Debuting on the ABC Network on September 9th, 1975, Welcome Back, Kotter was a popular, but short-lived sitcom featuring a sarcastic, yet devoted teacher (comedian Gabe Kaplan) who returns to his old Brooklyn high school (James Buchanan High) to teach a remedial history class for “low-promise” students. It could be a social studies class. I don’t think anyone is very sure.

Enrolled in the class are all 4 members of a neighborhood “gang” called “The Sweathogs”. As a former remedial student himself, as well as a founding member of the original “Sweathogs” gang, Kotter relates to the youths and forms a mentor-like friendship with them in the hopes of helping them reach their full potential in life. Although they are frequently referred to as a “gang”, the Sweathogs never seem to do much that is legally questionable.

Despite some early controversy that the series would either “showcase juvenile delinquency” or “diminish the importance of teachers in the inner-city”, Kotter was an early success. This success was arguably due more to the overnight popularity of “poster boy” Travolta than to the show’s comedic value.

DID YOU KNOW?: James Woods co-starred on the 1st episode of the series as a rival drama teacher named “Alex Welles”.

Ratings took a steep decline during the 3rd season, possibly due to the actors now appearing too old to still be in high-school. However, as with most television shows, some of the ratings decline can be attributed to its just not being “fresh” anymore, as well as being overshadowed by newer network hits, such as Laverne and Shirley, Three’s Company, and C.H.i.P.s (NBC).

By the end of the show’s third season, Travolta was already establishing himself as one of the “biggest and brightest” young names in Hollywood, having already turned in star-making roles in Carrie, Grease, and (of course) Saturday Night Fever. Now focused on his film career, Travolta “left” the show, appearing in only 8 of the final season’s episodes. Kaplan was going through a contract dispute of his own at this time, which caused the show’s focus to shift heavily to the remaining Sweathogs, as well as to less important characters, such as Kotter’s wife (the late Marcia Strassman), and newly added cast member (the late) Della Reese.

A “good ol’ Southern boy” named “Beau” was added to the Sweathog roster, but never came close to being an “accepted” character, especially on a show that was in its final days. A failed spin-off featuring a recently married Arnold Horshack (the late Ron Pallilo) was planned and even tested as an episode of Welcome Back, Kotter, but that idea was scrapped shortly after.

Welcome Back, Kotter was an enormous early success, enough so that numerous novelty products were created solely to cash-in on the show’s popularity. (Kinda like EVERY TV show now. Ahem.) These included Welcome Back, Kotter lunchboxes, action figures, novels, and even a very short-lived comic book series from DC Comics. As with popular…. well, everything of the time, a board game based on the show was released by Ideal in 1976.

THE GAME:

2-6 players can play. Each player chooses a game piece featuring a “headshot” of one of the lovable Sweathogs. As there were only 4 Sweathogs (ones that “count”, anyway), the game has taken the liberty of adding 2 female characters, “Rosy” and “Holly”. “Rosy” should not be confused with early season character “Rosalie ‘Hotsie’ Totsie”, as both of the game’s new characters were “created” purely to add more players and create “gender diversity”.

The game board is set up like a classroom, with rows of desks set near the back center of the room. At the front of each row is a rectangular space containing a small card, each sequentially featuring the words making up the catchphrase of the show’s most popular character, John Travolta’s “Vinnie Barbarino”. By means of rolling only one die, players must make their way to the desk at the front of each row in order to obtain all six word cards needed to complete the phrase.

To add some challenge, as well as to tie-in to the show as much as possible, the game also features 2 sets of “Chance Cards”. One set features an image of Mr. Kotter, while the other features the school’s curmudgeonly vice-principal, Mr. Woodman (the late John Sylvester White). Both sets are shuffled and placed in their respective slots at the top corners of the board.

SHOW TRIVIA: Vice-Principal Mr. Woodman was promoted to Principal during the show’s fourth and final season. Kotter would be promoted to Vice-Principal.

