Come one, come all, to the biggest minigame in the franchise! A board game for all ages! Except those ages that might be confused by it! Which is several!
Command Board is an incredibly expansive mini-game in Birth by Sleep that I feel justifies a post on its own. A lot of people are fans of the game all on its own, and for those that don’t, well… I can’t go on forever, now can I?
Screenshots in this post are by me!
Simply put, Command Board is a board game featuring characters from BBS. People seem fond of making comparisons between Command Board and Mario Party, even going so far as to call Command Board a “clone” of Mario Party. That’s always struck me as a little odd. Sure, they’re both mascot board games, but there’s a lot less in common between Command Board and Mario Party than there is between, say, Crash Team Racing and Mario Kart. The games have nothing in common but mascots and dice! We’re about two step away from calling Risk: Halo Legendary Edition a Mario Party clone at this point. But I’m being frivolous, because even if the comparison were apt, it would still be mistaken. That’s because Command Board wasn’t originally created for Birth by Sleep in the first place: it’s an Itadaki Street game, and Itadaki Street dates back to 1991. That means Mario Party can’t be a clone of Command Board, because, if anything, Mario Party is too busy being a clone of Itadaki Street.
(Personally I don’t feel Mario Party is a clone of Itadaki Street, but I wouldn’t have thought Command Board was a clone of Mario Party, so it all comes down to terms. Now if you wanted to call Itadaki Street a clone of Monopoly…)
Itadaki Street is one of Enix’s long-running franchises, and the first and so far only explicit Enix reference in all of Kingdom Hearts. Unfortunately, only a few titles from the series have ever been localized, but you may have heard of them. The series is known in North America as Fortune Street and Australia/Europe as Boom Street. Does that help put a face to it? Maybe if you slap Mario on the cover to make the Mario Party connection diamond-hard? Itadaki Street is no stranger to cross-overs, and yes, that’s included Mario and pals. Dragon Quest characters are also frequent guest-stars, and Final Fantasy fans knew of the series as late as 2004, when Final Fantasy characters were included in Dragon Quest & Final Fantasy in Itadaki Street Special on the PS2. Sadly, that too was a Japanese exclusive. That’s too bad, because the Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy crossover proved so popular that the concept has come up numerous times since, and never outside of Japan: next on the PSP in 2006, then on mobile phones in 2010! Another FF+DQ crossover has been announced for the PS4 and Vita as part of the Final Fantasy 30th Anniversary celebrations, so who knows? That one might even be localized! Anyone looking to try Fortune Street in its full form is welcome to try out the Free-to-Play Fortune Street Smart on iOS and Android.
Now mind that inspiration only goes so far. Command Board is a pared down version of Itadaki Street (which Enix did once before via the Itadaki Street minigame in the Dragon Quest 3 SNES remake), so while I encourage any fans of Command Board to seek out a copy of one of the mainline games, be cautious if you’re a fan of Command Board for its relative simplicity. The mainline games can get pretty complicated. We’ll be sticking to Command Board for the rest of this post.
Command Board is available right after the tutorial and Mark of Mastery opening sequence for all three characters, but you only have one unlocked board at the outset: the one for the Land of Departure. I covered the whens and wheres of how you unlock the other boards during Ven’s storyline, but I’ll be covering the boards themselves later in this post. The different boards allow you to win different prizes, and you even get different prizes from Command Board inside and outside of the Mirage Arena. The main draw to Command Board are its four exclusive prizes, discussed previously, which are found only outside the Arena, but on only two of its boards! Oh, and you can use Command Board at the very start of the game and trying to earn Cure, like Kyle will do every time he plays BBS. I don’t personally have the patience to mess around just trying to get silly old Cure, especially with the high chance of failure, but it’s up to you! Frankly, Command Board’s other prizes outside of the Arena don’t quite stack up, since they can usually be earned in easier ways.
(As a reminder, the four unique prizes are two Shotlocks, the Renewal Block/Barrier ability, and the Captain Justice/Dark D-Link. One of the Shotlocks can in fact be merged by Aqua and only Aqua, but it has a random chance of appearing when merging and, despite my previous complaints, Command Board is probably the faster of two mostly-random ways to acquire it.)
Command Board’s prizes in the Mirage Arena are a bit more worth your time, because you also get arena medals! In fact, the game is worth quite a few arena medals, seemingly exponential in relation to however high you set Command Board’s target score at the start of a match. The exponential returns are silly in my mind, because if you’ve beaten the AI in the time it would take you to win a short game, you’ll probably keep winning for the length of a medium or a long game. The AI might win a short game but it can’t recover from a substantial player lead! So as long as you can invest the time, you can easily reach the medal cap for a single Command Board match nearly every attempt!
