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

In this column, I take to the table an unexpected board-game version of the Fast & Furious flicks and another try at a Back to the Future game.

Fast & Furious: Highway Heist

Say what you want about the Fast & Furious franchise. Go on, say what you want. Not having seen any of those flicks, I’m not about to disagree with you.

I have, however, played the tabletop game Fast & Furious: Highway Heist (Funko Games and Prospero Hall) and I have some definite opinions on that. 

Even before I opened the box, the challenge for the designers seemed clear: How do you translate a cinematic world that is (I assume) largely about velocity and stunt work into a board game, a format where participants usually have to slow things down to make turn-based decisions? Other intellectual properties emphasize other elements — the Lord of the Rings games may be quest-based and Marvel games may focus on battles — but how do you make an F&F game either fast or furious, or both?

Here’s how.

In Fast & Furious: Highway Heist, players act as a team to succeed in three different scenarios: Tank Assault, Semi Heist and Chopper Takedown. The core setup is the same for each: You pick a character and you pick a car. Vehicles are placed on a highway board along with a set of minis unique to each scenario. In Tank Assault, for instance, there’s an armored tank surrounded by four enemy SUVs. The objective is to destroy the tank, and you attempt to do that through a combination of ramming, forcing and shaking the obstructing vehicles, climbing onto your car and brawling, hijacking SUVs and attempting to crash them into the tank and cause enough damage to wreck it.

Each character and car has a unique set of skills. Letty, for example, has better control of her car while Dominic can drive faster. The American Muscle car pushes SUVs further when ramming while the Street Drifter is better at shaking off enemies who have climbed onto the hood. (They can do that!)

It took my team three tries to succeed with this scenario and more to pull off the Semi Heist, in which at least one of the characters has to leap onto a truck, open its back door, and toss out cargo to partners driving behind. We have yet to succeed in the Chopper Takedown, a punishing mission where the objective is complicated by missiles being fired at players while they are trying to protect a hacker. 

No, the pieces don’t move themselves. No, there isn’t the kind of adrenaline that the film franchise and similarly themed video games generate. But the theme does come through, there’s real satisfaction in winning and a strong sense of desperation when time is running out on a mission, and, most important for me, Fast & Furious: Highway Heist is fun even for someone not enmeshed in the film series.

Once we take down the chopper, will I play again? I’m not sure. But I’m also not sure if every game has to be infinitely replayable in order to be considered a success. If it retires after a dozen or so plays, I’m good with it.

Back to the Future: Dice Through Time

A few columns back, I wrote about Back to the Future: Dice Through Time, a disappointing attempt to capture the kick of the time-travelling classic. Well, it turns out there’s another similarly titled, similarly boxed game — Back to the Future: Back in Time (also, like F&F, from Funko Games and the Prospero Hall team) and this one is dramatically stronger. 

As the comic-book-formatted instruction book guides, the objective of this one should be familiar to anyone who has seen the movie. You have to spark love between George and Lorraine, prep the DeLorean for travel and get the car in position by 10:04 p.m. 

On your turn, you can move your character and attempt various challenges (moving the DeLorean, fighting Biff, etc.) while escorting either one of the not-yet-happy couple to a new location. You also need to track down the DeLorean, and these diverse needs help fuel the what-should-I-prioritize-now aspect of the game. Challenges are resolved via dice rolls but these may be modified depending on items picked up along the way, such as an electric guitar or a skateboard. While there’s a strong element of luck in these rolls and the acquisition of tiles, I never felt like the game was operating without me. There are enough decisions to be made that success or failure is on the players. 

A big plus for both the F&F and this Back to the Future game is that neither feels as if the source movie has simply been skinned onto an existing game. From the actual mechanics of the game to the design and artwork, both are fun extensions of their source films, even if I’m guessing licensing prevented actual depiction of Vin Diesel, Michael J. Fox and their respective fellow cast members. These are games not just to be bought and shelved but to actually be played with pleasure. And that’s not always that case with licensed games.

Bravo, Prospero Hall.