An occasional column in which Lou Harry gets his game on with film-related tabletop titles.
In spite of being a board game hobbyist and a film buff, I’ve usually avoided the merger of the two.
Sure, there are some great Star Wars and other licensed games out there. But too often a film’s tabletop-game spinoff is just a quick effort to cash in, sometimes with just a cosmetic tweak of an older game. (I’m looking at you, Jurassic World Uno and Toy Story 4 Kerplunk.)
Yet some games, aimed beyond just the kid market, actually translate the feeling of the film to the interactive medium of board games.
Here, and in future columns, I want to highlight some of these games, assessing their playability, their pleasures and their ability to capture some of the feelings of the flick they emulate.
The three I’m considering today are relatively recent games but ones that look back on older properties.
THE GODFATHER: CORLEONE’S EMPIRE
The gold standard, for me, is The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire (CMON Games), designed by Eric M. Lang
Here, your mission is to dispatch thugs and family members into New York neighborhoods in an effort to control those territories while also acquiring the goods needed (guns, alcohol, blood money) to carry out nefarious actions against your enemy players.
After your gang has exhausted its abilities to shake down businesses and you’ve completed all of the backroom deals and drive-by shootings you can, it’s time to see who controls what turf. You then determine how much you are willing to spend to bribe the mayor, the union boss, the police chief and others for advantages in the next round.
Winning after multiple rounds requires a combination of mercilessness, strategy and money management. Will controlling a union boss pay off in the long run? Is it better to take the goods now or remove your enemy’s family member from nearby turf so you’ll dominate there? What’s the proper time to set off a car bomb?
The details are fun (the first-player token is a horse’s head) and the miniatures well crafted (although not Godfather-movie-specific). Knowledge of the movie isn’t a prerequisite. In fact, if the licensing hadn’t come through, The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire could have easily had a generic mafia theme after just a few surface tweaks.
But it’s certainly more fun knowing that, at some point, one of the players is going to break out the inevitable Brando impression.
A newcomer to the game shelves is Jaws (Ravensberger Games), designed by Prospero Hall.
This is not to be confused with The Game of Jaws, a 1975 title that tried to turn the intense cinematic thriller into a variation on Operation where players try to fish junk out of a plastic shark’s mouth.
No, this one is closer to the movie, almost to a fault. Gameplay happens in two phases, each using a different side of the board.
The first side represents the island of Amity. One player takes on the role of the shark. The others — Hooper, Quint, and Brody — can be played by one, two or three players, cooperatively.
The shark’s mission is to gulp down as many swimmers as possible. For the heroes, the goal is to track the shark. How quickly that is done — and how many swimmers are eaten — determine what weapons will be available for the second half of the game.
A board flip and a new set of pieces and cards puts us on Quint’s boat, the Orca. Each turn, the shark secretly selects from three possible attack points while the trio selects weapons and targets one of those areas.
Depending on the severity of the attack, parts of the ship are damaged or destroyed, players end up in the water and, well, you know what can happen from there.
Each time I’ve played ended with a dramatic final battle from the last remaining part of the ship.
Jaws is the rare game that manages to nail its movie theme. It’s also structured so that you can play either half on its own — although I suggest committing to the whole. Having three players as Quint, Brody and Hooper could lead to alpha gaming — where one player on a cooperative team dominations the decision making — so avoid having a game bully on the team.
In Horrified (Ravensburger), also by Prospero Hall, it’s not one film but a studio’s genre output that takes the table.
In a single village, the Universal Monsters are loose. You decide which ones, and how many, to vary gameplay and adjust the level of difficulty.
Each creature has its own goal and its own way of being defeated. For the Wolf Man, you have to cure him. For the Mummy, it’s entombing. For Dracula, you need to track down four coffins and overcome him.
Doing that, though, is a challenge.
For every turn you or your fellow heroes take exploring the village and attempting to round up necessary items, there’s a monster action, with the creature going after whoever is closest. At some points in the game, you want to stay away. At others, you want to be close or find a way around it. And your efforts may involve, cruelly, making sure that bystanders are between you and your enemy.
Unlike games of yore in which losers had to sit out while others finished, being attacked by a creature doesn’t end things for you. But a defeat does increase the terror level and send you to the hospital.
The game ends when all monsters are defeated, when the terror levels reach maximum or when time runs out and you’ve taken too long to save the village.
While not adhering to the plot of any one film, elements from many pop up and should please fans. Wilbur and Chick from Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein even show up as villagers. Thematically, the only thing that gets in the way are the bright colors of the creature pawns, although that does help differentiate them on the board. You can play solo or with a team of up to five, each variation mixing up the dynamics considerably. While the intro game that pits you against Dracula and the Creature from the Black Lagoon seemed stacked in favor of the heroes, there are plenty of more sequels to be experienced.
Stay tuned for more installments of Roll ’Em, and feel free to add a comment with your own favorite movie tie-in board game.