A game of Command Board starts with you selecting your board, which will also determine your opponents. On most boards, there are two opponents, but some only have one. In the Land of Departure, just to give an example, your opponents are two of either Terra, Ven or Aqua – whichever two aren’t under your control at the moment. As a feature/remnant of the game’s multiplayer system, if you’re playing in the Mirage Arena, you can choose to reduce the number of opponents from two to one (supposing there was more than one in the first place), which isn’t possible in the main menu version.
The game gets started by selecting who goes first (you can always choose to go first yourself in single player, and should if you’re determined to win) and then the game begins. Each Command Board has its own special shape, usually themed. For example, the Land of Departure board – aka the “Keyblade Board” – looks like a Keyblade with a keychain on the left. One ongoing objective on any given board is to pass through all four Final Fantasy crystal-coloured squares you can find about the map. In this case, the player starts in the middle of the blade, the green square is on the keychain, the blue and yellow squares are on opposite corners of the guard, and the red square is near the tip of the blade. The player will have to choose whether to start off by going left or right.
Each checkpoint you cross rewards you you with “gold points,” and completing the circuit and returning to the golden starting square will win you even more GP, plus bonuses for various other factors. The first person to reach the target “total wealth” score set at the start of the game (which varies by board, giving the players three different possible target options at the start of the match), and then cross the golden starting square wins the game. Also, if you cross the gold square and only then earn the GP you need to win as your reward for completing a circuit, you will have to cross the gold square again, so don’t get any funny ideas!
Movement is done with a six-sided die on a normal turn. The player is able to select their path at any fork in the road, but can never reverse direction under normal circumstances. You’ll notice I keep saying “normal.” This is because there are plenty of ways to influence your results that I’ll be discussing later, so very little about basic movement is set in stone. When you finish your move, you’ll be able to (or forced to!) interact with the square you just landed on. Let’s take a look at them
First and most numerous are the differently-coloured squares with an empty circle on them. These squares exist in colour groups and have a price written on them, similar to Monopoly. Continuing our Monopoly theme, anyone landing on these squares may buy them for the amount of GP on the label, but GP alone is not enough. The player must also place a “card” on the square after buying it. The player starts with five cards and can use them to either buy squares, or in another fashion that I’ll describe down the page. Cards are only restocked as you pass the four Crystal squares or return to start, so be careful. The funniest part about cards is that they actually represent Commands from your collection in the main game. This represents one of the minigame’s bread-and-butter rewards, and the one Merlin was allegedly referring to when he said that Pooh’s book could make you stronger: Commands installed on the board gradually gain experience points (pardon me, command points) based on how long they’re in play. Generally speaking, this means from the moment they’re installed until the moment the game ends. Note that buying property doesn’t deduct from your total wealth: the cost of the property remains in your total wealth even as the GP is removed from your cash-on-hand, so your purchase doesn’t reduce your power to win the game in-and-of itself.
Should you land on a circle square that’s under another player’s control, you’ll have to play a reduced value in rent. Like in Monopoly, this rent starts out so small as to be inconsequential, but can be upgraded later in the game. In Command Board’s case, you can upgrade it by landing on your own square again, and selecting the level upgrade you want based on what you can afford, ranging from Level 1 (when first purchased) to Level 4. Landing on a checkpoint square or the gold starting square allows you to upgrade any of your owned squares, of your own choosing. This improves the rent and, if I’m not mistaken, also improves the command points earned by the command installed there. You can also improve the value of your property (and actually increase your total wealth in the process) by buying neighbouring properties of the same colour and completing a “zone,” not unlike Monopoly‘s titular monopolies.
Should you land on an opponent’s square and pay rent, you actually get an option to purchase the square out from under them in exchange for a huge price tag based on the current rent. This will reduce your total wealth (as the square is only worth a fraction of what you spent) and your opponent gets the cash, so this is rarely advisable unless you have a big plan in play (like, say, breaking or seizing a monopoly), or if you’re really intrigued by the Command they played on the slot and want it for yourself in the main game. Yes, you get to keep any Commands you buy in this fashion! This is one way that Kyle could get that early Cure spell I mentioned up the page, by the way. Thankfully, if an opponent buys a Command from you, you don’t lose it permanently, though I do believe the game stops tallying command points for it in your favour. Note that your CPU opponents play different Commands to the board if you’re playing in the Mirage Arena versus the main menu, and when I say the cards played in the Mirage Arena are “different,” please read, “worse.” This may be a desperate attempt by the devs to make the out-of-Arena version of Command Board look more valuable, but frankly these second-hand commands are so hard to acquire that I wouldn’t worry too much about them one way or another!
