Board Game Movies Hollywood Should Make Next

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...

Mice and Mystics

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

3. Pandemic

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.

Werewolf

4. Werewolf

Werewolf is a hidden role party game created in the 1980's which is a mainstay of any board game convention. I recently played a game at OrcCon with over 50 people. (Yes, 50 at once.) Everyone playing the game gets role cards. Some of the players are Werewolves, others are villagers, some of which have various different motives. The game has two alternating phases: "night", during which the werewolves vote to "murder" an innocent, and "day", in which the surviving players debate the identities of the werewolves and attempt to lynch a villager they suspect. The game continues until all of the werewolf members have been eliminated, or until the werewolves outnumber the innocent villagers.

We've seen a lot of werewolf films over the years, but few of them use the hidden-role mystery construct. Setting the story in a quiet little 16th century village allows for an interesting contained story of a town trying to find the werewolves in their midst before its too late. Like Groundhogs Day, we could grow to learn all the members of this small town and try to decipher which ones change overnight and which ones might just have their own secret agendas. A story like this could also work well as a mini series.

Ultimate Werewolf is available on Amazon for around $20.

Eldritch Horror

5. Eldritch Horror and Arkham Horror

Fantasy Flight's Eldritch Horror and Arkham Horror series of adventure board games are based on writings of H. P. Lovecraft. Players take on roles of investigators in either the Massachusetts town of Arkham or traveling the world as gates to other planes open spewing out aliens from other worlds. The investigators must solve mysteries, gain artifacts, fight the creatures and close the gates before they destroy Arkham and the world. The game has immersive role-playing and storytelling elements that would make it perfect for a big screen or small screen adaptation.

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While the concepts are based on the writings of H. P. Lovecraft, much of what happens in the game is the creation of game designer Richard Launius. There have been plenty of Lovecraft-inspired movies, if few "accurate" ones. Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro has been developing a movie adaptation of the Lovecraft novella At the Mountains of Madness for years. Tom Cruise was attached to star and production was gearing up to begin when a disagreement between del Toro and Universal Pictures over the rating canceled the film. Del Toro says he will continue to try to make the film.

Until then, these two adaptations are on the table. Eldritch Horror would work better as a premium cable television series, with the investigators traveling around the world to find artifacts, fight monsters and close gates. Arkham Horror could work as a lower budget horror film, as its set in one town.

Disclaimers: I said in my intro that I had played all the games on this list. That's actually a lie. I haven't played Arkham Horror. But I have played Eldritch Horror, which is considered as Arkham's streamlined, easier-to-learn replacement. I also lied when I said that any of these games would be great for a first time board gamer. I've heard Arkham Horror is a bit fiddly and that the rules are harder to grasp even for experienced board gamers. You have been warned.

Arkham Horror and Eldritch Horror are both available on Amazon for around $40-45.

King of Tokyo

6. King of Tokyo

King of Tokyo is a dice-rolling board game where the players take on the roles of mutant monsters, gigantic robots, and strange aliens – all of whom are destroying Tokyo and knocking each other out in order to become the one and only King of Tokyo. The game is basically  Yahzee variant where each player rolls and re-rolls six dice, hoping to gain victory points, Energy (the currency of the monster world), Heal and Attack other monsters.

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There have been a ton of monster movies (we're all looking forward to the upcoming Godzilla reboot) but most of them are set in the world of the humans. But what about instead setting the story in this colorful and vibrant world of the monsters? I could see these characters in a Illumination Entertainment, DreamWorks, or Blue Sky Studios animated feature. The dice game doesn't offer a ton in terms of story, but has tons of illustrations over many cards used in the game. Some of these illustrations are as cool looking as the concept art I often see in pre-production art rooms. 

Forbidden Island

7. Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert

In Forbidden Island, you and up to three other players take on the role of a team of fearless adventurers on "a do-or-die mission to capture four sacred treasures from the ruins of this perilous paradise."

This game is centered on the legend of the Archean empire, a civilization that possessed the ability to control the Earth's core elements–fire, wind, water, and earth–through four sacred treasures. These treasures stayed hidden from enemies for years on the Forbidden Island, which was designed to sink if intruders ever attempted to capture them. Your team will have to work together and make some pulse-pounding maneuvers, as the island will sink beneath every step! Race to collect the treasures and make a triumphant escape before you are swallowed into the watery abyss!

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If that description doesn't convince you that the game's storyline could make a fun movie adaptation, then I just give up.  This cooperative game is often compared to Pandemic, which makes sense since it was also created by the same award-winning game designer, Matt Leacock. Forbidden Island is a bit easier to grasp, which makes it perfect for families. That said, I still have trouble winning this game when not set on the easier levels — it is a bit of a brain burner. Thats probably why the Mensa organization awarded the game the 2010 Mensa Favorite Brainy Games Winner.

 Forbidden Desert Board Game

In 2013, Leacock and Gamewright Games released a sequel to Forbidden Island called Forbidden Desert. Its a bid more complex but still amazingly simple in its construction. The sequel follows a bunch of adventurers who crash land in the desert and are trying to recover a legendary flying machine buried deep in the ruins of an ancient city before they die from dehydration in the scorching heat and relentless sandstorm. This game could also be adapted for the screen, but desert sandstorms are probably less cinematic than the island adventure.

