Pop Culture Anomalies: The Twin Peaks Board Game

TP board gameDuring the initial success of the television show Twin Peaks, circa the spring/fall of 1990, some pretty interesting fringe marketing popped up. I was fortunate enough to see the pilot episode the night it aired on ABC and – as unlikely as it would seem for a freshman in high school at the time – become completely infatuated with it. At the time I’d fallen into a bit of a bonding experience with my father while watching another weekly drama, CBS’s Wiseguy, which featured Ken Wahl in the lead but more interestingly a young Jonathan Banks and an even younger Kevin Spacey. The show might or might not hold up in retrospect – it’s impossible to find in tact on DVD because of some music rights that hover around the Moody Blues – but by nature of the cast alone you can see it was influential. And at the time I guess it was what my household needed. My father is an amazing man and we’re close, however close in my house probably doesn’t mean exactly what it means in other people’s homes. We’ve always had very separate lives and interests – he’s into cars and all things mechanical while for myself it’s music, literature, movies and comics. Still, we seemed to connect with serialized fiction. Maybe because early on my Dad fostered my love of the visual medium by taking me to the movies as a kid – we shared amazing theatrical experiences with Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters*. All this changed though, when I entered Junior High.

The trials and tribulations of Junior High: girls, integrating into an increasingly exclusive social strata in a town where we were probably the poorest of the denizens, friendship betrayals, etc etc ad nauseam. My Dad worked long hours on the docks of trucking companies his whole life and supplemented it with sometimes secondary gigs, so in an area where our neighbors drove Porsches and BMW’s, our ford tempo and perpetual line of second-hand mini vans were reason enough for me to be largely considered an outsider. ANYWAY, the point is as things like this made my life more difficult my father and I stopped really having any sort of interaction for a number of years. We essentially became strangers in the same house. This was alleviated a little bit in front of the television, a cultural commonality often found in that weird post-American Dream era of the 70s and 80s. In the continuing story of the Mel Profit storyline that played out in Wiseguy I watched my father enjoy himself in the characterizations Spacey brought to an eccentric gangster and Jonathan Banks to an exasperated handler of an often out-of-control undercover agent (Wahl). Although we briefly stopped speaking the same language during my adolescence, my father and I found a renewed vernacular in a paltry tv cop drama. But this particular cop drama would eventually be caught in the tide of another that slipped in almost unnoticed shortly after the Profit-era of Wiseguy came to an end.

Spring forward to, as wikipedia reminds me, April 8th that same year (1990). It was a Sunday and I was in for the night and happened to sit down in front of the tube around what was probably ~8:30 PM. My father was already settled in behind the ABC Sunday night movie and with nothing better to do I joined him. What I saw over the next approximately hour and a half left me unsettled and intrigued. The movie was about a young girl that had been murdered in a Washington state town and the ever-expanding cast of town eccentrics who seemed to stumble over one another to announce their candidacy as suspects in the killing. At the time I didn’t realize that when this movie ended in an obvious lead-in to another, forth-coming chapter, what I was walking in to was to be an on-going series. The closing image of Laura’s mother (the marvelous Grace Zabriski) waking on the couch and screaming bloody murder while having a vision of a black-gloved hand digging up the hidden charm necklace her daughter wore was enough that the following Tuesday I would be tuning back in for what I thought at the time would be the concluding chapter.

Little did I know…

By the time the first official episode of the series ended I realized that I was hooked It wasn’t until a week later though, when I tuned in a full-forty-five minutes late for the infamous second episode – thinking I was fifteen minutes early – just in time to witness with no set up whatsoever Agent Dale Cooper walk into the red room and experience his first interaction with the ‘Little Man from Another Place’, so wonderfully played by insanely gifted Michael J. Anderson, that I was completely and totally hooked on the show.

In the intervening years Twin Peaks became to me what Star Wars and Star Trek are to other nerds/aficionado. During that time I’ve ebbed and flowed with obsession over various merchandising spinoffs from David Lynch and Mark Frost’s masterpiece. For years I subscribed and avidly read Windmill publications’ Wrapped in Plastic fanzine and it was within those pages that I first became aware of some of the aforementioned fringe merchandise. Admittedly there were some things I mailed away for (pre-internet as a common place thing) however  one of those items that I never thought I would lay my hands on was the Twin Peaks Board Game. Then about a year ago my wonderful Mother-in-law found said board game at a thrift store in Defiance, Ohio and sent it to me in the mail.

Good lord.

At first glance the game is almost bafflingly difficult to comprehend. It involves a Monopoly-like board with an outer-track and an inner-track; the outer track is based on moving around the town (via the throw of a die) and interacting with various of the denizens, acquiring ‘donuts’ and suspect cards. Then there’s the inner track whose tiles are based on a repeating motif of playing cards’ icons – Ace, King, Queen, Jack, Ten and Nine. You choose a direction and move around this inner track painstakingly acquiring pieces of a ‘Pentagram Deathtrap puzzle’. The goal of the game is to be the first of the players to acquire twelve donuts, four matching suspect cards and a completed pentagram puzzle:

Oh, and I forgot to mention the Dream sequence spinner, where you have to flip to the back of the instruction book and interpret several backwards phrases in the time it takes one of the other players to count to ten.

Really?

Four of us settled in with a decent buzz and the intentions of playing the game, but after reading the instruction manual all four of us thought that the game sounded insanely complicated. Nevertheless, I must say to any others out there who happen across this game – it’s not nearly as complicated as said instructions make it sound. However, it’s also not nearly as rewarding as you might hope it would be. Or at least as rewarding as I thought it might be. Still, the game was fun and stands much as Twin Peaks itself does in the annals of pop culture – an odd anomaly amidst the seas of cookie cutter and mostly intolerable dross (especially circa 1990, before Peaks forever influenced and raised the bar for nighttime dramatic television, much as the Sopranos would do at the end of the nineties).

………………

* And some considerably less amazing experiences going to see – because it was the 80s – pretty much every single Schwarzenegger movie. Until Predator – still just a tick below Die Hard as best action movie of the action era.

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

2 Responses to Pop Culture Anomalies: The Twin Peaks Board Game
  1. Shawn C Baker

    SBaker Reply

    Thanks for the tips on Trash and R.S.V.P. – I’d never heard of those.
    The Lynchburg arc was, as I remember it, really really good and totally influenced by Twin Peaks – as so much else was at the time it was gaining heat in 90/91. I’ve looked for that arc (which, without googling it, I believe fed into the final wiseguy storyline) on dvd but wiseguy seems to be one of those infuriating shows where there’s only the early ssns on dvd – in that annoying, broken up format (Wiseguy, ssn 1, part 1, etc.). And the early seasons are NOT GOOD. Recently I believe I saw part of the Mel Profit arc on disc, but again I don’t think it’s the whole thing and 2 I think it’s really expensive (relatively speaking).
    Remember that weird obsession with Sardonicus?

  2. Jenny McPike Reply

    Did you watch Wiseguy into its third season? The Lynchburg arc bore more of a resemblance to Twin Peaks than to previous Wiseguy stories. It was lots of fun.

    Incidentally, Jonathan Banks appeared in two movies with Grace Zabriski: Trash and R.S.V.P. :)

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