experience. So I was stunned to learn that my friends and I actually had a total blast playing the game. It’s fast-paced, chaotic and crazy. It expects you to use stickers. A LOT of stickers. And it claims that it never plays the same way twice. That’s… debatable.
The game board features a lot of pieces and that seems intimidating at first. Beyond the game board and VHS tape, you have rank tokens, bridge access tokens, holodeck cards, computer terminal cards, “bIj” cards (I’ll explain later), a 6-sided die, 2 stasis tubes, a spinner, phaser tokens, a “tricorder” for each player, 5 isolinear chips for each player that they must collect, and 12 character tokens to choose from:
That’s a lot of stuff but fortunately some of it is just to determine who goes first (rank cards) and the various cards you draw are in designated piles and game spaces or the VHS tape tell you when to take one. That said, the game is timed and you can rapidly accumulate a lot of pieces to keep track of while still trying to keep the game moving.
This is an interactive game from a time when we were on Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo consoles. CD-ROM games were in their infancy and the Internet was far from something everyone had. So VHS games were a sort of interim piece of technology that did allow a bit of interaction but it is always the same interaction. As in, the VHS tape does not have several different versions. It has a single hour, prefaced with about 6 minutes of story. I played the game with three other friends and we watched with rapt attention as the (admittedly dirt cheap) story played out.
A stock shot of a Federation space station with lots of slow panning shots of the Enterprise set, empty. Commander Riker, in a brief voiceover, says the ship is getting a new computer system so everyone is on shore leave. A small team (referring to us, the players) is finishing the repairs and Riker is monitoring the situation remotely. That said, once everything goes wrong, we’re on our own. We go to a transport bay and the camera zooms way in on the floor. Why? So that they can use the transporter sound effect but not have to use the actual special effects.
A Klingon enters. This is Kavok, the only character we see the entire game. He’s played by Robert O’Reilly who played the Klingon leader Gowron on many episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Why hire the actor but have him play a different Klingon? Who knows for sure, but Paramount did have a habit of hiring actors to play similar characters on Star Trek but not the same characters just so that they did not have to pay any royalties to the writer who created the original character. See Tom Paris from Star Trek: Voyager who was essentially playing the same exact character in the Next Generation episode “The First Duty”. Pretty sneaky, Paramount!
Anyway, Kavok announces his entire plan to the players because he sees that we’re on the ship and monitoring him from somewhere or other. He says his plan is to take the Enterprise to Kronos, the Klingon homeworld, and attack. It will start a war that he’s convinced the Klingons will ultimately win and bring them back to being a proud warrior race. He frequently interrupts the game to put a player in stasis or make them draw random cards. His favorite is to insult the player and demand that they “Experience bIj!” That’s a Klingon word that’s suggestively pronounced “beej” and it means you draw a card where usually something bad happens – losing a turn or being sent to a room. It’s always temporary, though, and every once in a while there’s a low-level computer malfunction that lets it be a good thing.
He interrupts the game so much, saying some variation of “You! The one who is moving! Experience bIj!” that when I got home I had it locked in my head. I talked to my cat, telling him: “You! The one who is purring! Experience bIj!” My cat kept purring.
The gameplay seems simple but it is a timed game so it actually gets hectic very quickly. Once Kavok steals the Enterprise (pretty easily, too – he just teleports onto the ship and taps about five buttons) you have a clock that counts down from 60 minutes. If it reaches zero, you lose. If any of the players collects 5 isolinear chips and a phaser AND gets onto the bridge, the VHS tape is stopped and everyone wins.
You roll a die and move in clockwise manner. Sometimes you land on a space that has you draw a card. These either let you do something at a specific time code, like take a card from a fellow player or move somewhere on the board, or allow you to collect an isolinear chip when you enter a specific room. There are spaces that make you lose a turn, or put you in a stasis field until the tape or a player landing on a space clear them, or you can go to sick bay or the brig which also temporarily take you out of action. Once you have the first isolinear chip, you can also collect Holodeck cards which give you abilities like ignoring a stasis field once or some other benefit. Kavok frequently appears on screen and puts you in stasis or makes you draw a bIj card or makes you spin a Klingon roulette wheel where random things happen to you.
You can end up holding a number of computer and holodeck cards which have time codes on them for when you can use them or use an ability to help yourself or a teammate. You read it to yourself and pass the die because we want to keep moving and beat the clock. The hour goes by very quickly.
While we beat the game with about 2 minutes left, we watched the tape to the end out of curiosity. Small spoiler, while you lose, it uses sci-fi logic to create a loophole that essentially is telling you to play the game again. So, storywise you play it over and over until you win in a sense.
Here’s a quick video of Kavok yelling at one of my friends. The actor is working in a vacuum with no one else to react off of so he goes very, very broad. But you know what? It just helps amp up the growing tension of us running out of time. It was cheesy but a lot of fun as we raced the clock to beat Kavok.
For $5, it was a great game. Would I play it a second time? Probably. The thing is, the video will always be the same. The only randomness it adds is about the same as reshuffling each of the decks of cards. Sure, he may put me in stasis 10 minutes in instead of my friend, but it’s not a huge change to the game. So I don’t think the game would be worth more than maybe $10. You’ll play it twice maybe but that’s plenty. It IS very fun, though. Everyone agreed that the fast pace of the game helped make it a blast. We also laughed at the cheap production values. There’s a shot at the beginning of the Enterprise leaving the space station and it does not look right. Most of the footage is repurposed from episodes but that shot was some sort of oddly layered effect that looked awful. That and the hammy performance by O’Reilly as Kavok had us laughing frequently.
While we won, the person who actually gets to stun Kavok on the bridge is supposed to get a sticker that says it’s a Medal of Valor and one of us was supposed to read a speech about his nobility. We skipped that and we skipped putting on the communicator and rank pip stickers. But when Kavok talked to us we did role play our answers. It just made it more fun (and funny). The fact that they give you stickers to wear as a communicator and winner would mean they’d fall apart and be worthless after a couple sessions, which makes me think the game makers must have known it had limited replay value. One of the most fun elements of the game for me was I had an opportunity to escape and live, although I’d be branded a coward. While I didn’t like the coward part, I knew it would give my friend who had almost all the chips more turns and a better chance to beat Kavok, so I fled. We kept expecting Kavok to betray and kill me, but nope! I flat out abandoned my teammates at the last minute. Hilarious.
I would definitely recommend this game to board game and Star Trek fans alike. That said, I would also place a low monetary value on it. Not much more than $10 because in all likelihood, you will only play about twice and that’s two hours of entertainment. Your value may vary.