It may go too far to call “A Klingon Challenge” a “lost episode” of Star Trek: The Next Generation, however, the VCR adventure included in Decipher, Inc.’s interactive board game certainly has the pedigree. In the early 1990s, gaming companies cleverly recognized the ubiquity of VCR players in homes could be a new market for interactive games. While the adventures and instructions shown on the VCR tapes that accompanied these games stayed the same, the random and variable nature of the board game component made each play experience different. Star Trek joined the fad in 1993 when Decipher premiered their Star Trek: The Next Generation Interactive VCR board game: A Klingon Challenge. Packaged originally in a white box, the game included stickers, 12 character pieces, 56 access cards, 12 Klingon bij card (more on bij later), an imaginative playing board of the U.S.S. Enterprise 1701-D, and most importantly, a 60-minute video tape.
The tape feels like an episode, starting with special effects from episodes, and then followed by an excellent tour of the empty sets of the Enterprise. Jonathan Frakes as Commander William T. Riker provides the log entry (although only his voice is heard and he is not seen in the game). Behind-the-scenes artists gave the VCR game adventure authenticity, including makeup by the talented Michael Westmore. The 60-minute adventure is directed by one of Star Trek’s most prolific directors, Les Landau, who served as first assistant director or director on 34 episodes of The Next Generation, including “Sarek” and “Unification I,” in addition to 14 episodes of Deep Space Nine, nine Voyager episodes and the “Sleeping Dogs” episode of Enterprise.
Game players take on the role of the only Starfleet personnel on the Enterprise during its repair docking at Starbase 74 (which was featured or mentioned in several TNG episodes, most notably, “11001001”). A Klingon named Kavok takes over the Enterprise and begins the journey to Klingon homeworld where he plans to use the starship to start a Klingon and Federation war. Only by trying to obtain isolinear chips can the game players save the day! During game play, Kavok gives the players instructions and warnings in between travels through the galaxy. Of greatest concern is when Kavok barks “Experience bij!” which is Klingon for punishment, requiring players to take a card that has some kind of game play penalty.Kavok was played by Robert O’Reilly, famous for his role as Gowron. O’Reilly provides some nice differences with his portrayal to distinguish Kavok from Gowron, demonstrating his enthusiasm for Klingon culture and his talent as an actor. Gowron is more intellectual, a political character while Kavok is more aggressive. It is quite fun as Kavok demands players respond with “Yes, Captain Kavok!” and that players “Answer me!” Despite the game being released more than 20 years ago, “Experience bij!” has become a popular Internet meme.
The game also provides another example of how Star Trek products are often on the forefront of new technologies. It was Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan that became one of the first-ever VHS tapes to be released priced-to-sell to home viewers, and its success arguably helped usher in the home VHS collection era. The game shows how the technology of the era was being used inventively to make home entertainment more interactive and advanced.Playing “A Klingon Challenge” today is indeed a bit of a challenge for those without VHS players. However, it is worth enjoying again for its nostalgic and fun elements if possible. Be certain, though, to outwit Kavok so as to save the Enterprise and avoid his command to “Experience bij!”
Maria Jose and John Tenuto are both sociology professors at the College of Lake County in Grayslake, Illinois, specializing in popular culture and subculture studies. The Tenutos have conducted extensive research on the history of Star Trek, and have presented at venues such as Creation Conventions and the St. Louis Science Center. They have written for the official Star Trek Magazine and their extensive collection of Star Trek items has been featured in SFX Magazine. Their theory about the “20-Year Nostalgia Cycle” and research on Star Trek fans has been featured on WGN News, BBC Radio, and in the documentary The Force Among Us. They recently researched all known paperwork from the making of the classic episode “Space Seed” and are excited to be sharing some previously unreported information about Khan’s first adventure with fellow fans. Contact the Tenutos at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
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