On top of the coloured squares with empty circles, there are also coloured squares with stars upon thars. These stars represent Commands pre-placed into the game board that can be snatched up for a moderate price (this is the other way that Kyle or some other player can get Cure at the start of the game, since Cure sometimes appears on a star square on the Keyblade Board). These star squares also hold three of Command Board’s four exclusive prizes (the two Shotlocks and the Block/Barrier command), if you visit the right boards outside the Arena. These exclusive commands annoy me. The trouble of landing on a specific square is all-but-entirely out of the player’s control, even without the fact that a CPU player might do it first. This kind of movement’s fine if you’re just playing for fun or with a human being, but when you’re trying to grab these three damnable commands, it’s just so… frustrating! I find myself desperately missing Mario Party’s “slow dice” and Dokopan Kingdom’s exact-number crystals, and I’m always relieved once I make it out of Command Board with its unique prizes. After I’ve got the prizes, I can stop being so anxious about my exact movements and just enjoy the game as the dice land.
The only major hazards on the board are sets of “Damage Panels,” which appear as flat panels in comparison to the cube-like regular squares, and are placed in clusters. These will cost the player GP to land on them. You can cross these sections safely by approaching a “Prize Cube” that begins positioned on one edge of the cluster. Any movement across the Prize Cube will cause the cube to roll in that direction, even if it means stealing the cube from someone who is already using it, dumping them straight onto the Damage Panels below! Any GP paid to the Damage Panels is sent to their associated Prize Cube, which already contains a few GP of its own. If the players continue to use the Prize Cube, it will harmlessly collapse after it’s moved a given number of squares and reward the moving player with the whole piñata, before spawning a new Prize Cube with the original, starting kitty.
There are two other remaining squares: one is important and complicated, and one is so easy to forget that I nearly did when writing this Retrospective! We’ll start with the latter, since it’s much simpler, and also because it’s so trifling that I may forget about it again if I so much as pause for a glass of water. We’re talking about the GP Booster Panel, a black square marked with an arrow and a percentage readout that starts at 1%. There are very few of these on any given board, but once passed over, the percentage on the square rises until it reaches a set maximum. Should someone land on the square, the game will boost all costs and rewards across the board by the percentage written on the GP Booster Panel at the time. At this point, the GP Booster Panel will reset to 1%. This… honestly isn’t anywhere near as relevant as it might sound, and is unlikely to actually affect so much as a single roll, much less the outcome of the game. I can’t be certain whether or not the GP Booster Panel actually exists in Itadaki Street, but I suspect it may have been designed for Itadaki Street all the same. This is because Itadaki Street uses much smaller numbers than Command Board, meaning inflation of 1-10% could be earth-shattering. Command Board, meanwhile, has 1000% inflation over Itadaki Street from the get-go (no joke!) which means that changes of 1-10% aren’t going to rock anyone’s world.
The last square on the board is the Special Square, which serves an entirely different function on (nearly) every board. The only thing Special Squares have in common is their ability to summon Captain Justice or Captain Dark after the player has cleared Disney Town in their story file (I’m not clear on what happens if a PSP player who hasn’t cleared Disney Town plays multiplayer with someone who has – anyone have any info?). Captains J and D appear randomly, overriding the usual Special Square results (although only one of them can be on the board at a time). Once they’re summoned, they latch on to their summoner and then follow them around as they move. Typically, they appear in the square directly behind the player they are following, but if someone passes through the Captain’s companion’s square, Justice/Dark will capriciously hop ship to that new player! Playing to type, Captain Justice tries to do good deeds while Captain Dark does evil deeds. They may reward or take away GP, respectively, and they’re also able to buy the square that they end their turn on (the Captain, that is, not the controlling player), even if that means buying it from other players! This might sound like a Captain Justice-exclusive action, and yes, Justice will pay out of his own pocket and even place his own Command for you, but it’s not exclusive! Dark will do the same… at a dramatically increased price, straight out of the player’s wallet! Oh, and to repeat what I’ve said in previous posts: seeing one of them appear outside of the Arena (not even necessarily on your player) gives you a seemingly-random chance of gaining their combined D-Link.
