The Cardboard Cinema series was created to explore the overlapping worlds of movies and tabletop, to recommend board games to film fans looking to dip their toe into a hobby that is currently undergoing a golden age. This highly irregular column exists because we love board games here at /Film and want to share them with our fellow movie buffs.
We’re taking a bit of a left turn with this edition, which is all about board game recommendations for video gamers. After all, the pop culture streams have crossed. The lines between entertainment mediums have blurred together. Your average movie fans plays games and your average gamer watches movies. It all blends together. Welcome to 2016, where pop culture enthusiasts have a toe in several pools of media.
Sure, writing about board games for video game fans on a movie website admittedly doesn’t make a ton of sense. But go ahead and indulge us, won’t you?
XCOM: The Board Game
The aesthetic choices of XCOM: The Board Game will instantly strike a chord with anyone who played 2012’s fantastic XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Like the terrific video game, the board game version has players running an organization that is tasked with repelling an alien invasion of Earth, and every single design choice is taken straight from the game or in harmony with it. As an adaptation, it’s nothing short of stellar.
But Fantasy Flight Games and designer Eric Lang didn’t take the easy way with with translating XCOM to your table. As easy as it would have been to toss together a tactical miniatures game where you maneuver plastic soldiers and aliens across a map, XCOM: The Board Game chooses instead to adapt the other half of Enemy Unknown – the part where you essentially play politician, secretary, and accountant for a multibillion-dollar science fiction organization. Although one player is technically in charge of deploying troops, there is no direct combat here. There is only you and three other players desperately trying to keep your unwieldy program on schedule and on budget.
And this is more tense than any simulated gun battle with a laser-wielding extra-terrestrial. XCOM: The Board Game is played in real time using a free companion mobile app. One player acts as the communications officer, handling a tablet or smartphone that generates threats and throws constant wrenches into your team’s workings. It’s up to this player to keep everyone else, working as head scientist, military commander, and group leader, on track as threats increase, nations fall into panic, and your budget slowly dwindles to nothing. This is a game about making difficult decisions on the fly and this app is a stroke of brilliance, adding a terrifying digital layer to the tabletop experience.
Interestingly, this rapid-fire board game is faster and more intense than its video game counterpart. While XCOM the video game is all about taking things slowly and slowly realizing that you’re in the middle of a fight you cannot possibly win, its tabletop cousin never gives you room to breathe. You keep on moving, you keep on shouting, you keep on making choices. If you’ve ever wanted to know how your friends would act in a crisis, gather them together for a game of XCOM: The Board Game and watch them crumble. This would be a punishing experience if you weren’t having such a great time. Play this with people who know how to laugh at misfortune and terrible luck.
There are a ton of great city-building experiences in the digital and tabletop realms, but Suburbia ranks in the upper echelon of them all. Here is a game about constructing a neighborhood that is easy to learn and difficult to master. Its simple, elegant design and straightforward art mask a game that is deep, challenging, and frequently hilarious.
Suburbia is different from other city-building games right off the bat in that you don’t get to construct an entire city – you are in charge of a single borough in a larger metropolis, with other players’ neighborhoods representing the rest of the city. This instantly leads to all kinds of great trash talk around the table as you watch one section of the city rise to prominence (Shopping malls! Neighborhoods! Parks!) and others fall into total disarray (Casinos! Waste dumps! Noisy airports!). Although the game itself is a terrific puzzle that relies on the player making mathematically and logically sound decisions, the theme of struggling to build a functioning home for your fictional, often angry, citizens is ever present. Yeah, placing your fifth fast food joint in a row may get you a lot of points, but it’s going to earn you some great snark from your fellow players.
Suburbia is deliciously simple. When its your turn, you spend some of your hard-earned income to purchase a tile representing a new development from a public area in the center of the table. The longer a tile hangs around, the cheaper it gets, forcing players to make those hard choices. You really want that fancy hotel for your borough, but you suspect your neighbor does, too. Do you buy it now or do you wait until it won’t break your bank? The result is cutthroat Sim City, with you and your friends cast as the most asshole-ish city council members of all time.
With a set-up that determines a different game every time you play, Suburbia never gets old (and the expansions keep it fresh, too). The result is a fast-playing, light-hearted sim that allows you to feel the pride of building a functioning city where your fictional citizens are totally happy. Or you end up building a toxic waste dump next to some luxury apartments and everyone else has a great laugh at your bumbling misfortune. Everyone wins.