Cardboard Cinema: RPG Adaptations For Famous Movies And Movie Adaptations For Famous RPGs

The year is 2023. Famous movies are now roleplaying games. Famous roleplaying games are now movies. The geeks have inherited the Earth, and they are not content to take your 20-sided dice. They want your three-day opening weekend box office grosses too.

Typically, Cardboard Cinema — this column by yours truly — is not blessed with this abundance of cinematic riches. Part of the fun for me is to find games that capture the essence of popular cultures, such as last month's "R'lyehwatch." But this month? This month we're flush, exploring blockbuster franchises of screens big and small with "The Walking Dead" and "Terminator." Oh, and we have a new movie this weekend about dragons in dungeons of some sort directed by the comedic geniuses behind "Game Night." So, you know, slow news week in the land of tabletop.

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves takes tabletop Hollywood

Over the years, Hollywood has tried its hand at several tabletop adaptations. Some of them, like "Clue," have withstood the test of time. Others... well, at least we know that "Battleship" is the perfect pairing between a movie and an elliptical machine. But with "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves," tabletop finally has its moment in the spotlight. We're used to many movies ending up in cardboard — it's rare to see that process successfully go the other way around.

Of course, as a committed subscriber of actual plays, part of the movie's fun will be seeing how "Dungeons & Dragons" holds up for people who spend their time telling stories in that universe. There's already been one such video: virtual tabletop company Roll20 recorded their own trailer reaction video with creators like Aabria Iyengar and Omar Najam, alumni from popular actual plays like Dimension 20 and the "Critical Role" series. I fully expect to see many more of these types of reactions in the weeks to come.

And in case you want to, you know, learn more about the actual movie, you can find a lot of excellent coverage right here at /Film. For example, here's our review from Senior News Editor Jacob Hall, who described the film as one "driven by character and wit, a fantasy adventure unashamed to be about how we define love and family." Or take an early peek at Eric Vespe's interview with directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, who talk about why their film offers a healthy blast of "Indiana Jones" energy.

Kill your past with the Terminator RPG expansion

As someone who follows a lot of independent game designers on social media, I'm always of two minds about games like "The Terminator RPG." On the one hand, something must be said for supporting independent work over major franchise entries. But on the other hand, my love of cinema harkens back to a childhood mostly spent with mass-market action figures. There were just me and my "Terminator" toys, creating vivid stories in my mind about the battle between men and machines. And it was great.

So when Nightfall Games announced an expansion to the "The Terminator RPG," I knew I would be one of the first in line as a backer — hell, my pledge was out the door within 30 minutes of the Kickstarter launching. As a franchise, "Terminator" certainly has more ups than downs. "Terminator Salvation" is interesting no matter what Christian Bale says, "Terminator: Dark Fate" should age nicely, and "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" remains one of my favorite television adaptations ever. But good or bad, "Terminator" has always felt like a franchise that was just scratching the surface of its boundless potential.

The board games offer players a chance to tap into that potential themselves. Want your campaign to be a post-apocalyptic battle between Skynet and the resistance? You can do that. Prefer the slasher-style intrigue of the original film? Sure, you can do that too. But perhaps my favorite note in the marketing is that players can die and then reroll that exact same character from an alternate timeline in the "Terminator" universe. What's not to like?

The "Terminator 2" RPG Kickstarter ends on Thursday, April 20, 2023.

Perform some vintage murder in Townsfolk Tussle

Don't look now, but we live in the golden age of rubber hose animation revivals. From the "Cuphead" series to Spicy Donut's line of "Fangoria" artwork, vintage 1920s animation has become fashionable again in a big way. And board games are no exception. In fact, 2022 saw the release of two rubber hose-style projects: Wyrd Miniatures's "Vagrantsong" and Panic Roll's "Townsfolk Tussle," the latter of which is in the middle of a wildly popular second edition on Kickstarter.

"Townsfolk Tussle" is described as a "vintage co-op boss battler," where 2-5 players team up to protect the town of Eureka Springs. Split between two different phases — the Fight phase and the Town phase — players will buy equipment, complete Feats of Mettle, and face Town Events as they prepare to fight the dastardly Ruffians. If the townsfolk can survive against four waves of villains, they will save the town and avenge the fallen sheriff.

For the game's second edition, publisher Panic Roll has added two new expansions: the "Foul Neighbors" and "Odd Jobs" expansions, each of which has pushed the crowdfunding total up above $800,000 as of this writing. If you're a fan of turn-based fighting games, classic animation, and just a little bit of mondo gore, then "Townsfolk Tussle" might be a great combination of mechanics and theme. Here's to even more rubber hose board games in the years to come.

The "Townsfolk Tussle" Kickstarter ends on Thursday, April 6, 2023.

Use the Walking Dead RPG to relive the series on your terms

On paper, I'm not exactly the target audience for a "Walking Dead" RPG. Sure, I watched the first season along with everyone else — zombies in mainstream media were quite the novelty back then — but the series was immediately overshadowed by an endless deluge of zombie games, movies, and television. So a tabletop roleplaying game set in the "Walking Dead" universe wasn't exactly a strong hook, even for a big adaptation guy.

The problem for me — or for my wallet, at least — is that the "Walking Dead" was produced by Free League, one of my personal favorite tabletop publishers. Free League is slowly cornering the market on entertainment franchises, adding both "Alien" and "Blade Runner" to their stable over the past few years. The artwork in their books is gorgeous. The writing — half rulebook, half reference guide — has helped expand my appreciation for the franchises mentioned above. And in my book, that means Free League isn't selling "The Walking Dead." It's the other way around.

So what can backers expect? Well, Free League is most famous for its Year Zero Engine, a system that uses multiple D6 to determine outcomes and add stress modifiers to challenging rolls. For the "Walking Dead" game, they've also introduced a campaign mode and a survival mode to give players options for spending their time at the table. And if you're very into the show, Free League has unlocked custom character sheets for Danai Gurira's Michonne and Steven Yeun's Glenn Rhee. And unlike in the actual show, these characters won't let their contracts lapse in pursuit of a film career.

The Walking Dead Universe RPG Kickstarter ends on Wednesday, April 5, 2023.