Sometimes it’s hard to adapt a game show format for a box game. The Gong Show home game sends players on a journey leading to the stage, with other players using randomly-drawn numbers to score the performance. The Dating Game home version is completely detached from the show and sends players on a silly adventure through town trying to find a mate. I’ve Got a Secret managed to shoehorn a wheel and four decks of cards into its home version. Here now, we present the pioneer box game that has absolutely nothing to do with the actual show, “Break the Bank,” brought to you by Ed Wolf Productions, Dodge Automobiles, Miles Laboratories, and the perpetually-caffeinated Bert Parks.
The actual show had a simple format that could be described as “Who Wants to be a Thousandaire?” Host Parks asks a series of questions to contestants, or sometimes teams or families of contestants, starting at $25 and increasing to $500, with the contestants risking what they’ve won for each question. If they trip up at any point, they forfeit their winnings. If they make it to $500, the next question is “The Gateway to the Bank.” Answer the Gateway question correctly, and you break the bank, which starts at $1,000 and is fed whatever money previous contestants forfeited with their wrong answers. Theoretically, all you need for this format is some play money, a book of questions, and if you want to get fancy, some kind of visual “ladder” showing the increasing dollar amounts. This is one paragraph, kids. Remember that.
what the box game gives you…
Up to six players compete. Each one selects a colored lane and corresponding pawn. The color wheel (missing from my copy, but a viable alternative is available; more on that later) is spun to decide which player will be the “banker” (whose sole function is to hand the appropriate amount of play money to each contestant) and the player sitting next to the banker goes first. The color wheel is spun and the color that comes up represents one of six categories (Yellow-History; Orange-Show Biz & Music; Red- Sports; White-Geography; Green- Story Time; Blue-Bank Breakers) and the player attempts to answer one question. A correct answer advances the player to the next cash level and they spin and play a question in the same manner. They keep going until they’ve broken the $100,000 bank by answering a question in every money level up to the end.
Oh, unless the color wheel lands on Blue (the Bank Breakers category). If that happens, the player automatically moves from wherever they are up to the $50,000 Gateway. They then answer only one question from the Bank Breakers category to win the game and break the bank.
If a contestant answers a question incorrectly along the way, the first order of business is playing a penalty. There are six penalties, again represented by each of the six colors. They range from softballs (move back one space or answer another question) to morale-destroyers (pay each contestant $5,000 or put $10,000 into the value of the bank; if you haven’t won enough money up to that point to perform the penalty, then your next correct answers go toward paying off the debt). After the penalty is determined, the next contestant in line begins their turn. When the player breaks the bank, they lose their turn and start all over again going for the $1,000 level, but only that player starts over. Everyone else continues as before.
Funniest part of the box rules is that there’s no actual end to the game. The box says the top money winner at the end of the “play period” is the winner of the game. In other words, keep going until only one player is still awake or until you all get the munchies. These rules took four paragraphs.
The color wheel with the game is in some nether region along with the timer from my Password Fine Edition. Fortunately for me, the pieces of cardboard that had to be punched out of the game board for storing the six pawns survived, and they do just fine. I just stick ‘em in a shot glass I got at a college broadcasters’ convention in Nashville, shake it up, and voila—random color selector. This really has nothing to do with anything. I like to type.
Actually, on its own merit, this isn’t such a bad game. Its strange detachment from the namesake aside, it’s a fun, suspenseful game of luck and knowledge. After 50 years, the questions included with the game have held up rather well; only about half of huge pile is obsolete or too obscure for the new millennium. (Sports is the category that suffers the most.) The format is flawed enough that I couldn’t see it being a viable TV game, but for a group of folks who like trivia, it’s not a bad way to pass the time.