In the wake of my little April Fool’s Day “announcement” of the Settlers of Catan movie, I wanted to do a list of some board game movies I would actually go to see (for the record, I think a Catan movie is a terrible idea). These are listed alphabetically by the game the movies would be based on.
Arkham Horror was originally released in 1987 (designed by Richard Launius, Charlie Krank, Sandy Petersen, and Lynn Willis), but is more famous for its 2005 reimplementation by Fantasy Flight Games. It’s a cooperative game themed around the Cthulhu mythos, a series built around the work of author H.P. Lovecraft. The game is set in the fictional town of Arkham, MA, where gates have begun to open, releasing horrors into our reality. Players are investiagtors racing around to defeat monsters and to seal the gates before one of eight Ancient Ones awakens and devours the world.
I was having a discussion with a friend about the Cthulhu mythos a couple of weeks ago. He didn’t know much about it, and so I told him what I knew, which mostly comes from Arkham Horror. I have tried to read some Lovecraft from time to time, but it’s very difficult reading. The language is just so…demented. The stories I’ve tried mostly seem to be about the narrator’s descent into madness, and very difficult to follow. So I told this friend that if he wanted to know more about the Lovecraftian universe, Arkham Horror might be a good jumping off point. Since that conversation, I’ve begun to think about Arkham Horror as a gateway game. Not a gateway to the hobby – it’s far too complex for that – but rather, a gateway into the world of Lovecraft. Plus, there are actual gateways in it.
Movies have thoroughly explored (and overexposed) monsters like zombies, vampires, and werewolves. And yet, there seem to be relative few movies about the horrors in Lovecraft’s work. There have been a few, but no big hits. I think a movie with a Cthulhu Mythos theme done right could introduce a whole new dimension to the stale horror genre out there. So let’s get there through a board game. You’ve already got a plot – Arkham Horror is one of the most well-themed games I’ve ever played. And I think you may have better success translating it to the screen than the psychological horror introduced in straight Lovecraftian works.
The first edition of Blood Bowl came out in 1986, designed by Jervis Johnson and published by Games Workshop. The third edition came out in 1994, and that’s the one that’s still out today, though the rules are currently in the sixth edition. The game is basically fantasy football. I don’t mean fantasy with guys drafting players and arranging them in mock games every week, but fantasy with orcs and elves and dwarves literally killing each other in a game that’s a kind of cross between rugby and American football.
I’ve never played Blood Bowl, so I can’t come close to describing how it plays. But I’m familiar with the idea after playing Blood Bowl: Team Manager (nothing like the actual game, but with a theme that is in line). And I think that it’s ripe for a movie. It could be a really sharp spoof of sports movies with the fantasy element adding a different perspective. Think Any Given Sunday in Middle Earth.
You think I’m kidding. I’m not. Candy Land is a 1949 game designed by Eleanor Abbott that is currently published by Hasbro. It’s a race to the end where players draw a card, move to the indicated space, and are done with their turn. There’s no strategy, but it’s educational for young kids that need to learn their colors and how to follow rules. I don’t argue with the game’s value, but for anyone over the age of, let’s say, five years old, it’s a pretty dull experience.
If you’ve paid attention to movie news, you may have noticed that an actual Candy Land movie has been in development since 2009. The most current news I have has Adam Sandler attached to the project, which I think will probably be terrible. It’s not that I dislike Adam Sandler as an actor or comedian, it’s just that I hate most of his movies. I don’t know anything about the plot, but I almost guarantee you that two kids will get sucked into the game and have to rescue King Candy from the Chocolate Swamp or something. Pass.
What I want to see is the original pitch of the movie. It was going to be a fantasy movie set entirely in Candy Land with a kind of Lord of the Rings arc – journeys through strange lands, big battles, and hobbits. No, no hobbits, but I’d really like to see this movie. I think it could be hilarious and exciting at the same time. My wife thinks that Wreck It Ralph already did this to some extent, but I would like to see something live action. It’ll never happen, which is sad, but a man can dream, right?
