Back in the late 1980s to the mid to late 1990s there was a trend of children’s board games utilizing electronic components. With games like Electronic Dream Phone, Electronic Mall Madness, and Electronic Talking Mystery Mansion there were quite a few of these games created. While a lot of them were pretty gimmicky, the electronic components actually brought some interesting mechanics to some of the games. Despite being a pretty popular trend most of these electronic games don’t seem to have sold that well since Electronic Mall Madness is one of the few electronic games that has been reprinted. Today I am looking at another one of these forgotten electronic games The Omega Virus. What is unique about The Omega Virus is that it is a pretty highly regarded game and is also quite rare. While I can’t say that it justifies its’ high price, The Omega Virus is possibly the best electronic board game I have ever played.
How to Play The Omega Virus
- Place the gameboard in the center of the table.
- Attach the plastic panel supports to the four edges of the gameboard and add one panel to each side of the gameboard.
- Each player takes the commando of the color of the sector nearest them and places it on the corresponding docking bay.
- Assemble the command center by adding the access cards, disruptors, decoders, and negatrons.
- Place the command center in the center of the board and place each probe in a corner of the command center by that colors sector of the gameboard.
- Each player selects a secret two number code and writes it on the back of their exploration log. When creating your secret code you can use any combination of 0, 1 or 2. For example your code can be 02, 21, 20, etc. After writing down your secret code turn over your exploration log.
- Press the on button to begin the game. The game will first ask you for the game’s difficulty (how much time you have to defeat the virus). You can enter 0 for the easiest game, 1 for a medium game, or 2 for a difficult game. The computer will then call out the players’ colors one by one and the corresponding player inputs their secret code into the command center (without letting the other players see). If there aren’t four players playing someone will have to press the R button when a color is named by the computer that doesn’t have a player.
- The game will then begin with the computer calling out the player who gets the first turn.
Playing the Game
A player’s turn begins when the computer calls out their color. A player will first move their commando. They can move their commando up to three spaces which includes moving through rooms.
A player can only enter or move through doors if they have the key corresponding to the color of the door.
After moving the player can choose one of four actions dependent on what space their piece ended up on.
- Explore A Room
- Attack Another Commando or Probe
- Pass: If a player lands on a space where they are unable to perform another action or choose not to, they press the 0 button which passes their action.
- Teleport to Another Docking Bay
After a player has taken their action with their commando they can use their probe if they currently have access to it. Unlike the commando, probes can only move from one room or docking bay to another room or docking bay. A probe cannot move through a room on their turn. The probe then has the option of taking one of the four actions listed above.
Exploring A Room
When a commando or probe ends their turn on a room (that they have the appropriate key to enter) they have the option of exploring the room. When you explore a room one of three things will occur:
- You will find a valuable item.
- You will encounter a hazard.
- You will find nothing.
What you find in a room will likely be the same each time you visit the room. For example if you find a valuable item you likely will find a valuable item the next time you visit the room. You won’t necessarily find the same item though. Each player may find different things in the room as one player can find a valuable item while another could find a hazard. Players should mark whether they found a valuable item, a hazard or nothing in a room on their exploration log for future reference.
When a player wants to explore a room they press the 2/Explore Button. The player will then have to input the room code which can be found on the space that the piece is currently on.
The game will then tell you what you found.
For valuable items you can find the following things:
- Access Cards: The computer will tell you what access card you found which you will take and place in the holding tray of your section. This new access card will allow you to explore rooms of the corresponding color.
- Anti-Virus Device: The computer will tell you which device you found: Negatron (red), Decoder (yellow), or Disruptor (blue). Take the appropriate piece from the command center and add it to the back of your commando piece.
- Probe: When a player finds their probe they will take it from the command center and place it on the same space as their commando. The player will then be able move their probe in addition to their commando each turn.
Instead of a valuable item a player could find a hazard. There are two types of hazards. The first hazard is a teleport trap hazard which moves your commando or probe to the docking bay indicated by the computer.
