An occasional column in which Lou Harry gets his game on with film-related tabletop titles.
Yes, I know. There are at least four Dune games out now to tie in with the recently released film.
The reality, though, is that I haven’t gotten to play any of them yet. I will, trust me, but until then, here are three worthwhile games from older fantasy and science-fiction classics.
The Rocketeer: Fate of the Future
This recent release celebrates the old-Hollywood style of the superhero flick from the time before superhero flicks were cool (specifically, 1991).
It’s a two-player-only face-off between Rocketeer Cliff Secord and the sinister Neville Sinclair, with each having a pair of sidekicks to help out. The board is a set of six locations familiar from the flick, including the Bulldog Cafe and the South Seas Club. Players take turns activating one of their three characters and moving them from place to place to collect valuable tokens and other bonuses and / or trying to punch out their opponents on the same space.
The secret plans for the jetpack start with the good guys, but the right guess as to who has it — and the right punch — could send it into the hands of the baddies. Whoever has the jetpack at the end of each round collects valuable finale cards, which score points at the end of the game. That endgame happens when the zeppelin — with movement determined by newspaper headline cards flipped at the beginning of each round — reaches Los Angeles.
If I were on the decision-making team at Funko Games, I’m not sure if this terrific but less-than-hugely-popular film would have been high on my list to adapt and publish as a tabletop game. But I’m glad more adventurous minds than mine prevailed. Handsomely packaged, easy to learn and surprisingly strategic, The Rocketeer: Fate of the Future, like the film it’s based on, deserves more attention.
And, of course, I haven’t won yet, proving that you don’t have to be good at games to enjoy them.
Planet of the Apes
As an avowed Apeophile, I’m not sure why it took me so long to get to this 2017 release from IDW Games.
Okay, I know why: I didn’t want to pay full price and didn’t pick it up until I found it at an Ollie’s Bargain Outlet.
Why not go with the MSRP? Frankly, the artwork seemed more in line with the surprisingly grim animated series than any of the film versions, it looked a bit on the cheap side component- and design-wise, and it didn’t seem worthy of a full-priced addition to my collection.
Lowered expectations weren’t necessary, though.
Granted, the game starts out a little strange. As anyone who saw the original film knows, Charlton Heston’s Taylor character quickly becomes a loner. But this is a co-op game, one that attempts to follow the narrative of the film. So that means … well, for designer Richard Launius, that meant making each player represent an aspect of Taylor’s personality, specifically the Commander, the Clever, the Defiant and the Cynical.
No, it doesn’t make any sense thematically or grammatically, but what can you do?
The game plays out as a series of scenes, each offering advantages, drawbacks or, in most cases, challenges that must be overcome. Success in a challenge usually means moving the Taylor standee up a few steps on a track. Fail, and his ape nemesis may move up. The goal in each scene is to get Taylor to the end of the track before the ape. Complicating matters is that some failures mean moving the Statue of Liberty closer up the track, which could spell defeat if not kept in check.
The challenges usually involve getting the right combination in dice rolls, with modifications possible by smart use of collected cards. But as the scenes progress, the challenges increase in difficulty. You try getting a full house by rolling five dice with only two re-rolls and an ape breathing down your neck.
Oh, and there’s a tracker that moves from day to night, with sunrise triggering more problems once it hits.
So far, I’ve played Planet of the Apes once solo and once with a friend. Both times, the “damn dirty apes” emerged victorious. But unlike Heston, who had to be coerced into a sequel, I’m ready for another adventure.
The Princess Bride: I Hate to Kill You
A head-to-head combat game offering swift gameplay and easily understood mechanics, this small-box game may have gotten lost in an onslaught of Princess Bride games on the market. Publisher SparkWorks also offers The Princess Bride: A Battle of Wits, The Princess Bride: Inconceivable and The Princess Bride: Prepare to Die, plus there are others including one I reviewed a few columns ago.
But this one is worth seeking out as a five- to 10-minute filler. It’s a game that easily could be rethemed — or themeless — but the overlay of the familiar fantasy characters gives it an added kick.
Each player picks a character, who comes with a unique set of cards and a batch of dice. Half of each die’s faces are blank. The rest have either one or two swords. Both players roll, see how many swords their dice show, and then select a card to modify that roll (which could mean re-rolling some, changing the face of one, or retrieving discarded cards or dice). If you wind up with more swords than your opponent, you win that round. And while both have to discard the card played, the winner also has to discard one of their sword-showing dice. Thus, if you win one hand, you are at a disadvantage in the next.
It’s not a game for the ages, but it’s a fun filler. And while it actually isn’t “skill against skill alone,” any game that encourages you to say to your defeated enemy, “Please understand, I hold you in the highest respect,” is OK in my book.
P.S. Quoting from the movie is optional but, for many, will be difficult to resist.