If there is one thing that we know for certain about the 1970s and 80s, it is that every marginally successful film, television series, musical group, and cartoon/comic character of those eras received their own board game. I guess things really aren’t all that much different today, only that the future landfills of this generation will feature significantly fewer dice and game boards and a shit-ton of Funko Pops, cartridges for various Nintendo handheld systems (seriously, go look up how many games based on Nickelodeon and Disney Channel shows came out in the early 2000’s), and Fidget Spinners.
So, it’s really no surprise that Masters of the Universe, one of the most popular and fondly remembered toy lines (and cartoons) of the 80s, received one as well. Actually, there were 7 board games released world-wide (as far as I can tell), as well as a role-playing game. However, for this article, we will be showcasing 1983’s Masters of the Universe 3-D Action Game, released by Golden Games. This particular game was just 1 of 4 He-Man board games listed to have been released that year.
The Masters of the Universe 3-D Action Game is intended to be enjoyed by 2-6 players, but you probably won’t want to play with more than 4 total players. Besides cluttering up the game board, having more than 4 players can also potentially make the game more complicated, as well as drastically shorten the game’s length of play. The package states that the game is intended for players ages 5 – 10, but slightly younger players can join in as well, with only minor assistance. While the game may ultimately prove too shallow and short to enthrall older players, that’s not to say that they won’t have any fun with the game.
Packaged in a box featuring a Battlecat-mounted He-Man mid-battle with arch-nemesis Skeletor on the cover, the game itself comes in 3 separate sections: A colored plastic game base, a printed cardboard game board, and a clear plastic turntable. The game board is placed on top of the plastic base, and the turntable placed directly on top of the game board.
As with most board games, the players are presented with a selection of player pieces to choose from. There are 3 “hero” characters available (He-Man, Man At Arms, and Teela), as well as 3 “villains” (Skeletor, Beast Man, and Mer-Man… or as I choose to call him, “Ethel”). The game originally included blue and red plastic bases to hold your cardboard character pieces. “Heroes” are expected to use one color, while “baddies” get the other. I say “originally” as my heavily used copy of the game was missing all 3 of the red bases and 1 blue at purchase.
Players take turns spinning the included spinner to determine who will go first. During their respective turns, players spin the spinner and, following the arrows printed on the game board , move their character piece the corresponding number of spaces. Upon reaching the designated number of spaces, the player must then “follow” or “obey” any instructions printed on the “square” upon which they land.
Scattered throughout the game board are various orange “squares” featuring various vehicles (including Battlecat, if you consider him a “vehicle”) from the cartoon and toy line. When the player lands on one of these orange squares, they must rotate the plastic turntable one-quarter turn. Players’ game pieces will now occupy different “spaces” than before. However, any instructions given on the newly occupied “spaces” are ignored. If player lands on an orange/vehicle square because of this rotation, the turntable is NOT rotated again.
If a spin lands the player on a square featuring the inept magician “Orko”, that player may then switch places with any other player. That said, he/she is not obligated to do so.
If a spin lands the player on a square occupied by a player piece of the other faction, they are forced to “battle” for possession. For example, if a player using “He-Man” lands on a square occupied by a player using “Ethel”, both players will spin the spinner once, with the player spinning the lowest number returning to the game’s starting spot.
Unfortunately, this is one area where the person writing the game manual failed. There is absolutely no mention of what happens when a player lands on a square occupied by 2 players of the opposing faction, which is something that happened quite frequently during the games that my family and I played together (and which served as “research” for this article.) In those instances, we treated this as a disadvantage for the player landing in that square as they would now need to “battle” BOTH of the players that had previously occupied it. This is also a reason why I highly discourage the game being played by any more than 4 players.
The game is over once a player reaches the square on the game board listed as “Castle Greyskull”. Players may only land on the square by way of spinning the exact number needed….. OR by landing on this space as the result of a turntable rotation. Trust me, the latter happens much more frequently than the former. This too is another reason why I discourage playing the game with more than 4 players as it may actually speed up gameplay with more players potentially being rotated into the “win”.
PLAYING THE GAME:
The Masters of the Universe 3-D Action Game is really quite simple to set up and play, as it should be since it was intended for younger players. My 3-year-old had fun playing and was able to understand the basics of the game, although he did need help reading the words on the “squares”.
A “round” is generally rather quick, with most “rounds” ending after a rotation of the turntable places a player on the winning square. When this did not happen, I still don’t believe that a “round” ever lasted more than 20 minutes.
Used copies of the Masters of the Universe 3-D Action Game can be obtained on eBay for about $30-$40 dollars, although copies in better condition may run you $50-$60. While a fun game for younger players, the overall lack of depth makes either of those price points pretty steep for anyone other than rabid He-Man enthusiasts or collectors of vintage kitsch and/or board games. Generally, neither of those folks will be very inclined to let children get their grubby, germ-infested hands anywhere near the game.