About a year and a half ago I looked at the board game Park and Shop. While Park and Shop was not a great game, I actually really liked the idea of a shopping board game. Today I am looking at another shopping game, the Blue Light Special board game. For those of you who are not familiar, the Blue Light Special was a special sales promotion held at K-Mart stores where certain items would periodically go on sale throughout the store. While the game’s theme was kind of strange, I was interested in seeing whether the Blue Light Special game would create a better shopping board game than Park and Shop. The Blue Light Special Game is a flawed generic roll and move game that might not work well as a game but can be an interesting experience.
How to Play Blue Light Special
- Place the gameboard in the middle of the table.
- Each player rolls the die. The highest roller gets to start the game and will be the banker.
- Each player chooses a pawn and places it on the start space
- Each player is given play money in the following denominations:
- Each player is dealt 18 cards face down. Players will keep the cards face down until they have to flip over one of their cards.
Playing the Game
A player begins their turn by turning over their top shopping card if they don’t already have a shopping card face up. This card indicates which item the player has to purchase from the store. To purchase the item the player has to go to the department listed on the card and pay the corresponding amount to the bank.
If the card says blue light special on it, the blue light is moved to the department listed on the card even if the blue light was previously in another department.
The current player then rolls the die and moves their playing piece the corresponding number of spaces. A player can move their piece in any direction except diagonally. A player can only change directions one time though. A player may not enter a department that they aren’t buying an item from. A player cannot land on a space occupied by another player except for department spaces.
If a player is unable to move they don’t have to move. If a player can move they have to move even if it disadvantages them. When a player ends their turn they will take an special action if they land on a space that shows a symbol (check out the Special Space section for more details) or a department.
When a player reaches the department for the item they are looking for (does not have to be by exact count), they pay the bank the corresponding amount of money. The player can then get rid of the shopping card and their turn ends. On the player’s next turn they will flip over their next shopping card. If the next card is in the same department, the player can use their next turn to buy the item without having to leave and reenter the department.
Blue Light Specials
Throughout the game players will draw cards that indicate blue light specials. An item that is the current blue light special costs the lower price printed on the card. If another blue light card is revealed before a player is able to purchase a blue light special, the player has to pay the higher price for the item.
When a blue light special is announced, all of the players can try to take advantage of the deal. The first player to arrive at the department gets to buy the item at the discount price. If it is the player who controls the card, they save money on the item and can discard the card after paying the bank. If it is another player who doesn’t control the card, they can buy the item and take the item card from the player who previously controlled it. In exchange for the card that they took, they will randomly give the other player one of the face down cards from their stack.
Cafeteria: The player goes to the cafeteria. They lose their next two turns.
Candy Machine: Pay $1 to the bank.
Clothes Hangar: The player immediately goes to the dressing room. The player stays in the dressing room until they roll a one or a six. When a player rolls one of these numbers, they roll again and continue their turn as normal.
Die: If a player lands on a die symbol they get to take another turn.
Merry-go-round: Pay $1 to the bank.
Money: If a player lands on the money symbol they will roll the die to determine if they found or lost money. All transactions will be with the player on their right.
- 1-Give $10
- 2-Collect $20
- 3-Give $30
- 4-Collect $40
- 5-Give $50
- 6-Collect $60
Popcorn: Pay $2 to the bank.
Price Tag: The player immediately moves to the layaway space and pays $10 to the bank. The player also loses their next turn.
Save Time: The player can choose to immediately move to one of the other save time spaces.
Shopping Cart: A player can move through a shopping cart space but may never land on one.
Umbrella: Lose one turn.
End of Game
When a player has purchased all of their items, they roll the die to determine which checkout lane they must use. If a player rolls a 1-4 they will have to leave the store through the corresponding checkout. If they roll a five or six they can choose whichever checkout they prefer.
After leaving through the checkout, players head towards the end space. When one player reaches the end space, the game ends.
Every player who has yet to purchase all of their items will flip over all of their cards and immediately pay for all of the items. The player has to pay full price for any items that were blue light specials.
Each player counts up how much money they have left. The player with the most money wins the game.
