Which board game movies should Hollywood make next? This week it was announced that Gail Katz (The Perfect Storm, Air Force One) had acquired the film and TV rights to Settlers of Catan, a very popular eurogame which while fun, probably wouldn’t make a great film. So I thought now is a good time to republish my list of the 11 board game movies Hollywood should make next.
The following article first appeared on /Film in February 2014:
Over the last year or so I’ve gotten sucked into the table top scene, and now have a board game addiction. I’m not talking about Monopoly or The Game of Life, but designer hobby board games that offer more strategy and theme than the games we all played as children.
Hollywood has dipped its toes into the board game movies a handful of times over the last few years. First with Battleship. It was such a huge bomb that Universal later dropped Monopoly, which was being developed for years by Ridley Scott. Universal released a horror/thriller adaptation of Ouija. Universal and Warner Bros are both fighting to make a movie based on the role-paying game Dungeons & Dragons. And most recently, 20th Century Fox has announced they are brining the popular role-playing card game Magic: The Gathering to the big screen with the help of Simon Kinberg.
There are many reasons Battleship failed but I think first and foremost the audience refused to take the movie seriously after hearing the title. The studio clearly greenlit the project hoping to turn massive brand recognition into tickets sold, but it didn’t take a genius to realize that the 1930 board game didn’t have enough story to warrant a movie adaptation. So much so that director Peter Berg made up his own “alien invasion at sea” construct.
So if Hollywood is going to develop board game movies, why not look at some board games that offer deeper storytelling, more interesting scenarios and compelling characters? The list I have put together after the jump includes a bunch of board games that you might not have heard of, but are popular in the tabletop gaming world. Each of them has something to offer Hollywood if they wanted to bet on concept and story vs. huge branding.
It should be noted that while the tabletop world is a niche market, the brand recognition might be the equivalent of developing an adaptation from an independent cult comic book series. For instance, The Walking Dead was selling around 25,000 copies of each issue when it was picked up for television adaptation on AMC. Some successfully produced strategy games like Pandemic are said to have sold hundreds of thousands of copies.
I have played all of the games I featured in this list – not only do they offer big screen opportunities, but all of them are great games. If you want to get into table top board games, any of these would be a good first buy. To make things easier, the following list is not in any order. (I do start off the list with my top choice.) If there were a board game on the market that should be made into a movie, it should be…
1. Mice & Mystics
Mice and Mystics might be the deepest storytelling game I’ve ever played; it comes with a 58-page campaign storybook divided into 11 chapters of story-based missions. The tiny fantasy tale features mice heroes with magical powers and insect villains on the ground floor (literally) of an epic tale in a royal castle.
ONCE UPON A TIME In the kingdom of Owendale there lived a kind, but lonely, king who had no queen to help him rule the country or raise his son, Prince Collin. One autumn day an emissary arrived at the castle – the mysterious and beautiful Queen Vanestra. Before long, the King announced his intentions to marry Vanestra. And then the dark days came. ADVENTURE AWAITS. In Mice and Mystics players take on the roles of those still loyal to the king – but to escape the clutches of Vanestra, they have been turned into mic. Play as cunning field mice who must race through a castle now twenty times larger than before. The castle would be a dangerous place with Vanestra’s minions in control, but now countless other terrors also await heroes who are but the size of figs. … Mice and Mystics is a cooperative adventure game in which the players work together to save an imperiled kingdom. They will face countless adversaries such as rats, cockroaches, and spiders, and of course the greatest of all horrors: the castle’s housecat, Brodie. Mice and Mystics is a boldly innovative game that thrusts players into an ever-changing, interactive environment, and features a rich storyline that the players help create as they play the game.
The game was released in 2012 and very well received, selling over 30,000 copies (in the US alone) and winning three Dice Tower Awards. The game is a favorite of both families and adult gamers, making it perfect for an animated adaptation. The story by Jerry Hawthorne features wonderful imagery worthy of a DreamWorks or even a Pixar adaptation. I’m currently working my way through the game with my game group.
Mad Men co-star Rich Sommer recorded an audiobook of the “story moments” which is available for a small charitable donation. Plaid Hat Games have since released the Mice and Mystics: Heart of Glorm small-box expansion which adds six chapters to the story, and is working on a full expansion called Mice and Mystics: Downwood Tales which will take the mouse heroes out of the castle into the enchanted forest and introduce a new set of green lizard heroes and foes. So there is more stories that could be told in sequels.
Mice & Mystics is available on Amazon for around $52.
2. Two Rooms and a Boom
Two Rooms and a Boom is a hidden-role social role-playing game for six to 30 players. One player is a terrorist bomber, another player is the president of the United States, and the rest of the players are split into teams trying either to help the president stay alive or help the terrorist make the kill. The players are randomly given roles and placed into two separate rooms. The bomb is going to blow up in a specific amount of time, and the rooms are allowed to trade hostages a few times. The players are allowed to show their role cards to each other, but revealing your side or role to the wrong person could be fatal. If by the end of the game the President has avoided the room with the bomber, his blue team wins. If the bomber ends up blowing up the room with the president, the red team wins.
Many of the participants in the game are also given their own secret objectives – for instance, the President’s wife and mistress both want to end up in the same room with the president, and win if they accomplish that goal but not if both of them are in the room. One player in each room can be a spy, who has a card that makes it look like he is on the other team, but he is really a secret operative trying to gain information for the other team to use to win the game. Another player is an engineer who has the trigger for the bomb. He needs to find the bomber and get him the trigger before the countdown is over or the bomb won’t work.
The game is played in many game conventions around the world and was recently kickstarted for a retail release. For now, you can download and print the game for free from the creator’s website. The game is a ton of fun and very involved, unlike another hidden-role game, Werewolf, which has a player elimination each round and very few interesting extra player goals.
We’ve seen the scenario in movies and television in the past (most recently the season one finale of Homeland) but the concept has never been the entire subject of a feature film as far as I can remember. I could definitely see the idea turned into a real-time contained mystery thriller which could be accomplished on a Jason Blum-budget level. (Hey, it only takes a couple rooms on lockdown.) A big-screen adaptation might have to ditch the president for a lower key character who wouldn’t be recognizable by those stuck in the rooms.
Two Rooms and a Boom will be released later this year but you can download a print and play version to try yourself on TuesdayKnightGames.com.
Pandemic is one of my favorites, a cooperative strategy board game set in the near future when several virulent diseases that have broken out simultaneously all over the world. Players are disease-fighting specialists working together to treat disease hotspots while researching cures. Each player takes on a different role with different game abilities, and the team has to travel the world and prevent the spread of the diseases before Earth is saturated with them.
The game, designed by Matt Leacock, is a grand puzzle that requires both foresight and teamwork to win. Zman Games have since released two expansions: On the Brink, which introduces another virulent disease (as if Pandemic wasn’t already hard enough), and a bio-terrorist scenario. In The Lab introduces a scientific research laboratory (an extra board) where “scientists race against time to sequence diseases, take samples, and test cures” which adds to the realism of the theme.
The only reason this might not ever be made into a movie is because Steven Soderbergh‘s dramatic thriller Contagion is essentially a big screen version of this board game. Hollywood could look at the Bio-terrorist variant included in the On the Brink expansion, however, as a storyline option.
Pandemic is available at some Target stores or on Amazon for around $28.