I always approached a game of Buckaroo with a mixture of excitement and fear. I placed it in the same ‘that made me jump!’ category as other children’s games such as I Vant to Bite Your Finger and Operation. You would spend the whole game waiting for the exciting bit (in this case the mule kicking his back legs unexpectedly) and at the same time you’d jump out of your skin when it actually happened.
The game’s concept was simple: a plastic donkey stood on four feet in front of you wearing only a blanket. I say that the concept was simple: it was simple, but only after you’d managed to coerce the beast into standing on all four hooves; the spring mechanism was pretty sensitive and it could often take a while to persuade him.
Then, in turn, each player would try and place one of various different items onto the mule without triggering the mule’s desire to kick them all off again. First would have to be the saddle, as this had several hooks on it that enabled you to hang up other items, which could then be done in any order that you liked. Some things were easier to place than others (the hat, the rope etc.) as they were either fairly light, or had big holes that could be used to balance on the hooks. Others (the crate) were heavier and more cumbersome, so you were more likely to spring the mechanism and make the mule buck when you put it on its back.
If, when you put your piece on, the angry little donkey did decide to kick up his back legs then that was your go over. The rest of the players then set the legs down on the ground again, and carried on until there was only one person left in, or, the very unlikely scenario that all the objects had been hung without disturbing the mule’s equilibrium. In the case of the latter then the person who hung the last piece was declared the winner.
Whilst the game’s obvious draw was the ability to make you jump with its unexpected bucking, it’s unlikely that you would have considered it a high risk pursuit, isn’t it? But no, think again – in 2006 there was an apparent report of a young boy in the U.S. having to have surgery after one of the objects that was hung on the saddle flew off when the donkey kicked, hitting him in the eye.
Obviously that’s no laughing matter, but I don’t remember the force from the mule’s back legs being all that strong; either the child was sitting with his face as close to the game as he possibly could, or somebody in the house had pimped up that donkey with some kind of turbo-charged spring. Either way, I think the reaction of MB Games was a little out of proportion, given that I’ve never read about any other Buckaroo-related injuries: they discontinued the game for two years.
Despite this Buckaroo is still going strong today, although a newer version of the game has provided the donkey with three sensitivity settings, with none of them actually being all that – well, sensitive, apparently. According to many reviews on Amazon, the mule just won’t buck anymore, no matter how ham-fistedly you chuck the items on its back.
That wouldn’t please those priests from the popular Channel 4 comedy: they loved that crazy donkey…
Father Dougal: Anyway Ted, let’s play a game. Chess or Buckaroo?
Father Ted: Buckaroo – the sport of kings!