My Thoughts on the Blue Light Special Game
On the surface the Blue Light Special game actually shares a lot in common with Park and Shop. Both games are pretty basic roll and move games. Players roll the die and move their playing piece around the gameboard. Each player has a shopping list and has to go to the corresponding spaces on the gameboard in order to purchase the items. Basically if you have ever played Park and Shop or another similar game before, you should have a good idea of what the Blue Light Special game plays like.
The one unique mechanic that the Blue Light Special game has is the aforementioned blue light specials. This mechanic is really basic but I kind of liked it. Being able to purchase one of the blue light specials is generally a good deal in the game so it leads to some competition to see who will get to the space first. This mechanic adds a little excitement to an otherwise generic roll and move game. The problem is that the competition for a blue light special is usually pretty limited. Most of the time one of the players is already next to the department so they will pick it up before anyone else can even get close. It is a shame because I think the mechanic had some potential. There could have been some strategy in choosing whether to abandon the item you were currently looking for in order to try and get the better deal elsewhere in the store.
Being a pretty simple game the Blue Light Special game is something the whole family could probably enjoy. All you do in the game is roll dice and try to move from department to department picking up all of the items that you have cards for. The game has a recommended age of 8+. The game’s mechanics are simple enough that I think younger children could play the game. They may need some help with their money though since a lot of the items are over $10 and some are more than $100.
I was actually kind of surprised by how long the Blue Light Special game is though. Having to buy 18 items in the store actually takes quite a while. If you play with each player having to get all 18 items, I would say that the game will take at least an hour to play. I personally would recommend playing with less cards as it would shorten the game and prevent the game from dragging as much at the end.
Like most roll and move games, your fate in the game is going to rely a lot on luck. The Blue Light Special game doesn’t have many opportunities for strategy. You basically roll the die and move. Where you should move on any given turn is usually pretty obvious. If you can’t land on the department of your next item/blue light special you usually want to land on the space that gives you another turn or one of the “save time” spaces. The save time spaces are overpowered in the game since they let you quickly move from one side of the board to the other. This is why the best departments in the game are in the four corners. If a player gets a lot of items from corner departments they can quickly move from one department to the next.
Being a roll and move game it was not surprising that there was a lot of die roll luck. The area of the game that relies on the most luck though happens before the game even begins. The cards you are dealt and the order in which they are dealt out has a big impact on how well you will do in the game. For some reason the game does not let you sort your item cards however you prefer. Being able to sort your item cards could have added some strategy to the game. Being able to plan a good route through the store would give you an advantage in the game. Instead you have to rely on the cards not forcing you to go back and forth across the store multiple times to get your items.
The order of your item cards is not all that matters though. The item cards you get dealt can decide whether you have a chance of winning the game or not. Basically the players that are dealt the lowest priced items can win the game while players who are dealt expensive items have no chance of winning. For example I was dealt at least four items that cost more than $50 while other players were dealt a bunch of items that cost $10 or less. With the winner being determined by who has the most money at the end of the game, there was no way I would have ever been able to overcome the gap created by how the cards were dealt out. At best I might have been able to get rid of one or two of the expensive items due to getting a blue light special. That is not always a guarantee though because the one time I was able to get a blue light special I stole a $10-20 item from another player and ended up randomly giving them a $1 item in exchange. The Blue Light Special game is just one of those games where some players will have no chance of winning due to no fault of their own.
The biggest problem with the Blue Light Special game is that the gameplay itself doesn’t even matter that much. In most games the player who completes all of their shopping first would win the game. That is not the case in the Blue Light Special game though. The only benefit to finishing first is that you had the opportunity to purchase all of your blue light special cards at their lower price. Otherwise there is no benefit to finishing shopping first or even purchasing all of your items. Outside of potentially being able to buy some of your items at a cheaper price, there is no punishment for failing to purchase all of your items. Combined with the fact that your fate was probably sealed as soon as you were dealt your cards, it ultimately feels like the gameplay has little impact on your fate in the game.
