An occasional column in which Lou Harry gets his game on with film-related tabletop titles.

Like my fellow film critics at Midwest Film Journal, I believe you have to experience a creative work with an open mind. And that applies to cinema as well as cinematic games. 

Which means that just because a box of cardboard, tokens, dice and tiles is based on a film I like, that doesn’t mean that it’s been translated into a fun gaming experience.

The games have to be played.
Which is what I do.

Welcome to the latest edition of Roll ‘Em

Groundhog Day: The Game (Funko Games)

Bill Murray is nowhere to be found in this creative cooperative game. But the film’s structure — the redoing of the same day in an effort to get things right — arrives relatively intact.

Each “day,” the players collectively representing weatherman Phil Connors have to play seven cards from their hands in ascending order — without communicating with each other as to who has what numbered cards. The cards each represent a different action or moment from the movie (i.e., “Punch Ned” or “Help Old Jenson”), but those specifics hardly register since the players are on a timer and speed is of the essence. 

The goal is to play seven Perfect Day cards (“Fix the Flat Tire,” “Recite Poetry,” etc.) in a single round. But, as with the on-screen Connors, you have to go through some struggles first in your effort to find your better self. Translation: You have to acquire those cards first.  

Losing can happen at the end of any day. Perhaps you didn’t order the cards properly. Or you didn’t finish before time ran out. Or the total of your numbers isn’t higher than that of the previous day. Or you wasted too many Perfect Day cards that you’d need later.

One of the fun aspects of the game is getting in sync with your teammates, figuring out which numbered card to play, when to hesitate, etc. And the game slyly allows a few early days to be conquered fairly simply — although taking an easy road early can make it more difficult a few days later when winning is in sight. 

Given COVID limitations, we played with only two on the team, succeeding on our third try. (The game can handle six players.) 

While there’s no Murray, MacDowell or Tobolowsky, there is a groundhog tracking piece and an alarm clock token to add to the atmosphere

Unanswered question: Can the same game mechanics be applied to Palm Springs, The Map of Tiny Perfect Things, Edge of Tomorrow, et al? Only time, licensing agreements and sales figures will tell.

The Shining (Mixlore / Asmodee)

The cover of its rule book simply repeats “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” the first player token is a key fob for Room 237, the back of the board is a three-panel look at the Overlook Hotel and its surroundings, and rolling a bloody elevator on one of the dice means bad, bad things. 

With such attention to detail, you’d think they could have come up with a better game. 

As winter caretakers of the Overlook, your task is to acquire as much willpower each month not to succumb to the venue’s corrupting influence. Fall short and you’ll attack your fellow players. The ultimate goal is simply to have your entire group survive through four months.

The problem here is the pace of the action. There are only six places to move your pawn at the Overlook — seven if you count the hedge maze. In most cases, that limits your choices considerably. 

The mechanics of the game are OK and the pressure is certainly on from the beginning. The problem is that there are just too many luck-based variables. The willpower level you need to hit depends on the values on two random cards — which you can’t see until the end of the month. Dice rolls can make a huge difference, as can randomly assigned tokens that get picked up as you visit rooms. Meanwhile, an event deck throws random complications at you.

Yes, with enough people in your pod, you can up the conflict and play a corrupted variant where one of the players is secretly out to wreck the game. If one of the caretakers dies, the corrupted wins.

I’ll pay it another visit with a larger group when that’s possible. After all, I didn’t mind Doctor Sleep, so I’m open to follow-ups.  

Monty Python Fluxx (Looney Labs)

The folks at Looney Labs know how to beat a pair of coconuts. They’ve grown their Fluxx brand of card games to include more than 40 variants, some of which are out of print (including Adventure Time Fluxx and Batman Fluxx). One of the more fun editions: Monty Python Fluxx (which, if it had a larger box, would more accurately be titled Monty Python and the Holy Grail Fluxx).

The original Fluxx was launched in 1996, and the basic idea has remained the same through its many variations. Players are dealt a hand of cards and have no idea what the goal is. 

Draw a card. Play a card. 

Draw a card. Play a card. 

And so it goes.

Some of those played cards may change the rules. Now you draw two and play one. Or draw three and play all of your cards.

Some of those played cards may give you a win condition.

Specifically, in the case of Monty Python Fluxx, that can mean pairing a Holy Hand Grenade card with a Killer Rabbit. Or matching a Catapult with a Trojan Rabbit.

Like many of the Fluxx themed games, it’s most fun on your first play, especially if you dive in without having looked at any of the cards. What the game deliberately lacks in strategy and tactics, it makes up for in whimsy. What other game would have a card celebrating the Nude Organist? Or reward you for speaking with an outrageous fake accent? 

Hardcore gamers may scoff when they see you playing this at a convention, but this small box delivers what it promises.