Ever since it was started in 1920 the Miss America Pageant has been one of the most popular beauty pageants in the world. While the pageant has been around for over 90 years, I have to admit that I was surprised when I saw the Miss America Pageant Game in a thrift store. Even more surprising is that there have actually been two different Miss America Pageant board games. Not being a fan of pageants I have to admit that the theme didn’t really appeal to me but with the game only being around $1 I was curious to see what a beauty pageant board game would look like. I can’t say that I had high expectations for the game since I didn’t know how the designer could come up with fun mechanics that would work with the theme. Unfortunately my initial impression about the Miss America Pageant Game was right.
How to Play the Miss America Pageant Game
- Each player chooses a playing piece inserting it into one of the stands.
- All of the players choose a complete wardrobe for their pawn along with the name plate for the state they are representing. Players will start the game by putting school clothes on their pawn.
- Each player also gets a pageant program requirement card which indicates what cards the players need to have for every event.
- If you are not playing the advanced game, take the lucky star cards out of the deck. Then shuffle all of the cards and deal five to each player. The rest of the cards form the draw pile.
- The player to the left of the dealer will start the game.
Playing the Game
Each player will start their turn by either taking the top card from the draw or discard pile. In the first event of the game the players are trying to get one card of each color. After drawing a card the player has to choose one of their cards to add to the discard pile. Once a player has acquired one card from each of the five colors, they get to join the pageant on their next turn.
Once a player enters the pageant they place their playing piece on the board and switch their pawn’s clothing for the “judges interview”. Now that the player’s pawn is on the board they will begin moving around the board. When a player takes a card from the top of the draw or discard pile, they will move their piece the number of spaces indicated on the card. (According to the rules errata sheet if the players aren’t using the intermediate or advanced rules they can also choose to use one of the cards from their hand to move their piece.) If a player lands on a space occupied by another player’s pawn, the player doesn’t move their piece and they have to discard a card. Wild cards can act as any number, letter or color. One of two things then occur:
- If the space they landed on is the same as the color of the card they drew, they get to keep the card and don’t have to discard any cards.
- If the space they landed on is not the same color, the player has to either discard the card they drew or one of the other cards from their hand.
The players will continue to acquire cards in the judges interview event until they acquire the following cards: 1 orange, 3 magenta, 1 blue, 1 green, and 4 purple. When a player has acquired these cards they move onto the swimsuit event and change the clothing on their pawn to fit the event.
This process is continued for the next couple of events. Players move around the board acquiring cards until they acquire enough to move onto the next stage. The next stages and their requirements are as follows:
- Swimsuit: 1 orange, 1 magenta, 4 blue, 3 green, 1 purple
- Talent: 6 orange, 1 magenta, 1 blue, 1 green, 1 purple
- Evening Gown: 1 orange, 1 magenta, 3 blue, 4 green, 1 purple
After completing the evening gown event, players move to the Miss America section of the board. When a player reaches this section of the game they will draw a card like normal. The player will then have to play a card that matches the next letter on the gameboard. For example the players will first have to play a “M” card to move onto the first space. If the player drew the next letter or has it in their hand, they discard it and move to the next space. The player’s turn then ends. If the player doesn’t have the next letter their turn ends without moving their piece forward.
(According the the rules errata sheet, players can play any letter from the words Miss America to move to that space if the number on the card also matches how many spaces they are away from the space. Since none of the letters and numbers seem to match up though I am guessing the rules meant that you can play a letter card to move to the corresponding spot on the board.)
End of Game
The first player to make it across the “Miss America” section of the board wins the game.
If players want to play the intermediate game they will follow all of the previous rules and one additional mechanic is added.
In the intermediate game a spelling mechanic is added to the game. If a player can spell a word with the letters from three or more of their cards they can play the cards out in front of themselves to spell the word. This is beneficial to the player as the player can use these cards instead of the card they drew to move their playing piece. This makes it much more likely for the player to keep the card they draw and not have to discard a card.
The downside to playing cards in front of you is that other players can steal them. If another player can use one of your letter cards to create a word (three letters or more) along with their own cards, they will steal the card that they used. Since the remaining cards no longer spell out a word, the player has to take the rest of the cards back into their hand.
The advanced game uses the rules from the basic and intermediate games. It also adds one additional mechanic.
To play the advanced game you need to add the lucky star cards to the deck of cards. The lucky star cards feature the mathematical symbols for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. When a player gets a lucky star card they can use it to form a mathematical equation using the numbers on the cards in their hand. If a player can make a valid equation (there is no need for the = symbol) they play the cards in front of themselves. These cards can be used instead of the card you draw to move your piece which increases your odds of keeping more cards.
Unlike the spelling mechanic from the intermediate game, these cards can’t be stolen by the other players.
My Thoughts on the Miss America Pageant Game
Instead of wasting your time I will get right to the point. The Miss America Pageant Game is not a good game. I would actually say it is probably one of the worst ten board games that I have ever played. That is saying a lot as I have played close to 600 different board games. I will admit that the theme did not at all appeal to me since I could care less about beauty pageants. The problem is that even if I liked the Miss America pageant the game would still be terrible for several different reasons.
The first problem with the game is that it has next to nothing to do with the theme. I would really like to know what collecting different colored cards has to do with a beauty pageant. The game pretends that the different colored cards represent different things that contestants need to win the pageant but that doesn’t at all impact the actual gameplay. Other than moving around collecting cards, there are also some spelling and math mechanics. I have never really watched the Miss America pageant before but I don’t think spelling and math play a big role in who wins the pageant.