OK, now I’ve clearly lost it. Candy Land was bad enough, but Clue? There’s already a Clue movie, and it was GREAT. The best board game movie ever made, in fact (not that it has much competition). Bear with me. Clue was originally released in 1949 (same as Candy Land) and was designed by Anthony E. Pratt. Hasbro publishes the game these days. It’s a deduction game for 3-6 players where you move around the board attempting to find a killer. You accomplish this by making accusations, trying to find out if your opponents have information about the innocence of certain characters, the use or lack thereof of murder weapons, and where the killings might have taken place. It doesn’t necessarily make logical sense – why wouldn’t you know that someone was shot in the kitchen? – and it’s a roll and move game, but it’s a good exercise in working your deductive reasoning skills.
Clue: The Movie came out in 1985, was directed by Jonathan Lynn, and starred Tim Curry, Eileen Brennan, Martin Mull, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, Lesley Ann Warren, and the great Madeline Kahn. If you haven’t seen it (shame on you!), the plot revolves around six people gathered together because they are all the victims of blackmail. However, when their blackmailer ends up dead, they must figure out who killed him, and where, and with what. To make a long story short (too late), the movie had a gimmick of three different endings that you could get with the film, and the process of figuring out the killer is wonderfully crazy.
What I’m advocating for is not a remake of the original, but rather a new Clue film in the same style. I wouldn’t want anyone to try to repeat what the original did, but get some of today’s comic actors together, and see what they’d make of the material. In particular, I think it would be fantastic to see the cast of The Thrilling Adventure Hour try their hand at the concept. Paul F. Tompkins as Professor Plum, Paget Brewster as Ms. White, Marc Evan Jackson as Colonel Mustard, Busy Phillips as Mrs. Peacock, Mark Gagliardi as Mr. Green, Autumn Reeser as Miss Scarlet, other members of the cast showing up to be killed or whatever. I think it would be a very fun project.
When I was a kid, I really liked a book by William Sleator called Interstellar Pig. It was a book about a board game, one that told the story of alien races trying to find this object (called the Piggy) so their home world wouldn’t get destroyed. It turns out to be more than just a game, and I spent a lot of time in my childhood imagining the movie for this book. Since getting into the hobby, I’ve wondered if Cosmic Encounter was part of the book’s inspiration. Designed in 1977 by Peter Olotka, Bill Eberle, Jack Kitteredge, and Bill Norton, this game was reprinted most recently by Fantasy Flight and plays with 3-5 players (up to 8 with expansions).
In the game, players take the role of different races with special powers attempting to gain cosmic dominance by landing five colonies on foreign planets. On a turn, a player has 1-2 encounters with a random player. Players commit ships, then ask for alliances with other players. Once alliances are made, each player reveals an encounter card. If the offense wins, the main player and all allies get a colony. If defense wins, the planet is saved and all allies get some compensation in the form of cards or ships. A negotiation could take place in which players have a minute to make a deal, and reinforcement cards or special powers could tip the balance of the battles one way or the other.
The way I envision a Cosmic Encounter movie is having humans getting pulled into a cosmic conflict of some sort, first as pawns, but later as a force to be reckoned with. Part of the joy of CE is being able to defy the odds and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, and being forced to work together to accomplish your goals. I would imagine that the movie would have to focus heavily on the political implications of the conflicts, with enemies having to work together, and former allies having to duke it out with each other. I think it could be a fascinating spectacle.
Forbidden Island would, I think, make a more traditional adventure movie than the others I’ve mentioned so far. The game (published in 2010 by Gamewright) was designer Matt Leacock’s follow up to Pandemic – basically the same game, but more geared towards younger audiences. It’s a cooperative experience where players are trying to collect four different artifacts from around an island, trying to escape before the whole thing sinks. Players have to move around, collecting sets of cards to turn in for the artifacts, shore up sinking land tiles, and make it to the helicopter in time. If one or more people do not make it to the helicopter with the artifacts, everyone loses. If an artifact is lost, everyone loses.
