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Game casts a spell on Harry Potter fans
Sure, you know your muggles from your Malfoys, maybe even your McGonagalls from your Mad-Eye Moodys.
You remember when Michael Gambon replaced Richard Harris as Dumbledore.
You've read the six books and seen the five movies, at least by this weekend (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix opened Wednesday; the seventh and final novel comes out July 21).
But do you really know Potterworld? Can you conjure up the various spells or remember the names of all the myriad characters introduced in J.K. Rowling's wizardly universe?
Do you know the other credits of the actors playing those characters? Could you ID director Chris Columbus' daughter (she had a cameo in one film) in a police line-up?
The best way to test the depths of your wizardry is the new Harry Potter: Scene It? The DVD Game (2nd Edition $34.95, Mattel). It's an elaborate, moderately complex board game with a fun DVD element. Clips and images from the movies are the backbone of many a question in this entertaining test of Potteriana.
It's for two to four players, or "teams," so to test it out, I rounded up Harry-happy neighbors Debbie and Rachel, and Missus Movie Critic, Katy, a serious Harry-head, for an hourlong contest that stretched to an hour and a half. (Me? I've seen all the movies, read only a bit of one of the books, not my bag.) We might still be playing if we hadn't broken the rules and gambled all on an "All Play" finale.
The verdict? Like the books and the movies, the game is a page-turner, with detailed clutter passing for complexity. But it's also quite fun.
The game pieces are straight from Potter-lore -- a Goblet of Fire, the Knight Bus, the Durmstrang sailing ship and The Mirror of Erised. You roll two dice -- one six-sided, one eight-sided -- and advance along a folding "Flextime" board that expands out for "long" and folds down for "short" versions of the game.
Load the disc in your DVD player, try to catch the many instructions in the tutorial (repeated, in print, in the instructions), set the DVD timer function (the disc counts down the seconds you have to answer a question), and you're off.
Something becomes instantly obvious. Advancing down the board isn't all that hard. You keep moving forward with the dice, even if you have trouble answering questions. Answering correctly, though, lets you take more turns and zip across the squares.
You, of course, get to decide how much slack you cut those competing against you. If you're a stickler, you won't allow somebody who yells out "Margaret Cho!" when they see Harry's sometime girlfriend Cho Chang pop up on the screen. We did.
As in Monopoly, you have cards that could reward or penalize you at various spaces on the board ("House Points," they're called).
"The fellow Hogwarts Student you've had your eye on is standing under some mistletoe, smiling at you. Smile back and move forward three spaces."
These cards can also cost you a turn, or allow you to cost a fellow player a turn. Floo Powder squares (named for a magical travel-assisting powder) double your moves.
You draw a card and answer a question determined by what symbol has rolled on the six-sided die. The questions range from absurdly easy ("Who wrote the books on which Harry Potter is based?") to downright mean ("Who is older, Daniel Radcliffe, who plays Harry Potter in the films, or Tom Felton, who plays Draco Malfoy?").
When you roll the "All Play" or "My Play" symbol on the six-sided die on a turn, and the real tests start. "Who is missing from this scene?" "Unscramble these (shifting) letters to form the name of a character." "What is the name of this charm or spell?"
Potter book-smart Katy has an almost unfair advantage. She blurts out answers, when she knows them, even if it isn't her turn, the know-it-all.
But when "All Play" comes up, the person who shouts out the correct solution first gets credit. In some "All Play" questions, you wait for an image to materialize to name a character -- easy ones, such as reporter Rita Skeeter, or the girl Harry took to the big dance, Parvati Patil.
I discover that knowing actor Alan Rickman's name and not his character's is no help. Knowing the filmography of actors Warwick Davis, Maggie Smith and Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley) is.
Skill at Wheel of Fortune-style phrase decoding is a must.
But while any muggle over the age of 8 knows "What country" most of the movies are filmed in, not everybody's going to remember "Who is the ghost of Hufflepuff House?" (The fat friar.)
Despite all odds, I somehow win the race to the "Final Cut" circle, where one must answer a combination of questions to win the game. I don't. I keep hitting the wall. The DVD keeps throwing me curves.
"Why do we keep going back here?" Maddie, our 7-year-old, wants to know. It's because of questions such as "In the film Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, what does the Riddle Gardener mutter when he sees a light turned on in he Riddle House?" Sadists.
Eventually, all of the players in our trial run advance to the same "Final Cut" circle. And eventually, of course, the one who has read and reread the J.K. Rowling novels pulls out the win.
But, hey, anybody who remembers which page "Professor Snape first asks his Defense Against the Dark Arts class to turn to?" (394) after six-soon-to-be-seven novels, and twelve-and-a-half hours of film deserves a pat on the back. And maybe an extra serving of butterbeer, come supper.