That covers most of the game’s basics, but there’s one feature we have to cover before we move on to the individual boards: the cards themselves. You might have wondered why your Commands are called “cards” in this game when they could have simply been called “Commands.” This is because they’re not just here to be installed into the board, but also to be played “from your hand” to influence the game. Commands are generalized into their new form as cards: all physical attacks become “Attack Cards,” all magic becomes “Magic Cards,” and absolutely everything else (Blocks, Jumps, Shotlocks) become “Miscellaneous Cards” You can also occasionally win “Joker” cards when refuelling your cards at checkpoints and the gold starting square, which cannot be placed on tiles but serve a special purpose in your hand. Each one of these card types has their own power, and you can play them at the start of your turn, on their own or in special combinations, to fuck with the rules a bit. The powerups from cards include the ability to cost other players their turns, choose your direction at the start of your turn instead of continuing in the current direction, and my personal favourite, rolling lots and lots of dice. You can also use Jokers to get random results, including the rare odds of capturing free panels or even free zones! Yeah, that’s not going to happen. Honestly, there are a lot of times I’d rather just get another Magic card than a Joker, so that I can use Two Dice.
Strangely, most AI players do not play their cards, even though it clearly puts them at a disadvantage. They will only play Joker cards (and as soon as they get them) because Joker cards cannot be installed to panel and so serve no other purpose but to be played from the hand, and might overwhelm the AI’s deck if they weren’t disposed of!
Some general comments. While Itadaki Street (like Monopoly) is all about property ownership, with the concept of circuiting the board as a mild bonus meant to keep the economy stirring, a short game of Command Board will always come down to completing circuits. Thus my love of cards that let you play extra dice! It takes a long game (with a high GP target) for property ownership to even factor in! It’s hard for me to say why property ownership falls so far by the wayside, but I can make a few observations. Firstly it has to do with the AI being too simplistic to challenge you to a circuit race, but it may also have to do with features removed from Itadaki Street, like the stock market. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’ve never, ever lost a game of Command Board against the AI when I simply tried to run in circles between the checkpoints, and that’s disappointing… if something of a relief while trying to clear the Command Board challenges for three characters in a row!
Yeah, about that. Because of BBS’ absurd requirements for a completed Journal/Report, you have to clear the same Command Board requirements for every character if you want the associated rewards, even though there’s no gameplay difference between them. I did it on the PSP, as part of the Standard difficulty secret ending requirements. As a result, I’ve played Command Board for more hours than I have entire, completed video games, and even if I do like it, I still say shame on the developers for forcing it down the throats of anyone going for 100% in BBS, or even the 95% that completing the Journal represents.
Okay, that’s it for the rules, so let’s cover the individual boards and get on with the regular game.
The Keyblade Board, available at the start of the game, isn’t a bad place to farm Cure, though you may have to wait for one of your opponents to drop it, as it only has a 20% chance of showing up on one of the star squares. Still, if you’re willing to put in the effort, having Cure is better than going without, right? The map is fundamentally composed of three short loops, making it very easy to land on a square of your choosing, and it’s even easier to once you realize that the board’s Special Squares allow you to move to any square of your choosing via a Keyblade Glider. This makes Ragnarok, the exclusive Shotlock held in one corner of the map, the easiest Command Board-exclusives to collect, although “easy” is relative. This short map also makes it easy to win simply by playing Two Dice and Three Dice from your hand. Sure, that’s true of nearly every board, it’s just especially true here.
The Castle of Dreams’ “Royal Board” is shaped like a glass slipper, meaning it’s all one loop except for a buckle in the upper middle, which is entirely optional and composed of Damage Squares to boot. Why would you ever go there, you ask? Mostly because that’s where they keep the quasi-exclusive Meteor Shower Command, of course! (You’ll probably never go there in an actual, competitive game of Command Board.) It’s also helpful if you’re trying to get the exclusive Focus Block command kept near the toe of the slipper, but only a little. If you’re actually trying to defeat Cinderella, your only opponent on this board, it’ll be a piece of cake since there’s literally no strategy to the board but walking around with as many dice as possible, and Cinderella can’t play cards to get extra dice! This might even be a better beginner board than the Keyblade Board, even if it doesn’t serve as a great introduction to the games’ many mechanics. The Special Square here causes the Fairy Godmother to give free GP, more specifically a fresh die roll times 200 GP. Fun fact: I’m fairly sure that Cinderella can appear here in any of her three costumes (the wiki says only two, but I think I’ve seen all three?), though it has no effect on gameplay.
The next board… well, actually, in the menu, the next board is the one from Deep Space, and I have no idea why! The next board you’ll unlock in story order is the optional 100 Acre Wood “Honey Pot Board.” You guessed it: it’s shaped like a hunny pot, with danger squares on the top to represent the honey dripping down. Sweets are bad for you, but apparently not in the way you expected! While you can do a full loop of the jar to hit all the checkpoints, it’s tricky because it means encountering nearly every damage square on the board. There’s also only one Prize Block on the route, so it won’t always be waiting for you. The other Prize Block has been inconveniently shoved into the middle of the map where no one would visit unless they’re trying to resolve the situation, or if they’re temped by a crop of star squares, most of them aren’t even worth it (exactly one is interesting for Terra, and there’s one that’s okay for Ven, but both can also be achieved through synthesis and there’s nothing for Aqua players). There’s also a “teleporter” (an arbitrary, direct connection between two squares connected by a line of light) in the middle if you really need to navigate the prize blocks. In short, the board is complicated but doesn’t need to be if you’re playing to win.