What is so strange about the game’s mechanics is that I don’t know if the game could have come up with worse mechanics for the beauty pageant theme. While the theme doesn’t really fit perfectly with any traditional board game genre, I think a lot more could have been done with the theme. A trivia game would have been boring for people that aren’t fans of pageants but it would have worked well. Roll and move mechanics while generally boring could have worked. I would even be interested in seeing what could have been done with euro game mechanics. While the theme isn’t all that interesting to me, I think a creative designer could have come up with some creative mechanics to fit the theme.
The fact that the gameplay has nothing to do with the theme wouldn’t be so bad if the actual gameplay was good. Unfortunately it isn’t. The gameplay somewhat plays like a roll and move game and yet somehow is worse. Once you acquire one card of each color you start moving around the board. You move around the board using the number on the card you draw. I appreciate that the game lets you take the top card from the draw or discard pile since you can then use a little strategy to improve your odds in the game. The gameplay still boils down to getting lucky and landing on spaces that match the color of the card you drew so you can start acquiring cards.
I think this might be the worst part of the game. One of the worst things in a lot of video games is when you have to grind to gain levels/equipment. Well it feels just like that in the Miss America Pageant Game. Basically you move around the gameboard trying to acquire as many cards as you can at the beginning of the game. You have to acquire at least five more cards because there is no way to move onto the next event with the number of cards you start the game with. After you acquire enough cards you need to start exchanging the cards you don’t need for card you do. This is repeated over and over again until you reach the final event. The majority of the game just feels like an exercise in grinding.
Eventually you will make it to the final event and things don’t get any better. The final event feels like it was only included as a catch up mechanic. Hopefully you kept cards with the letters that spell out Miss America throughout the game or you will be stuck here forever as the other players pass you. The reason I don’t like this mechanic is that in addition to acquiring the colors you need during the main portion of the game, you basically have to try to keep all of the cards you get that match the letters in Miss America. This forces you to grind for even more cards as you need to be able to keep more cards in your hand.
At this point I want to bring up that the game includes both an intermediate and advanced mode. While they far from save the game I would recommend using both of them. The spelling and math mechanics are really basic but give players a few more decisions to make in the game. The spelling mechanic adds a little risk/reward to the game as you could have one of your cards stolen by another player. It is worth using the spelling and math mechanics though as they can really help you. Having more options of what card to use for movement is huge in the game because it greatly increases the odds of you being able to add another card to your hand.
While the gameplay in the Miss America Pageant game is pretty bad, it is made even worse by the game’s rules. For such a simple game, whoever wrote the rules did a poor job explaining how to play the game. The rules are written in confusing ways where I had to re-read several sections two or more times just to understand what the writer was trying to say. Then add in the rules errata sheet included with the game that includes quite a few corrections that contradict the other instructions. With how poorly the rules are written I had to interpret what I thought was meant in a couple situations so I apologize if I interpreted any of the rules incorrectly in the how to play section.
All of these problems with the gameplay lead to the Miss America Pageant Game being a really boring game. Basically you just draw cards hoping to get a card that lets you add another card to your hand. After acquiring some extra cards you have to exchange the cards you don’t need for cards that you do. This sounds about as interesting as it actually is. The gameplay is boring by itself but it is made even worse by the game relying almost entirely on luck. While you have a decision on what card to draw each round, it doesn’t really matter since the right decision is usually so obvious. On top of that your decisions usually won’t matter as luck is usually the determining factor in how well you do.
On top of all of these other problems, the Miss America Pageant Game suffers from taking way too long. I will be honest and admit that I didn’t complete the game. My group just couldn’t stand the game anymore. Some of the players had just finished the judges interview section of the game and we had already been playing the game for around an hour. The game felt like it was never going to end. As we had only finished a fraction of the game I would assume the game would have taken close to two hours to complete. That is way TOO long. At maybe 20-30 minutes the game might have been bearable but at closer to two hours the game feels like a total waste of time. There is no reason that you should play a boring repetitive game for over two hours.
Before wrapping up I want to quickly talk about the game’s components. While I wouldn’t say the components are good, they are probably the best part of the game. This is mostly because of the cards since each card has some interesting facts about the pageant’s history/former contestants. Fans of Miss America might find this part of the game to be interesting. While it serves no gameplay purpose, the “Colorforms” mechanic of being able to change your pawn’s outfit could have been kind of cool for children except for the fact that due to the game’s age I am guessing the clothing rarely sticks to the pawns anymore. I know they didn’t with my copy of the game. Otherwise I would say the component quality is pretty poor which is to be expected from a game produced by a small publisher.
Should You Buy the Miss America Pageant Game?
The simple answer is that the Miss America Pageant Game is a terrible game. The game just has so many problems. The gameplay has next to nothing to do with the Miss America beauty pageant. On top of that the gameplay is quite boring. You basically move around the board collecting cards until you get the right colored cards to move onto the next event. You keep doing this until someone completes all of the events. The game just feels like a grind until the game finally ends after lasting far too long. The only somewhat saving grace for the game is that the cards have some interesting facts/trivia about the pageant and the idea that you could change your pawn’s clothes could appeal to children.
If you are not a huge fan of the Miss America pageant I would recommend staying far away from the game. Even if you really like the pageant I don’t think you will enjoy the gameplay very much. If you love the pageant though and can find it for cheap, it may be worth picking up the Miss America Pageant Game as a piece of memorabilia.