An occasional column in which Lou Harry gets his game on with film-related tabletop titles.
’Tis the season to play lots and lots of board games. And my continuing quest to find tabletop fun tied to specific movies (see past editions here, here and here) this time led to the North Pole, the Pit of Despair, the past, a prom and a sinking ship.
Elf: Journey From the North Pole Game (Funko Games)
Elf: Snowball Showdown Card Game (Funko Games)
Funko Games, one of the leaders in intellectual property games, offers a pair of themers sparked by the best holiday movie of the past couple of decades (take that, Hallmark!).
In Elf: Journey From the North Pole, each player has a secret goal consisting of locations you want Buddy the Elf to visit on his way from the North Pole to New York. That’s not so easy, though, because all players move the same piece, giving the game a fun push-and-pull element as your opponent tries to guide Buddy toward, say, the Candy Cane Forest while thwarting your efforts to lure him to World’s Best Coffee.
There are also no traditional movement spaces printed on the board. Instead, you play path cards that connect to each other and take the easily distracted Buddy on a twisted trip.
This is decidedly not a game where strategy learned from repeat play necessarily helps you. Players are still largely at the mercy of card draws and the actions of opponents. But here, the whimsy of the design and the charm of the core concept and characters make it a win — even if Buddy doesn’t get to visit Mr. Narwhal.
Even more luck-of-the-draw is Elf: Snowball Showdown. Here, players take turns “throwing” color-coded snowball cards at each other, with the defender rolling a d12 to either dodge or draw more cards. If you have a Buddy card, though, you can take a hit and give a hit to the thrower or dodge. If you have more of the same color snowballs in your hand, you can counter and, yes, it can be as disorienting as an actual snowball fight.
If choosing between the two, go with Journey.
The Princess Bride Adventure Book Game (Ravensburger)
This is not the first game based on the popular fantasy film. There was the silly party game The Princess Bride: Prepare to Die (a lame Apples to Apples meets Mad Libs game), the lame Princess Bride’Opoly (enough said) and a lot more.
So why is The Princess Bride Adventure Book Game worth the attention?
Because it’s one of the strongest thematically-tied-to-a-movie games I’ve reviewed in this column. And it’s not just a matter of taking Westley and Buttercup through a series of adventures.
As the name suggests, the game is structured as a book. You can’t move on to the next chapter until you complete the one before it. Fail once and you are “interrupted” by the grandson and you have to start again. Fail twice in the same chapter and the game is over.
Succeed in your quests, however, and you flip the page of the book to discover the next chapter. (I strongly suggest not looking ahead. As with reading a good book, that spoils some of the fun.)
Each chapter has its own board design and game mechanics and makes use of a different combo of characters from the film with the overall story following the progression of the film. I won’t spoil any of it for you.
The downside — yes, there’s a downside — is that most of these challenges aren’t very challenging. We played through all six chapters in an evening and only faced one interruption — and that was in the final chapter, which was significantly more difficult than the others. Even then, though, we sailed through in our second effort.
Note: Ending with a kiss is optional.
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Board Game (Steve Jackson Games)
Bill and Ted returned to screens this year, which gave me an excuse to pull this small-box game off the shelf.
The title characters are cartooned on the box but represented in the game by phone booth tokens. Also on the board are a pair of evil dudes out to thwart the efforts of the boys to gather as many historical figures as possible before it’s time to deliver their book reports.
Essentially, this is a programming game. Pick two cards from your hand that will determine the movements you will take. Land on Joan or Arc, Freud or, of course, Socrates (That’s So-crates to those in the know) and you not only get that character token — which essentially serves as a victory point — but you also are granted an added movement ability.
Each card you play also provides movement instructions for the evil dudes and if they end up on your space, they make you drop a character.
It’s fairly fun and pretty mild. But be aware: You may have to explain why you keep giggling when you draw the “Sixty-Nine, Dudes!” Card.
Footloose Party Game (Funko Games)
I’ve played a lot of games in my time, but Footloose Party Game is the first one whose content list includes “Finger Shows.”
There they are, front and center in the packaging: Four pairs of plastic footwear, complete with openings for your fingers. If you don’t look closely, you might mistake the box for Barbie apparel.
The shoes actually don’t serve much of a purpose, but they’re fun.
The actual game starts out as a push-your-luck. On your turn, you move to a new location (the high school, the railroad tracks, etc.) and try to get away with as much dancing as you can. That is, you turn over dance cards which each have points associated with them. If two “no dancing” cards show up, you are busted and score no points. Mwap, mwap. But if you leave before that, you score the highest card.
Of course, what would Footloose be without a Tractor Chicken Round? This time, everyone picks one card at a time, secretly keeping track of their totals. Go over 11 and you crashed. Once everyone else has stopped, the player with the highest total without crashing scores bonus points.
The final round is, of course, the Prom where there is, of course, a dance-off. Now you take the cards you’ve accumulated along the way and secretly choose one. Everyone flips and the player with the highest number wins the round, and the player with the most wins scores a bonus. Add up your points and bonuses, and you have a winner.
This is a game whose pleasure really is accentuated by playing the right music. And playing with people who don’t mind a good victory dance.
Titanic: The Game (Spinmaster Games)
Titanic: The Game arrived in 2020, a mere 23 years after the release of the original film. Sporting the familiar images of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet on the cover, it bears the less-familiar names of Daryl Andrews & Adrian Adamescu.
Who? They’re the game’s designers, hot off their hit Segrada.
Unlike that top-notch tabletop game, in which players meet specific demands in order to complete stained-glass windows, Titanic: The Game is a bit of a hodgepodge.
There are some cool mechanics; I like how rising water takes out the lower decks and forces players to make life-or-damp decisions almost from the very beginning. But there are also clunky attempts to turn this mid-weight effort into a party game. No serious gamer is likely to want to yell “King of the World!” or sing a chorus of “My Heart Will Go On” as two cards instruct.
But it’s equally unlikely that someone who likes games where such things are required will want to play a game where each action phase allows for five different types of actions. (I recommend taking those cards out of the game and, rather than throw them in the ocean like the selfish ninny at the end of the movie … oops, did I just spoil both the movie and my feelings about it?)
And OK, sometimes, in order for a game rooted in an intellectual property to work, its designers ditch some of the realities of its fictional source. But it’s still disconcerting to play as Cal (the Billy Zane character), and still, like everyone else, spend the game trying to rescue as many passengers from the sinking ship as possible before leaping into a lifeboat? How un-Zane is that?
That all being said, the design work is terrific and the tension real. With the right players, I’d much rather play the game than watch the film again. In fact, with a roughly 40-minute playtime, you could squeeze in four or five playthroughs instead of rewatching the film once.