Complicating the Hunny Pot Board even further are your opponents: Winnie the Pooh, who is the same as all previous opponents, and Tigger, who has the rare ability to actually use card combos even though he’s an AI! This is even more dangerous than it sounds, and makes the Honey Pot Board one of the harder boards to clear against the AI! If you’re not feeling up to it, you can remove him from the game in the Mirage Arena, since he’s Player 3. On the plus side, Tigger occasionally plays High Jump panels to the board, which you can steal as Terra to get the move a teensy bit early, but not so early that it really impacts the main game.
The Special Square on the Honey Pot board involves Rabbit, who loses some honey pots around the board (Rabbit gets to appear in the character section of the Report for this brief appearance!). These will wait until collected or until the next Special Square is triggered. Some are hunny pots are normal and are worth GP, while others have bees and will cost you GP. They can also land directly on players’ heads while deployed, at which point you automatically collect the bonus, but I’ve only ever seen that happen with hunny and not bees.
Next up is the “Toon Board,” the native board of Disney Town. It looks like a stubby ice cream cone, which has tons of alternate paths you probably won’t take since they only get in the way of your attempt to complete a circuit! You’re only likely to take one if it’s short and would lead you to a Special Square or away from a Danger Square, and I personally wouldn’t. Thankfully, the AI’s sure happy to waste time on these bad paths. Your opponents here are Queen Minnie and a randomized selection of either Captain Justice or Dark. You can’t get the Captains to spawn as bonus characters from the Special Squares if they’re already opponents (i.e., they only appear on this board if you’re in the Arena and only playing against Minnie), which means that you ironically can’t recruit the Captains as D-Links from their home board! Yes, you could kick “Player 3” out of the board in the arena, but you can’t get the D-Link from the Arena to begin with!
The Special Squares on the Toon Board here launch a fireworks show that gives you free GP, specifically 200 plus 200 for every panel you own. That makes this a good board for someone who actually wants to play the territory game instead of the racing game.
Next up we actually get to the Deep Space “Spaceship Board,” which does vaguely resemble on of Lilo and Stitch’s smaller attack ships. This is also the only board that I consider genuinely well-designed instead of simply… shaped like something. Essentially, it’s made up of an outer border with a loop in the middle, the loop mostly made up of Damage Squares, but this time the Damage Squares surround a checkpoint, so you can’t reasonably skip it! Your opponents here are Experiment 626 and Gantu. Special Squares on this map call Experiment 221 (Sparky) to the scene to give the player a helpful electric shield that will last for a few turns and can be used to steal GP from another player by passing over their current square. One of my two favourite boards.
That’s all the regular boards in the Japanese Vanilla, but the International release added a Neverland-themed “Skull Board.” Like the Spaceship Board, this features an outer and an inner loop (two inner loops, in this case), both mandatory. There are a few other nice touches like a loop at the bottom of the board that includes a checkpoint, but you might want to skip it temporarily to get to a Special Square! You might, but you probably won’t, because the Special Square simply allows you to move an opponent to another space. This is generally a waste of time against the AI, since mobility on this board is so high and the AI doesn’t have any grand plans for you to upset. But against human players, who knows? Unfortunately, while you can face off against both Peter Pan and Hook here, Peter can use card combos like Tigger, and unlike Tigger you can’t remove Peter as an opponent because he’s the designated Player 2!
The last board in all versions of the game is the “Secret Board,” unlocked once you’ve won a game on every other board (thankfully, both Arena and non-Arena games count towards this). The Secret Board is easily the most complex board in the game, made to look like Eraqus’ symbol on a slant. The Board is full of cross-paths and alternate routes, including some long Danger Square paths you’ll have to take to get to the yellow checkpoint. My other favourite board. Your opponents are once again your characters’ siblings (I’m a little, but only a little disappointed that they weren’t given an AI increase to use card combos to make this a better final challenge) and the Special Square is the Keyblade Glider power from the Keyblade board. Good luck with this one! Once it’s done, you’ve finished the minigame at last… assuming you’ve got all the prizes out of the Arena and also won in the Arena to unlock all the Arena’s prizes, and then…