After choosing their characters, the players place their game piece in the respective starting spaces. In 1976, this may have been the most time-consuming part of the game as I assume most potential players were arguing over who got to be “Barbarino” and who got “stuck” as either “Rosy” or “Holly”. Shit… people today still won’t want to get “stuck” as “Rosy” or “Holly”. Personally, I’m always Freddy “Boom Boom” Washington (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs).

Per usual, players roll to determine who goes first. Play will progress to the next player on the left.

As with just about every other dice based game that’s not Dungeons and Dragons, players roll the die and move their character piece the corresponding number of spaces. Each “space” on the game board is represented by a small black dot. Each of these dots is connected by a varying number of broken lines. Following these lines, players may move in any direction that they choose, so long as they do not backtrack over any space previously used in that same “move”.

Some of the “spaces” on the game board feature instructions, such a drawing either a Woodman or Kotter card, moving additional spaces, or even losing an obtained Word Card. Players may move through these spaces freely, but must obey the given instructions if they finish their turn by landing on one. In some instances, these “instruction spaces” or drawn cards will require the player to move other player-controlled characters, or even to switch places with another player. If the “space” being moved to also features an instruction, that is obeyed as well. However, the other player-controlled Sweathog does NOT follow any instructions given on the space that they are being moved to.

If the instructions given involve a character that is not being played, that instruction is ignored. For example, if an instruction is to move Epstein (the late Robert Hegyes), but no one is playing as him, the instruction is ignored and play continues on.

If either a Kotter or Woodman card is drawn, the player must read the card aloud and follow the given instructions. The game’s included “rules” state that once a card is played, it should be set back to the bottom of its respective stack, thus making it playable again. I would suggest either setting the card upside-down or to the side, and then reshuffling once all of a set have been played.

A “turn” is considered “finished” once all rolled spaces have been moved and any given instructions followed. If a player ends their turn on a space occupied by another player’s character, the player that was landed on is considered “Ranked Out” and returned to their starting space. Players will sometimes land on a space (or will draw a card) instructing them (or possibly even another character) to take a “free turn”. Any free turns must be taken right then, but play still continues to the left of the original roller.

Some cards will require ALL players to take an “exam”. There’s no Scantrons involved here, but as the show was set in a school, I guess the game designers thought calling it an “exam” seemed “fitting”. Each player rolls the die once, with the highest roller receiving a free Word Card of their choice.

As previously stated, a player draws a Word Card when they land on the first desk in each row. While the player can only obtain the Word Card assigned to that row, you can choose to collect them in any order that you wish. These means that you can work your way towards the closest Word Card first or even the furthest. While a player does not need to roll an exact total to land on their first 5 Word Card spaces, an exact total is needed to claim the sixth and officially win the game.

The 1st person to collect all 6 Word Cards grabs the plastic tube and proclaims, “Up your nose with a rubber hose!”, preferably while hoisting it above your head. The winner also gets the honor of being mocked mercilessly by the other players.

BUT IS IT FUN??

 

Despite the included instructions being written by someone who clearly hated anyone intending to play, the game is quite easy to pick up. While up to 6 players can play, I would say that ideal number of players is 3-4.  While most board games tend to be more fun and challenging with more players, the dots that are used to represent playable “spaces” on the Kotter game board are just too small and too close together, making the ability to see available spaces (or moving to them) more of a hassle than needs it be. While not a “gamebreaker” by any means, an increased number of players may mean quite a bit of moving pieces around and craning necks just to see where you can move next.

Gameplay is fairly simple, enough so that my 7-year-old was able to play along with my wife and I, and still hold his own against us. That said, he doesn’t “get” the numerous references to the show’s characters or running jokes to be as nostalgically amused as myself, a long-time “casual” fan of the series. An average game of 2-3 players can be completed within 15- 20 minutes, possibly less. Possibly more.

Welcome Back, Kotter: The Up Your Nose With A Rubber Hose Game can be found on eBay ranging from around $25-$40, depending on condition, although I was able to score my copy for about $15. As this is fairly comparable to the price of most newer board games (if not cheaper), fans of the series may easily consider saying “Hi there!” at this price.

Avid gamers or fans of the series may also be pleased to know that a Welcome Back, Kotter card game was also released and now sells for around the same price as the board game.

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