Zathura: Adventure is Waiting is a board game based on a movie based on a board game (adapted from a book). What a great sentence. It was written as a sequel to the much better-known Jumanji.
The 2005 movie Zathura: A Space Adventure did reasonably well with critics. However, without the charm of Robin Williams as a powerhouse, it faded into obscurity.
It was directed by Jon Favreau (now of The Mandalorian fame), and Frank Oz voices a giant killer Robot which also features in the game.
If you’ve watched the movie, you will likely enjoy this game more because of the nostalgia. Zathura could be described as a basic movement spinning game very much aimed at children – and it’s much more interesting if you appreciate the nods and easter eggs to the movie or the book.
Zathura: the book, the movie, and its game
Do I need to put a spoiler warning for an almost twenty-year-old movie for kids? Well, if so, just jump down to the next section.
Fingers crossed! Hopefully, playing this game doesn’t mean your house is destroyed by meteors and Zorgons. Also, the closest we got to a cryogenic sleep was an ice cream break.
Also, the movie’s conclusion always has me chuckling regarding this board game. Walter goes back in time to put it in the bin; not really the advert you want for your film merchandise!
Before you Begin
- Number of players: 2 to 4
- Time: 30 to 45 mins
You move by spinning the spinner on the console. Then, move that many spaces along the board.
At a fundamental level, that’s… it.
The aim is to reach the planet Zathura before your house is destroyed.
If you have yet to see the movie, you might be confused that this isn’t a spacecraft for a sci-fi-based game. In the film, the two boys start playing the game before the same events start happening in real life.
If I remember correctly, the first card drawn is “Meteor Showers – Attempt to Navigate”. These then crash through the house they’re playing in. Again, I can’t emphasize enough how much more you will enjoy the game if you found the film fun. Otherwise, it will feel like glorified Snakes and Ladders with a slightly cool 3D board.
Who is Zathura for?
Zathura is pretty basic. I recommend it as a family game.
However, I don’t suggest playing it with children too young (let’s say less than seven years old). They might enjoy the theme, but the frustrating nature of the Robot moving you back fairly often may flare tempers.
Maybe adapt the Robot so it’s more lenient. Or perhaps play a better game for children, such as Dutch Blitz?
What’s in the Box?
The game contains multiple pieces, as follows:
- 1 Planet Zathura
- 1 Bridge piece
- 1 Tsouris-3 piece
- 1 Robot piece
- 1 Console
- 4 spaceship pieces
- 55 order cards
- 8 defense tokens
- 1 asteroid game die
- 8-piece house puzzle
How to Set Zathura Up
On set up, place the game board down and put the planet Zathura in its place, as well as the bridge, Tsouris-3, and the console. These make up the 3D elements of the board.
Place the Robot on its track. Mix the defense tokens and place them on every space with a Z, with the Z-side up.
These tokens are collected when landed on and can be played at any point. This may be necessary to prevent a hazard for another player to avoid the house being destroyed.
Mix the order cards face down (Z-side up). And place them in the console.
Put the eight pieces of the house together next to the board. Each player moves along their board with a correlating spaceship.
How to Play Zathura
To move, you spin a little spinner on the left-hand side of the console. This will give you a number between 1 and 9, and you move that many spaces forward. Simple.
After moving your spaceship, turn the console’s key and press GO. It should spit out one Order card (it’s old and not particularly good, so often, it’ll disperse multiple…). That card must be resolved before your turn is ended.
These Order cards can be positive or negative. They might be an “attempt to navigate” card – like the meteor showers card mentioned above. When this card is drawn, the asteroid die is rolled depending on the color of the space you’re on.
If the space is white, you only roll the dice; if blue, you may pick another player. If the spot is red, all players roll. You only need one player to roll “Safe” on the dice for the house to not be damaged. If this fails, remove a piece of the house and discard it.
You may also draw a Zorgon card. These cards destroy a piece of the house if no one plays a “Fire” or “Astronaut” defense token. If you don’t play one of these and someone else plays one for you instead, they get to swap places with you on the board.
The cards are often straightforward and may tell you to move a space forward, a few spaces backward, or even to the frontmost position.
The cards you are most likely to receive are Robot cards. I feel there are too many in the pack, which probably results in the relatively long playing time.
If you don’t have a Reprogram card, move back five spaces. If you do, the Robot moves back to its original space instead. If you spin and land on the Robot, you must move back five spaces and cannot collect any tokens that may be under the Robot at the time.
Suppose the Robot is sent back to a space occupied by another player. In that case, it must be placed on the next available (unoccupied by any player) space behind them.
There are a couple other special spaces on the board. There is Tsouris-3, where if you land in it or get too close, you must wait until another player spins an even number, and then you can escape. There are also two shooting star spaces. Landing on one of these allows you to move to the front of the fleet.
At the end of the game, you have to spin the planet Zathura to try to line up the orange dot with the spaceship. If you fail to do so, you take an order card, which can destroy a piece of the house or move you backward.
