An occasional column in which Lou Harry gets his game on with film-related tabletop titles.
Major movie releases may have slowed down, but there remains a steady flow of board games based on big-name movies hitting stores and online shopping spots.
Warning: If you opt to pop some popcorn for an appropriate mid-competition snack, make sure to wipe your buttery fingers off before handling the game components.
Hocus Pocus: The Game
Let’s start with Hocus Pocus: The Game, an unexpected release from Ravensburger.
Cutely packaged in a book-like box, the game sets players cooperatively against the movie’s trio of witches (portrayed here as cartoons rather than as Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy — which no doubt cost the publisher significantly less in licensing rights).
Knowledge of the 1993 film is hardly a requisite, though. The goal is to create specific combos of ingredients in a central cauldron. But that’s not as easy as it sounds because the players cannot share what cards they are holding. At least not all of them. Each player, in turn, first asks a question of another player about an ingredient or color (e.g., “Do you have the Newt Saliva?”). Then the active player adds an ingredient to the cauldron matching either the color or type of ingredient already in there and draws another card.
If, for instance, the cauldron shows all matching ingredients, the witch Mary is stunned, and a new round begins with fewer cards in the draw deck. Stun three witches before the deck runs out and you’ve won. Spell cards cast when certain ingredients are played can complicate matters while single-use trick tokens can bail you out of a tight spot if carefully used.
The result is a good-enough filler game whose theming might help sell it but doesn’t strongly enhance game play. These could easily be the Witches of Eastwick or Macbeth’s haunting trio without much change in the game.
Evil Dead II: The Board Game
More specific horrors are at play in Evil Dead II: The Board Game from Jasco Games, in which the designers have diligently sought to create a board-game experience that matches the cult horror film.
Players are visitors to that notorious cabin in the woods, and it doesn’t take long for all hell to break loose. At first, you work together to find enough Necronomicon pages to seal the portal before being overrun by the Deadite Minions that spawn on nearly every turn. Or with the Rotten Apple Head, Killer Tree or other more dangerous monsters that follow.
But things get worse. Players saddled with Corruption Deck cards can turn into Deadites, with the rest of the good guys not finding that out until they are attacked. Once a player becomes a Deadite, they can pull the Necronomicon in the other direction in an attempt to acquire enough pages to summon Kandarian demons.
To be sure, there’s a lot going on here. And you may find yourself making frequent trips to the rule book your first time through. But the commitment to theme, the substantial miniature figures and the disturbing feeling that your companions may have turned to the dark side make this a rare case of a tabletop game effectively translating its cinematic source.
Back to the Future: Dice Through Time
In Ravensburger’s Back to the Future: Dice Through Time, players time-hop in their DeLoreans in an effort to return lost items to their proper place and time before the clock runs out.
While it ambitiously includes periods from all three films, the game itself doesn’t prove terribly exciting. Avoiding Biff, the villain of both the film series and the game, isn’t all that difficult, and when endgame approaches, luck of the draw can be too major a factor.
Like Back to the Future onscreen, the result is just an OK diversion. If I could, I would happily go back in time and play something else.
Godzilla: Tokyo Clash
Something like Godzilla: Tokyo Clash from Funko Games, which is much better at capturing the essence of the Japanese big-monster flicks that inspired it. Substantial kaiju characters — including Mothra, King Ghidorah and Megalon — do battle on a city grid, hurling vehicles and each other in an effort to achieve dominance. But unlike in other fighty-fight games, players here aren’t dependent on good dice rolls. Sure, there’s always some element of luck when cards are involved. But here, the players have strategic choices to make at each step. Extra energy is gained by destroying structures, so there’s a reason for making a mess. Some cards include momentum, which allows you to follow it up by playing another card for an extra attack — or cleaner getaway.
Best of all, the quality of the miniatures is terrific and detailed, which gives a bit more authenticity to the battle.
While the game is OK with two players, it doesn’t really come into its own until you get three or four kaiju going at it.
Jungle Cruise Adventure Game
Finally (at least, until my next Roll ‘Em column), there’s Jungle Cruise Adventure Game, another Ravensburger offering. Don’t recognize the film title? Well, this would have been a film tie-in game if the Jungle Cruise movie — starring the unlikely combo of Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt and Paul Giamatti — hadn’t been bumped to 2021.
Thus, time can only tell how much the game echoes the film’s plot or if it’s more about the theme-park ride that inspired the movie. Whatever the case, this is a fun mix of racing and pick-up-and-deliver game mechanics, in which each player pilots a boat through the wilds.
A goal is to arrive at the end with the most valuable cargo — which can put you in the position of kicking passengers out in order to hang on to better-monetized goods. (I’m not sure Walt Disney would approve.) And true to the Disney parks ride, there are bad jokes accompanying the cards. Usage of them is, mercifully, optional.