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Remembering The Omega Virus

By: onipar

I’ve struggled with how to start this article. How best to talk about The Omega Virus, a board game I had limited experience with and even less background knowledge of? I considered writing a full history of the game—from conception to demise—but only sparse bits are floating in the digital landscape. Scattered breadcrumbs, like The Omega Virus was created by Michael Gray (known for other popular games Mall Madness and Dream Phone, among others). Or that the game was first released in 1992 by Milton Bradley. These are interesting facts, but not enough upon which to build a complete retrospective.

Instead I’ll go back to the beginning of my personal obsession with this game, when my parents gave it to me as a Christmas present, and I fell in love with the design.

The element that first drew me in was the instruction manual, which the designers presented as a deluxe comic book (see the full manual pdf here). Each page was another link in the background story, while also teaching you how to play. Of course the gameboard itself is beautifully designed as well. And if the electronic element wasn’t amazing enough, players could physically connect weapons to their figures and collect access cards as the game progressed. Needless to say, the talking board game immediately became a favorite, despite the gnawing realization that we simply could not figure out the correct way to play it.

The game was notoriously difficult to keep up with. The talking element continued to taunt, “You human scum!” and “You fools!” as we fumbled around the many rooms, awkwardly attempting to type in various codes. It’s not that the premise was hard to understand (essentially you had to gather all of the weapons, find the virus, and destroy it), but in practice the gameplay was fast-paced and unlike anything we’d ever before experienced. If you weren’t quick enough, “sectors” would start to shut down, locking you out from rooms. And all the while the game laughed at your ineptitude. I remember stumbling about the board with my spaceman, trying to figure out where I was supposed to go as the electronic voice of the virus repeated insults and alarms blared. You’d think a kid with hundreds of video game hours under his belt could easily navigate a simple board game.

Although gameplay was a struggle, we all agreed it was the best game we’d ever played. I have only fond memories of it, which is why—years later—I was shocked to discover the game missing from my vast retro archives. As I’d written in “The Things We’ve Lost,” I still don’t know what happened to my original copy. Sold at a yard sale? Thrown in the garbage? Loaned out to a friend and never returned? I’ll never know.

And now, I don’t care. Because after years of wonder, and years of regret, I finally pulled the trigger on purchasing a copy online. Over the holidays, as I struggled to find gifts for my family, I happened upon an incredibly cheap copy of The Omega Virus on Mercari. The price was less than half of what I usually see complete versions of the game go for, so I jumped at the chance and now (again) own a working and complete copy of The Omega Virus. It turns out, sometimes, the things we’ve lost can find their way home.

The good news doesn’t end there. While researching for this article, I discovered that Restoration Games is planning a rerelease of The Omega Virus in the near future (as they have with Fireball Mountain and others). They even have a mini game (called Omega Virus Prologue) set to release before the launch of the full restoration. Even with the original game safely in my hands, I plan to purchase both the prologue and the full remake.

Unsurprisingly, besides checking to make sure everything works, I have not yet played The Omega Virus again. Do I avoid gameplay due to late onset PTSD? Or perhaps I’m afraid the game won’t live up to my fond memories. Whatever my hesitation, I know soon I will break out the oversized board, pop batteries into the central electronic component, and once again face off against The Omega Virus.

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onipar Posted on Jan 22, 2022 at 02:54 PM

Huh, Robo Force. Go figure. :-p Yeah, it's always nice to have some cheaper options for collectibles, although so often even the newer versions end up being highly sought after due to production limits and scalpers. A never ending cycle.

Vaporman87 Posted on Jan 20, 2022 at 09:50 PM

That's awesome that there is a restored new version being released. It seems there are several companies out there buying up retro properties that were maybe not large scale hits, but have enough of a following to warrant new merch. I recently saw that the folks behind the "Toys That Made Us" series are rereleasing Robo Force? I rest my case. LOL

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