I think Forbidden Island could make for a very good family adventure film. I say family in that it could easily be geared towards younger audiences. I’d hesitate a little since there have been some bad films in this genre recently – the Journey to the Center of the Earth films, for example. However, I think Forbidden Island could work since there are some very evocative sites in the game that could be brought out in the film. Plus, the tension of different parts of the island sinking means that you don’t necessarily have to have giant monstrous creatures (though one or two couldn’t hurt).
Why choose Forbidden Island instead of Pandemic? Good question – I think a Pandemic movie could be good, but I have trouble imagining something that wouldn’t be considered a remake of one of the previous killer virus movies – Outbreak, The Stand, Contagion, etc. Plus, I think Forbidden Island has a better arc – I haven’t played a game yet where the climax in a win didn’t involve racing for the helicopter as the last pieces of the island collapsed into the ocean. Pandemic, while tense and exciting, doesn’t quite have that high pressure ending.
You had to know this was coming. Galaxy Trucker came out in 2007, designed by Vlaada Chvátil and published by Czech Games Edition. The game is about freelance “truckers” building ships out of sewage parts to deliver them across the galaxy. In the first half of each round, you build your ship. In the second half, you pray you don’t die. Smugglers, slavers, pirates, asteroids, epidemics, saboteurs, and combat zones are just some of the nasty things you can encounter, and you’re never quite sure if you’ll make it.
I think Galaxy Trucker has all the makings of a great sci-fi comedy. The story is already there, you just have to fill in the special effects, characters, and dialogue. I actually have worked a little on a story myself, and if I wasn’t such a bad story writer, I might share it with you. The gist is that the giant Corporation Incorporated in a bind because all of their drivers are tied up, and a huge shipment is required on the other end of the galaxy. So they hire some freelance truckers to build ships out of the parts and fly them to the destination. Four pilots are hired – the hotshot, his arch-enemy, a woman for obligatory love interest (completely unrequited in this story), and some comic relief character that has no business being there (I’ve been calling him a Snurf – an alien race known for their short stature, aggressive tendencies, and vocabulary that apparently only consists of the word “snurf”). The short version is that they build their ships, take off, and end up limping into the destination. Maybe two of the ships are having to be towed (meaning that the crews will have to work together), and I see the Snarf getting there first because he’s the only one with a working engine. In fact, that’s pretty much all he has – a cabin with an engine.
There aren’t nearly enough space comedies out there. Galaxy Quest is one that rises to the top, and Spaceballs isn’t bad (though a lot goofier than I’m picturing this one to be). I think Galaxy Trucker could be a great entry into the genre.
King of Tokyo may seem like kind of a cheat since it is itself an homage to monster movies, but I do have a point. KOT was designed by Richard Garfield, and was published in 2011 by Iello Games. It’s a Yahtzee-style dice rolling game where you are trying to either a) be the first to reach 20 points, or b) be the last monster standing. On your turn, you get three rolls, after which you score your numbers (1s, 2s, or 3s), gain energy cubes, attack whoever is in/not in Tokyo, and/or heal. The monster in Tokyo is always at risk since everyone is hitting them, but they get to hit all monsters not in Tokyo at once. Special cards give special abilities, and though the game features player elimination, it is very quick.
Monster movies, as a genre, seem to have sort of fallen by the wayside. Sure, you get your occasional foray into the genre – Cloverfield, for example – but they all seem to take themselves way to seriously. Remake of classic monster movies, like King Kong and Godzilla, have gotten lost in technology and haven’t really brought the joy (and yes, the cheese) of the originals.
I think we can rectify that with a King of Tokyo movie. Not only do you have six semi-original monsters – a giant robotic rabbit, a sea monster, a cyborg monkey, an alien, a dinosaur, and a mechanical dragon – you also get a conflict that has nothing to do with human interactions. And I think that’s where a lot of monster movies fall short – it’s not so much about the monster, it’s about the humans trying to overcome the monster. How great would it be to have a monster movie where the humans are just fleeing in terror while Alienoid and The King fling subway trains at each other, or while Cyber Bunny and Meka Dragon use skyscrapers as clubs on each other? There doesn’t have to be a plot – just mayhem.