Are There Any Tactics to Zathura?
I’ll try to be kind here… but only after being brutally honest. No. There are no tactics other than remembering your defense tokens and getting good at controlling the spinner.
You might argue that there are… sort of… tactics. Spin high? Avoid hazards as best as you can (although there isn’t anything you can do, really). The best tactics you have are knowing when to play your defense tokens and hoping you get lucky!
You need to be able to accurately revolve Zathura at the end to win too, so if you really wanted to dominate the competition, you could practice spinning so you always line up that orange dot with your spaceship – but that would probably be a little try-hardy. You might do better investing your time in doing literally anything more useful.
Tips to Know in Advance
A lot of the game is out of your control. It’s chance-based more than anything. So, in short, don’t worry about anything too much.
Your most valuable resource is your defense tokens. They’re worth holding onto and playing strategically.
As you only need one part of the house intact to win the game, you could chance it and let more of the house be destroyed and hold onto your Fire or Astronaut token to be able to swap places with a leading player.
The console can be a little temperamental in distributing the cards. However, it’s still much more fun having the cards in it and pushing the button rather than just having them as a stack on the side like any other game.
In summary, I’d say it’s all about being immersed in the game – even if your bike isn’t going to suddenly disappear into outer space or your older sister gets cryogenically frozen (super creepy).
Zathura Alternatives You Might Like
- Number of players: 2 to 4
- Time: 20 to 35 minutes
I would be surprised if you’ve heard of Zathura but not Jumanji.
Jumanji is another basic game, and, again, it’s vastly more enjoyable with the family if you watched the movies.
I find Jumanji more straightforward, but you have the same element of needing to keep everyone alive for the game to continue. The fundamental objective is to get to the end, solving the riddles and puzzles along the way. Simple.
As far as I’m aware, there are two versions of the game: one that came out with the original 1995 film and the other that came out with the more recent 2017 movie. The original is definitely simpler.
Selfish (Space or Star Wars editions)
- Number of players: 2 to 5
- Time: 15 to 25 minutes
If you want a nice, family-friendly space-based game where you deal with asteroids, oxygen levels, and other issues, all while competing against other players, Selfish is excellent.
I recommend the Space or Star Wars Editions, especially if you enjoy Zathura – they follow similar themes. We picked the Star Wars version up in the supermarket one evening and found it great to whip out for a quick round or two.
- Number of players: 2 to 4
- Time: 30 minutes
If you enjoy a tactile 3D-type game to play with the kids, Mousetrap is a classic. It has a Rube Goldberg-esque building element to the game as you try to catch the other player’s mice.
Again, it’s not overly complicated – but that’s the point. All of these are for family fun rather than sitting down and strategizing to destroy your enemies.
Although sometimes it’s good for kids to learn to lose…
Snakes and Ladders (Chutes and Ladders)
- Number of players: 2 to 6
- Time: 15 to 35 minutes (depending on chance)
C’mon. You know Snakes and Ladders. (This is one case where I agree that the American version, Chutes and Ladders, makes substantially more sense. No idea where snakes came from.)
Roll the die or dice and move that number of spaces forward. Land on a ladder’s bottom rung and move up it; land on a snake’s head and move to the tail.
We all know the game. Playing with competitive people like Lucy can be just as tense and enjoyable.
If you want to make the game more intense, add some house rules. For example, if you land on the same space as another player, knock them back to the start.
You could need to roll a 6 to start; maybe you get to go again if you roll a 6. Perhaps you have to have the exact number to finish. And so on and so forth.
For a game based on a movie, it’s faithful to the film version. There’s also a slightly cooperative element because, as competitive as it is, you must work together to keep the house pieces.
There’s no specific strategic element to Zathura. It’s more of a family game and is thus easy to pick up and play. Otherwise, as stated in my article, I find little to it. You might play it once or twice, but unless your kids are big fans of the films, I can’t see it being something you get out every Saturday.
Still, if you want a leisurely family game that’ll cause fewer upsets than Monopoly and isn’t anywhere near as tedious, and you see it going for a low price, go for it. Oh, right, yes. Don’t waste your hard-earned cash on a sealed, new version unless you’re a game collector. Just buy pre-owned.
(Approximate prices are in the FAQs below!)
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: When does the Robot move in Zathura?
Answer: The Robot moves when a card is drawn from the console. These typically say how many spaces it moves. Otherwise, the Robot stays where it is.
Question: How much does Zathura cost?
Answer: The best options I found were second-hand boxes on eBay. These tend to come in at between $25 and $40. Make sure you check the description explicitly states that all the pieces are there!
Collectors’ editions might be sealed and easily top $200. So they’re a bit too expensive for my taste!
Question: Isn’t Zathura a Black Hole, not a Planet?
Answer: In the book and film, that’s what it turns out to be – but the premise was always to just get to Zathura with the suggestion it’s a planet. Of course, there’s then the twist at the end in that you go back in time and never play it anyway.
So, yes! – but oh well.
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