Priced at around only $15 (buy it now on Amazon), Forbidden Island is the best bang for your buck that you'll find. Forbidden Desert is available on amazon for around $25.

Arctic scavengers

8. Arctic Scavengers

Arctic Scavengers is a great deck-building card game which unfortunately was lost in the shuffle thanks to being released shortly after Dominion created the innovative mechanic. The game offers more in theme and interaction than many of the other card games in the deck-building category. Here is the official product description:

In the year 2097, the entire Earth was enveloped in a cataclysmic shift in climate, plunging the globe into another ice age. Nearly 90% of the world's population was eliminated, driving the survivors to band together into loose communities and tribes. In Arctic Scavengers, you are the leader of a small tribe of survivors. Resources, tools, medicine, and mercenaries are all in scarce supply. You and your tribe are pitted against up to four other tribes in a fight for survival. Build up your tribe, skirmish against other players head-to-head, or even bluff your way to victory. The player with the largest tribe at the end of the game is declared the winner! The world of Arctic Scavengers is cold and brutal. Do you have what it takes to survive?

There isn't a ton of story in this game but the dystopian gang world set in a world of snow and ice offers a lot of possibilities. This might make a better television series than a movie, but the snow-covered locations might be hard to accomplish on a budget.

Arctic Scavengers is available for under $30 on Amazon.

Escape: The Curse of the Temple

9. Escape: Curse of the Temple

Like any other medium, board games often borrow ideas and concepts from popular culture, including movies. There are more than a few games that play off the treasure-hunting of Indiana Jones. Two in particular I think could be adapted into a movie that does something different than the Indy trilogy (yes, lets forget about that last one).

First up is Escape: Curse of the Temple, a real-time "roll and move" cooperative game in which players must escape from a cursed temple before it collapses and kills one or more explorers. The game is exactly 10 minutes long because it is timed and played with a soundtrack. Players roll dice and take actions simultaneously. They must discover new rooms, and work together in puzzle rooms to find a number of magic gems to allow themselves to escape the temple.

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The things that set this apart from Indiana Jones is that a movie version would follow a bunch of greedy adventurers who all become trapped in the temple and must work together to escape. Its contained but in high concept sets. The story would also be real-time. Think of it as Indiana Jones meets Saw. They have an hour to solve the puzzles and escape before being trapped inside forever.

Escape The Curse of the Temple is available for around $50 on Amazon.

The Adventurers

10. The Adventurers

The other Indiana Jones-inspired game is a series called The Adventurers. There are actually two different games under this heading, featuring different characters. The Temple of Chac is like a rip off of Raiders of the Lost Ark (complete with rolling boulder) while The Pyramid of Horus is a copy of The Mummy remake. This is another game where treasure hunters must escape before being trapped inside the temple. What makes this game different is that it features a bunch of treasure hunters who are not working together, each looking out for their own bottom dollar.

The fun of the board game is that it is a "push your luck" adventure game. There are many ways to find treasures in the temple, but there are also many ways to die. You can play it safe and read hieroglyphics on the walls to discover which tiles in the lava room are trapped, or you can just grab for treasure and go for it. The game has a great mechanic where it allows all the characters to take the exact same amount of actions every turn, but the more treasure you collect in your backpack, the fewer actions you get. (In other words, the slower you are, with and fewer options.)

The Adventurers is a fun family game series that I feel doesn't get enough credit. The concept would work as a movie: competing adventurers racing against time, each other and their own greed to escape an ancient temple. Who will make it out alive with the most treasure?

The Adventurers and the Temple of Chac is available for around $40 on Amazon.

Android Netrunner

11. Android: Netrunner

After creating the massive behemoth that was Magic: The Gathering, designer Richard Garfield created a new collectible card game called Netrunner. Despite being lauded by critics, the game did not replicate the success of Magic. Cut to 2012, when Fantasy Flight bought the rights to the game and released it as  a living card game called Android: Netrunner. What that means is, instead of being doled out in packs of playing cards from which players must build up sets, Android: Netrunner was released as a big box card game. This version became a runner-up for game of the year at the 2012 Dice tower awards.

Android: Netrunner is set in a dystopian future and follows a battle between a mega-corporation and a black hat hacker (nicknamed a "runner" in the Android universe) in a duel to take control of data. The difference between Netrunner and a lot of other card games such as Magic is that it is an asymmetric two-player card game where both players are playing in a completely different way. One player is the runner hacking into a big corporation's computer network and revealing agendas, while the other is the big corporation trying to work secret agendas behind a series of corporate firewalls (called "ice").

Essentially the game is a cyberpunk hacking story that we've seen aspects of before, but what makes Netrunner unique as a property is all the cool concepts and terminology of this world. The game is completely different on both sides of the fence, and film version could show this duality instead of just following the hero. The art on some of the cards is just fantastic, and we haven't had a good cyberpunk movie in years.

Android: Netrunner is available for around $30 from Amazon.

Header image thanks to yellowbrickboardgames. Now Hollywood, please make one of these board game movies and not Snakes and Latter's or Mouse Trap!