Atari: Centipede

Hurry! Slide right, take out the centipede head, spawn a mushroom, dodge the spider. All you wanted was a tasty mushroom snack and here you are fighting for your life against an evil centipede giant. Where did this thing even come from? Ol' well, such is the life of a hungry gnome.
Synopsis: In Centipede, two or four players take on the roles of the centipede and the gnome and fight it out in an epic duel to the death. The gnome tries to eliminate all the centipede segments with clever dice drafting, while the centipede attempts to reach the gnome using cunning card play and bug movement. Who will prevail and gain control of the enchanted forest?

Designers: Anthony Amato, Jonathan Gilmour, Nicole Kline

Artist: Jamie Keddie

Publisher: IDW Games

Player Count: Centipede plays 2 or 4 players. In 2 players, one player plays the centipede and the other plays the gnome. In 4 players, two teams of two players are formed, each consisting of a gnome and a centipede. This review will primarily focus on the 2 player game.

Game Length: 30 minutes
To start, the board is placed in-between the players, and players seed the board with mushrooms by taking turns placing three mushrooms at a time. When seeding, mushrooms must be placed in-between the dotted lines and no more than three mushrooms can be placed in a column. After placement, three mushrooms are left over.

If players do not want to seed the board, a designer recommended setup (shown below) can be used, which is meant to balance the sides.

After mushroom placement, the players decide who will play the centipede and who will play the gnome.

The centipede player's goal is to reach the gnome movement area with the centipede, or to move a spider or flea to the square immediately above the gnome. The gnome player's goal is to destroy the centipede. If there are no centipede segments on the board, the gnome wins.

The gnome choses which side they want their gnome to claim, places their gnome piece on any space in the gnome movement area (colored squares), takes the gnome control cards, and rolls the gnome dice. The centipede moves their six-length centipede onto the board (movement described below) and draws a hand of 3 cards out of the centipede cards. The gnome takes the first turn.
Gnome Play
The gnome uses dice drafting to move and fire at the bugs. To start, the gnome player has six dice in their dice pool. On their turn, the gnome choose one die, removes it from the pool, and executes the actions shown on the die from left to right. If there is only one die left in the dice pool at the start of the gnome's turn, all the dice are re-rolled before the gnome chooses which one to play. The actions are as follows:
  • Move the gnome: When moving, the gnome must use the full movement if possible. Moving to the edge of the board ends the gnome's movement. If the gnome is already at the far edge of the board, they must move away from the wall.

  • Fire the magic wand: When shooting, the gnome fires upward in a straight line and destroys whatever it hits. If the gnome destroys a bug, the piece is replaced by mushroom.

  • Recharge a gnome control card: Gnome control cards can be used during the gnome turn and consist of the following actions: refresh the dice pool, fire the magic wand, move one space, and remove one mushroom. After a gnome control card is used, it is flipped over and cannot be used again until it is refreshed. A card can be refreshed using the die symbol or a single card can be refreshed if no cards were used that turn.

Centipede Play
On the centipede's turn, the centipede player plays a card, moves their bugs, and then draws one card. The card actions are as follows:
  • Mushroom: Place a mushroom on the board or remove a mushroom from the board.

  • Berserk: After moving the centipede, move it two spaces straight down towards the gnome. Note: the centipede cannot move past the dotted line with this card (see designer forum post).

  • Spider: Spawn a spider on an edge of the board. The spider does not move its first turn.

  • Flea: Spawn a flea on the centipede side of the board.

  • Baby Centipede: Spawn a one length centipede.

  • Centipede: Spawn a new centipede using all the destroyed centipede segments. This card is not discarded but instead placed to the side to add +1 speed to all bug movements.

After selecting a card, the centipede player moves their bugs. Bugs can be moved in any order and follow these rules:
  • Centipede: The centipede's speed is based on its length, and it moves in a raster pattern down the board. The centipede will move in a horizontal line until hitting an object; at that time, it will move down a row and turn in the opposite direction. If there happens to be a mushroom or bug in the square the centipede is trying to move down into, that object is destroyed. A new centipede will always move 6 spaces on its first turn regardless of the length.

  • Spider: The spider can move vertically or diagonally, up to 9 spaces. A spider cannot move through bugs, and it destroys any mushrooms it moves through.

  • Flea: The flea moves 2 spaces straight down. The flea destroys any object in its path, and leaves behind a mushroom when it exits a square.

Game End
Players alternate turns until the centipede gobbles up the gnome or the gnome blasts the pesky centipede into oblivion.
4 Player Version
When playing with 4 players, the players form two teams, each consisting of a gnome and a centipede. The centipede players each have their own deck of cards, but the gnomes share the dice pool. The first team to destroy the other team's centipede or reach the other team's gnome wins the game.
My Opinion
What I Like
The Asymmetry: The centipede and gnome are completely different in both mechanics and feel. There really isn't any overlap in how each side plays, and I love that. It's kind of like you are getting two games in one, depending on which side you play. The gnome has the sweet control cards, which can be used to cleverly surprise the centipede, but good play with the bugs by the centipede can feel super rewarding.
The Tension: As the gnome, you feel your heartbeat rise the closer the centipde gets to you. As the centipede, you feel the taste of victory (and gnome) slip through your fingers with each segment destroyed. The tension is real and tangible, which is awesome.
The Look and Feel: This is the original Centipede through and through. It looks great from the cover art to the pixelated game pieces, and playing it gives me the same feeling as rocking the trackball of Atari's Centipede. On top of that, my copy came with this super sweet patch!
What I Dislike
The Balance: Maybe this is to be expected because the arcade game is super hard, but the centipede seems a bit stronger and more likely to win. The centipede has some really powerful cards (Berserk) and essentially has three lives. This doesn't stop me from playing, but it's good to know going in to the game.
The Setup: I personally don't love games where the setup is part of the game, and setup has a very large role in the outcome of Centipede. I prefer jumping straight into the meat of the game rather than spending time mucking with the setup. In Centipede, an advantageous setup can find the centipede halfway down the board in the first few turns. I prefer to play with the designer recommended setup.
Final Thoughts
Centipede is an enjoyable thematic game, which is an abstract at its heart. I believe that classic arcade lovers and gamers alike will find something to enjoy in Centipede. This is the first game in IDW's Atari line, which includes Missile Command and Asteroids, and I'm excited to see where they go with the next games.