The other hazard is a security breach hazard. The computer will tell you to defend yourself with shields. Depending on the number of shields the computer tells you, you will press that many buttons on the command center. When pressing buttons you can choose between the 0, 1, 2 or R Buttons. You need to make your choice(s) quickly as if you take too long you will automatically fail to defend yourself. The game will then give you the result. If you chose the right button you block the attack and nothing happens. If you pressed the wrong button you will either lose one of your access cards, anti-virus devices, or your probe. Listen to what the computer says and take the appropriate action.
If you explore a room that has nothing in it, you don’t do anything outside of noting that you found nothing in the room on your exploration log.
After you have taken the appropriate action after exploring the room, the computer will give you a code. Listen closely to this code. If it matches the secret code you inputted at the beginning of the game, this indicates that the room that you are currently in is the room that contains the virus. Later in the game you will have to return to this room to defeat the virus. This code only applies to the current player though so if you hear your secret code on another player’s turn, ignore it since it doesn’t indicate that the virus is in their current room.
Attacking Another Commando or Probe
When a player’s commando or probe lands on a space occupied by another player’s commando or probe, the player can choose to use their action to attack the other player’s commando/probe. Players cannot attack another player when both are in a docking bay. If you are on the same space as another player you are not forced to attack that player.
To attack another player you need to input the code corresponding to the player’s commando or probe that you want to attack which can be found on the panel for your sector. After inputting the code the player secretly presses one of the four buttons (0, 1, 2, R). The player being attacked then presses a number of buttons equal to the number of shields mentioned by the computer. If the defending player presses the same button as the attacking player, the attack will be blocked. If they press a different button(s) the attack will succeed. After the buttons have been pressed listen to the computer to hear the result and take the corresponding actions. If an item is destroyed, it is returned to the command center. If an item is stolen the item is passed to the attacking player.
Teleport to Another Docking Bay
If a player lands on a docking bay they can use their action to teleport their commando or probe to another docking bay. If a player chooses this action they choose which docking bay they want to move their commando or probe to and then press the 0 button.
Time is Running Out
As the game nears the end two things will occasionally occur that will impact the game.
At predetermined times sectors of the gameboard will shut down. The computer will announce which sector has closed down. When a sector is shut down it means that the virus is not located in that sector. Items in the shut down sector will move to locations that previously didn’t have valuable items. When a sector is shut down any player that has a probe or commando in that sector will have to move them to a docking bay in any of the open sectors. All access cards that a player is storing in the closed sector panel are then removed as the sector panel will be flipped over to cover up the closed sector. The access cards are then put back into their slot in the sector panel.
In the last couple minutes of the game the virus will begin randomly destroying players’ probes. When the computer says that a certain colored probe has been destroyed, that probe is removed from the board.
Facing the Virus
Once a player has acquired all three anti-virus devices and has found the location of the virus, they can face off against the virus. Only a player’s commando can face off against the virus. To battle the virus the player first must move to the room that contains the virus. They then press the 2 explore button and input the code for the room. The virus will then challenge you to defeat it and the player must quickly press one of the four buttons (0, 1, 2, R). If the player does not press the right button their attack will fail. The player will then have to wait until their next turn and try to attack the virus again.
If the player chooses the right button they will destroy the virus and win the game.
End of Game
The Omega Virus can end in one of two ways.
- If a player presses the right button while attacking the virus they will destroy it and win the game.
- If none of the players destroy the virus in time though, the virus will take control of the station and all of the players will lose.
My Thoughts on The Omega Virus
Before I played The Omega Virus I was a little skeptical because a lot of these electronic board games feel like gimmicks. While the electronic component is needed to play these games, the games usually could have found a way to work without them. Generally I am not a big fan of using an electronic component when it is not necessary since electronic components tend to break pretty easily and thus make the game unplayable.