Post-apocalyptic movies about a small group of freedom fighters are not new. So why The Resistance? This 2009 game by Don Eskridge (Indie Boards and Cards, 5-10 players, 30 minutes) is all about a group of freedom fighters struggling against the tyrants of the controlling powers. In order to win the game, the Resistance must successfully complete three missions. However, they have been infiltrated by unknown spies who can throw a monkey wrench in the plans. The game features voting, accusations, negotiations, and a healthy dose of paranoia as no one knows who anyone else is. Except the spies – they know who they are.
The Resistance as a movie could be a very tense thing, particularly if the audience does not know who the traitors are until the very end. There could be some creative storytelling with different people getting into fights, showing the missions as they play out, and really building a world where the controlling powers are just super evil. And you know what? I think the movie could be made even better if the Resistance doesn’t win. If they get to the final mission, and are thwarted because the government knew exactly what they were doing at all times. The traitors are revealed and bring down the good guys. It would be completely against the typical Hollywood formula where the good guys always win.
The fun of The Resistance is the unknown, which is why I think no one should know the bad guys until it is too late. Of course, there should be suspicion cast at the wrong people, and even a red red herring – someone who seems like a bad guy, and ACTUALLY IS A BAD GUY. You could play with a lot of conventions of spy and heist movies, and I think it would be a lot of fun.
RoboRally came out in 1994, designed by Richard Garfield and published by Wizards of the Coast (now Avalon Hill). It’s a game for 2-8 players where you are controlling robots. Basically, it’s glorified capture the flag – the first robot to touch all flags in sequence is the winner. However, rather than being just a straight race game, there’s the added element of programming your robots five turns in advance. This means that you could end up somewhere you did not intend to be. Like the other side of the board. Or in front of a laser. Or off the board. Or in a pit.
My idea for the movie is having some sort of timeline where the most popular sport in America is RoboRally. It’s billed as the first geek sport as it requires brainpower and no athleticism. The robots have to follow their programming while in the arena, though they have developed some sort of artificial intelligence. However, the world goes wrong when Twonky recognizes a command that would send him into a pit, and refuses to follow his programming. He is released, and ends up finding a world of other discarded robots. I don’t know where it’s going after that – I think the robots still have RoboRallies, and maybe Twonky will have to save the world in one.
After Real Steal came out a few years ago (Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots: The Movie), I started thinking about this one. I think it could be fun if done right – throw some Short Circuit together with every sports movie ever, and you’ve got RoboRally. Definitely one I’d like to see.
My last pick is Smash Up, Paul Peterson and AEG’s 2012 game about mashing up genres. There are eight factions, and you’ll put two of them together to fight the other mashups. You could have alien dinosaurs. Or pirate ninjas. Or trickster robots. Or zombie wizards. With the expansion, you could be ghost plants or steampunk bears. Or any combination of all of these. Each faction attacks bases, and you win by having the most points.
The movie for this would be big and dumb. It would have to be. Random factions coming together to kick everyone around. I can’t think of a plot, and it doesn’t matter. I would love to see zombies teaming up with dinosaurs, or fighting each other. I don’t care. Make it happen.
And a special honorable mention goes to The Order of the Stick (which is a game, but better known as a webcomic). If you’ve never read OOTS, I highly recommend it. Basically, it’s a group of adventurers on a Dungeons & Dragons-like quest. However, rather than being serious and in character the whole time, the characters are constantly making reference to the rules of the game – making a saving throw, rolling for initiative, stopping combat to discuss some of the nuances, or even claiming they missed something and retroactively applying damage. I think it would make for a hilarious movie, even if it wasn’t with the stick figures of the comic strip. In fact, I think live action might even be funnier than animated.
That’s The Eleven for the month. Hope you enjoyed speculating with me. Do you have any ideas for board game movies? Let me know. Thanks for reading!