If it wasn’t already pretty clear, the Blue Light Special game is not very good. In general I would dislike/hate this type of game and it is warranted due to the broken mechanics. Despite all of its problems, I somewhat enjoyed playing the game. This didn’t really have anything to do with the actual gameplay but the story we created while playing the game. For some reason my group ended up creating storylines for all of our customers. The customers in our game included:
- The clueless shopper. My character was a complete mess. After losing out on two of his blue light specials to other players, he aimlessly wandered back and forth across the store (I could never draw cards for departments near one another), wasted several turns in the dressing room, and lost lots on money on the floor. On top of all of this my character for some reason wanted to buy every expensive item in the store.
- Pickpocket #1. One of the characters was constantly receiving money from the money spaces. This character found money everywhere so we decided that this person was a part-time pickpocket and part-time shopper. With how much money this player found, we actually thought there was a decent chance that this player would leave the store with more money then they entered with.
- Pickpocket #2. This character was randomly obsessed with shoes and women’s clothing despite the character being played by a man. After stocking up on all of his women’s clothes, this character saw how well the other pickpocket was working so he also started pickpocketing.
- The expensive shopper. While the other three shoppers were haplessly running around the store, the final shopper was organized and efficient in their shopping plan. They finished shopping well before the other players. The character had a propensity to purchase expensive items though which hurt them in the end.
So which “character” ended up winning? Well pickpocket #1 ended up winning by less than $10. I am guessing that a lot of you think the previous descriptions don’t sound that funny. It is probably one of those situations where you had to be there to fully understand. For some reason our group really got into the story we created and it actually lead to quite a few humorous moments. If your group can create an interesting backstory for the characters, it can actually add quite a bit of enjoyment to a game that otherwise would be a generic luck driven roll and move game.
As you might have noticed from the story above, two characters ended up becoming “pickpockets”. It is kind of interesting how it happened. Pickpocket #1 kept getting money from the money spaces due to rolling even numbers themselves or the player on their right rolling odd. With how successful this player was, it lead another player to purposely land on as many of the money spaces as possible at the end of the game. There was no way they were going to be able to purchase all of their items in time, so they decided to try and get as much money as possible from these spaces. They were actually quite successful at it as well.
This might not work for everyone but there is actually a valid strategy for trying to land on the money spaces as often as possible in the game. While it is random who ends up paying, the player rolling the dice actually has an advantage. By landing on a money space you have the opportunity to lose $10, $30, or $50 while you can also gain $20, $40, or $60. Statistically speaking over the long term you should end up making money because all of the payouts to you are higher than what you have to pay the other player. With the fact that there isn’t much advantage to purchasing all of your items during the game, I am curious whether you would be better off just trying to land on a money space every turn that you can.
Due to the game being made by a small publisher (I had never heard of Johnston Games Incorporated before), it is not surprising that the components are subpar. The game basically comes with the gameboard, playing pieces, blue light, item cards and money. The component quality is below average. The cards, money, and playing pieces are pretty basic. The artwork might be somewhat charming if it was from a 1950s/1960s game but I personally would expect more from a game made in 1986. As a matter of fact if I didn’t know better I would have thought the game came from the 1950s or 1960s instead of 1986. The components serve their purpose but don’t do much else.
Should You Buy the Blue Light Special Game?
At the end of the day the Blue Light Special game is not a good game. While you can actually have some fun with the game by creating storylines for all of the characters, that is not enough to make up for all of the game’s problems. The problem with the game is that it relies on way too much luck. The game doesn’t really have any strategy (unless you just try to take the other players’ money) that isn’t extremely obvious. Rolling well is going to have a big impact on your game. Your fate could even be decided before you begin the game since the items you are dealt are likely going to decide whether you have a chance to win. If you are dealt a bunch of expensive items you have no chance of winning the game. In some games the gameplay is not going to even matter as purchasing all your items first doesn’t really even give you a benefit in the game.
If you don’t love roll and move games, the Blue Light Special game is not going to be for you. If you like these type of games you may get some enjoyment out of the game but it is flawed. I would only consider purchasing the game if you can get a good deal on it.