Although I was skeptical at first I will admit that The Omega Virus is a game that truly needed its’ electronic component. I would actually say that the electronic component is the best part of the entire game. You literally can’t play the game without the electronic component and I think it would have been pretty hard to make the game the same without the electronic component. The reason why the electronic component is so important is that it randomizes everything for the game. It is not just responsible for randomly picking the location of the virus. The electronic component also chooses which rooms will have items for each player, handles the game’s combat, and even keeps track of which items each player currently has.
Outside of just supplementing the gameplay I have to say that the electronic component really adds to the theme of The Omega Virus. The Omega Virus has a surprising amount of effort put into its’ theme. Most of game’s theme comes from the electronic unit. The electronic unit really gives the game the feeling that you are fighting against a virus that is trying to take over the station. Between the computer system that is begging for your help and the virus that constantly mocks/threatens you, it really does a good job getting you into the right mood. While some people might find the voices to be kind of annoying I actually really liked them. I could see them getting kind of annoying after extended plays though. I wasn’t really expecting much from the theme but I was generally surprised by how well the theme actually works in The Omega Virus.
Now that I have gotten past the electronic component lets talk about the actual gameplay in The Omega Virus. The Omega Virus is an interesting game as it has mechanics from quite a few other games. At its’ core I would say that the game is a deduction game. The ultimate goal of the game is to travel between the rooms looking for the useful items and finding the location of the virus. While The Omega Virus has deduction elements it is not like your traditional deduction game as there isn’t a mystery that you can use deductive reasoning to solve. Basically you have to sweep through the rooms as efficiently as possible in order to improve your chances of finding the virus and the necessary items in time.
Probably the most important mechanic in The Omega Virus is the speed mechanic. The entire game is timed so if none of the players complete their mission in time, everyone loses. You can adjust the timer in order to make the game easier or more difficult but I have to give the game credit for making it a challenge to complete your objective in time. In your first game you should play at the easiest difficulty as it might seem easy but you will be cutting it close to finish in time. In my first game a player won with less than five minutes remaining (out of the 35 minutes that the game gives you). As you get better at the game you can move onto the harder difficulties as you will be able to move faster. I think the hardest difficulty will still be really challenging though even for experienced players.
Being a fan of the speed genre I liked the speed mechanic in The Omega Virus. While it might feel a little overwhelming at first (it can be surprisingly easy to almost miss the code given at the end of each round), as you get more familiar with the game the speed of the game begins to not bother you as much. I think the speed mechanic is one of the keys to the game as I think the game could have been pretty boring without it. The speed mechanic forces players to make their decisions quickly which keeps the game moving instead of players taking forever to make their decisions. In order to succeed the players are going to have to play pretty quickly but there isn’t a need to play so quickly that the game devolves into chaos.
Well this comparison isn’t perfect, I actually think The Omega Virus plays a lot like Escape The Curse of the Temple. While The Omega Virus is more of a deduction game and Escape The Curse of the Temple is more of a dice rolling game, the two games actually feel kind of similar when you play them. Both games have an emphasis on you making your decisions quickly so you can act instead of wasting time planning out your moves. If the players don’t move quickly enough all of the players will lose the game. While Escape The Curse of the Temple is the better game, I have to wonder if the designers took inspiration from games like The Omega Virus.
While on the topic of Escape The Curse of the Temple, I actually think The Omega Virus might have worked better as a cooperative game than a competitive game. While players can choose to help each other at the end of the game to avoid everyone losing, the game doesn’t encourage players to work together as there is only one winner. I think this is kind of a shame because I think the game could have worked really well as a cooperative game. I can imagine a game where all of the players worked together in order to search the station to find the necessary tools and the location of the virus. While you would have to make the station larger and add more obstacles to make the game more difficult, I really think a cooperative The Omega Virus could have improved a lot on the actual gameplay. With how the game is set up though I can’t think of a way to make the game truly cooperative.
While I enjoyed playing The Omega Virus I will admit that the game doesn’t rely on a lot of strategy. As I already mentioned the deduction mechanic don’t really allow you to use deductive reasoning to solve where the virus is located. Therefore the game relies pretty heavily on luck. While there is some decision making with regards to which rooms you want to move to, outside of making an efficient path to explore the rooms and writing down what you find in each room, there really isn’t much strategy that you can employ. You mostly need to hope that you luck into finding the rooms that give you the valuable items and the room that the virus occupies.
