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

For this installment, I sought treasure with Indiana Jones, journeyed where no one has gone before, and joined the design team at Disney — all in tabletop form from Funko Games.

Indiana Jones: Sands of Adventure

It’s been a while since I watched any of the Indiana Jones flicks, but I don’t recall any of them featuring a tall sand timer triggered by dropped jewels. But that’s the centerpiece in this lively game released around the time of the fifth cinematic adventure (but with artwork anchored in the first).

That creative timer adds a tension-fueled kick to the first half of each of the game’s three rounds and triggers the accelerated pace of the second half.

The basics are pretty simple. Players take turns choosing an action from an array of choices on the table. Actions chosen can lead to cards added to the player’s hand or cards played, Uno-style (matching the previous card’s color or symbol). The goal of each round is to play enough attack cards to drain the health of the villain.

The problem, though, is each action is followed by dice rolls that indicate a short attack by that round’s bad guy and / or the dropping of the aforementioned jewels onto the precarious top of the timer. As the jewels are added, the weight gets heavier and balance gets thrown off, eventually leading to the timer flipping.

When that happens, it’s rush time.

Players quickly take turns playing as many cards as possible in an attempt to score enough hits on the baddie before the timer runs out.

Whether you succeed or not, your team moves on to the next round, albeit with a penalty if your enemy isn’t completely wiped out. The ultimate goal is to make it to round three and knock out Belloq. (You remember him, right?)

I’m usually leery when the first play of a co-op game leads to victory; where’s the challenge going forward if that happens? But here, the adventure was fun, and when I taught the game to some folks a few days later, they equally enjoyed it … even though they lost by just a few grains of sand.

Thematically sound, easy to learn and creatively designed, this Indiana Jones adventure, while not a classic like the original film, proved more satisfying than, say, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Disney Animated

In the real-life world of movie studios, the primary villain is often the deadline.

In the tabletop world of the game Disney Animated, that’s also the case — although that deadline is manipulated through the efforts of classic Disney baddies.

Unlike many other Disney tie-in games— in which players assume the roles of various characters or groups of them — players here are studio animators. Each player is given a film to complete and they cooperatively work to get the right combination of background, animation, ink & paint, and sound — plus a touch of requisite magic.

Take Aladdin, for instance, and you have to acquire puzzle pieces that fill out the background, then land the individual character cels (Aladdin, Jasmine and Abu) to overlay it. The trick is that the value of the available actions vary depending on where they are in the lineup of choices. For instance: If the animation card is in the 1 position, you draw one card. If it’s in the 5 position, you draw 3. Each time you take an action, that action goes back to the first position, bumping the others along.

Your progress toward completion is hampered by a calamity deck, populated with the actions of your film’s villain. Complete all of the players’ films — and incorporate its villain — before the calamities take you past the deadline and it’s a victory. 

This is not a game likely to work for the youngest Disney fans. The slickness of the retro design, the co-op structure and the shifting nature of the selection process give it a more mature vibe. It’s one thing to pretend to be Aladdin or Alice in a typical roll-and-move game. It’s another to take a step back and assume the role of the animator having to make cost / benefit choices in each round. That’s not a slight to the game, which plays just fine. It’s just a heads-up: The recommended age is 10+ and that feels accurate.

If you like Disney themes but want something more competitive, consider Disney Sorcerer’s Arena (The Op) or the ever-expanding line of Disney Villainous games (Ravensburger).

Star Trek: Cryptic

I’ve defined this column as focusing on movie-related games, and while this one is anchored in TV’s Star Trek: The Next Generation, I’m rationalizing its inclusion here since the TNG crew appeared in a quartet of big-screen films.

Part of Funko’s Cryptic line (which also includes an Indiana Jones title), this cooperative game consists of three missions, each built on a series of puzzles and challenges linked with written narrative.

You go into each mission relatively cold, and it would be unfair for me to spoil too much. Suffice it to say that a slickly designed logbook provides your entry point, offering clear guidance on when to open various envelopes and reveal components, what rewards are to be gained, and what you need to do to complete each challenge.

The first challenge, a beginner-level word scramble, left me wondering if the target audience is pre-teens. But the second, involving a clear screen that overlays a map, required a bit of dexterity. Subsequent ones —including one our team massively overthought — left us consistently motivated to tackle the next.

While Star Trek: Cryptic is a one-and-done, the three missions provide plenty of game time and the use of the clear screen means the game can be passed along and replayed since, as far as I’ve seen so far on my treks, game pieces aren’t destroyed or marred. The logbook is well structured so hints can be acquired without risk of revealing the solution — and solutions to individual challenges can be acquired without ruining the overall game.

In addition to writing the Roll ‘Em column, Lou Harry pens the occasional Screen Plays column on shot-from-the-stage theatrical productions as well as general reviews. He hosts the weekly Board Game Social event at the Garage Food Hall in Indianapolis and writes the annual Best Games of Gen Con column for Indianapolis Monthly. By day he edits Quill, the magazine of the Society of Professional Journalists.