Speaking of valuable items I want to quickly discuss the probes. The probes might be the single most important item in the entire game. The reason that the probes are so important is that they basically allow you to double your output on any given turn. Getting access to your probe early and keeping it is key to winning the game. If you don’t get your probe early or lose it quickly you will fall behind. With access to the probe you can search rooms twice as quickly which allows you to obtain the key items and find the virus faster. If you don’t get the probe early you will have to get lucky to find your items and the virus before the other players.
When you first look at The Omega Virus it kind of looks like your typical children’s board game. While the game does have a recommended age of 10+ I am guessing a lot of parents thought the game was exclusively for children. I actually wonder if this was one of the reasons that the game didn’t sell well. When I first started playing the game I have to admit that I was kind of surprised by how much there is to the game. The game doesn’t have any highly complex mechanics but it has quite a few things to grasp before playing the game. I could see younger children having quite a bit of trouble understanding how to play the game.
While it might seem surprisingly difficult when you first play the game, The Omega Virus is one of those games that you can pick up pretty quickly. Once you have played the game a little you just adjust to playing the game which allows you to make your moves quite quickly. The game also does a good job giving players a reference on each sector panel which quickly tells you what buttons you have to press on the electronic component. While younger children might eventually be able to play the game, I would probably suggest that adults play the game with them at first until they learn how to play the game.
While The Omega Virus relies on a lot of luck, I have to say that the biggest problem with the game is the simple fact that it is quite rare and thus is worth quite a bit. At this point the game retails for around $150 on Amazon. This is most likely due to the fact that the game sold poorly, a lot of people have fond memories of it, it is actually a solid game and the electronic component probably breaks pretty easily so it is hard to find a complete version that actually works. While I enjoyed playing The Omega Virus and would recommend other people play it, I have a hard time recommending it at its’ current cost.
The cost is one of the reasons that I would really like to see The Omega Virus get updated and re-released. The Omega Virus is a game that I strongly believe came out before its’ time. The game has some really cool ideas and yet the game didn’t have the technology to fully support what the game could have been. I think it would interesting to see the game re-released utilizing an app to replace the electronic component. With an app the game could also slightly tweak the gameplay in order to add more deduction to the game along with other features that couldn’t have been included with the electronic component.
So before wrapping up I want to quickly talk about the components of The Omega Virus. For a Milton Bradly game I have to say the components are really nice. I have already mentioned that I was impressed with the electronic component. I am a little worried though that the electronic components might be prone to breaking so if you are buying a used version of the game you have to be really careful to make sure that it still works properly. Otherwise the components are still pretty nice. The plastic components show solid detail for a Milton Bradley game and the artwork is pretty nice. I honestly don’t think you could have asked for much more from a 1990s Milton Bradley game.
Should You Buy The Omega Virus?
While I was a little skeptical at first, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by The Omega Virus. I would actually say that it is probably one of the best children’s/family games made by Milton Bradley in the 1990s. While I thought the electronic component was going to be a gimmick, it is truly the reason that The Omega Virus is as good as it is. The electronic component handles a lot of things that would have been hard to handle in another way and it adds a lot to the game’s theme. The Omega Virus can be a little complicated at first but it is a game that you can pick up pretty quickly. It does rely on quite a bit of luck though since there isn’t a lot of strategy to the game.
Despite enjoying the game quite a bit I still have a hard time recommending The Omega Virus. This all comes down to how valuable the game is. While I enjoyed The Omega Virus a lot more than I was expecting I don’t think it is worth its’ current value. If the game was cheaper I would have no problem recommending The Omega Virus to people that enjoy these type of games. At its’ current price though I would only recommend purchasing the game if you have really fond memories of the game from your childhood. Otherwise if you can get a good deal on the game I would recommend picking it up.