Cardboard Cinema: 'Reservoir Dogs,' 'The Princess Bride,' 'Source Code,' 'The Thing,' 'A Night At The Opera,' 'The Road Warrior'

Welcome to Cardboard Cinema, the monthly column where we pair great tabletop games with great movies. In today's edition: games that capture the spirit of films from Quentin Tarantino, Rob Reiner, Duncan Jones, John Carpenter, George Miller, and the Marx brothers. From light party games that will loosen you up and get you laughing to complex adventures that demand some serious commitment, we're offering "game and a movie" double features for all tastes.

Foam pistols, ludicrous fantasy adventures, and great heaping barrels of paranoia and distrust, right after the jump.

The Game: Cash 'n Guns

The Movie: Reservoir Dogs

Like in Reservoir Dogs, a game of Cash 'n Guns begins after the heist is over and your gang of crooks have returned to their hideout. Also like in Reservoir Dogs, everyone is armed and untrustworthy and ready to point a gun at anything that moves. The big question is, of course, whether or not anyone is actually going to pull the trigger.

The big gimmick of Cash 'n Guns is that every player is armed with a foam pistol. Each round, the players divvy up a new round of loot from their recent robbery, but everyone wants a bigger piece of the pie. That means a lot of gunplay. Or rather, the threat of a lot of gunplay. Literally every round begins with the players simultaneously pointing their weapon at another player at the table, but whether or not they intend to use one of their few precious bullets (or if they're just bluffing) was already determined by a secretly selected card. Tough talk, threats, bargaining, and begging ensues as everyone tries to make sense of the tangled web of violence around them. Do you back out and lose money or risk your life because you think so-and-so isn't actually going to shoot you?

As you can surely tell from the goofy box art, this is no serious game. Cash 'n Guns is a very silly experience and those ingenious foam guns bring out the ham in everyone. As the game goes on and players begin to double- and triple-cross one another to add more loot to their stack, grudges form and things get hilariously personal. I've yet to see a game of Cash 'n Guns that didn't devolve into shouts of feigned rage and maniacal laughter from all involved. It makes you want to break out your best tough guy dialogue to threaten your opponents with retribution should they try to cut you out of a deal. After all, every player has the opportunity to back down before committing to their real or fake threat to open fire on their friends and family members.

Cash 'n Guns is the only party game in existence that is entirely built around Mexican stand-offs, macho posturing, and high body counts. Not everyone usually makes it to the final round of this game, so the stakes are deliciously and hilariously high. Play with the right crew and the amount of swearing around the table will rival any Quentin Tarantino movie. A game only takes 20 minutes, but it feels like you've played an entire crime movie.

The Game: Arcadia Quest

The Movie: The Princess Bride

Some people will look at the design choices on display in Arcadia Quest and roll their eyes. The overly cute chibi figures and cartoonish monsters make this look like kids' stuff at first glance. But don't be fooled – much like how Fred Savage complained to his grandfather about how he was reading him a "kissing book" in the early scenes of The Princess Bride, Arcadia Quest's silly aesthetic masks one of the most compelling and hilarious fantasy games of recent years.

Arcadia Quest is admittedly a bit of a commitment. Players assemble parties of heroes and embark on a quest to rid a city from the hordes of evil. Like an RPG, characters level up and gain loot that carry over from game-to-game across a larger campaign. Like any great miniatures game, the (thankfully pre-assembled) figures are detailed and look amazing on the table. Like Rob Reiner's beloved 1987 fantasy tale, the inherent humor of the whole thing is what keeps you coming back, not the sword fights (although those are pretty great, too).

Because Arcadia Quest is all about being a huuuge dick in what initially appears to be a fairly standard fantasy tale. Each player's band of heroes wants glory only for themselves and the game rewards you for picking fights with the other players, ignoring the traditionally heroic tasks of each mission so you can pummel each other instead. It's like the Lord of the Rings if the Fellowship shattered into four factions that proceeded to stab the crap out of each other because each of them wanted to be the one to throw the ring into Mount Doom. It's petty. It's ridiculous. It's fantastic.

This is a deep and satisfying game filled with many avenues of victory and tremendous moments of drama and action. Chucking a fistful of dice in a Hail Mary attempt to kill a goblin warrior and steal his artifact and actually succeeding will never not be exciting, but Arcadia Quest is Arcadia Quest because your buddy will then sneak up on you, stab you in the back, and run off with your new toy to win the game. Come for the fantasy adventure, stay for the ridiculous comedy that arises on seemingly every turn.

The Game: Tragedy Looper

The Movie: Source Code

Don't let the box art fool you – you don't have to be a fan of anime to enjoy Tragedy Looper, a board game that uses a distinct Japanese art style to tell a story that is very much in line with some great American science fiction. Some of you will find shades of Quantum Leap here, but others will latch onto Source Code or Edge of Tomorrow. In some ways, Tragedy Looper is the deduction-driven, horror-mystery version of Groundhog Day.

But we're going to stick with Source Code because they two of them overlap in a number of ways. Much like director Duncan Jones' underrated science fiction mystery, Tragedy Looper tasks players with investigating a violent occurrence (the details vary depending on the scenario) while allowing them to reset their investigation when they inevitably fail. When the victim you are supposed to save or the event your were supposed to prevent occurs, and it always occurs, you travel back in time and try again, now armed with information from your previous jaunt through the timeline. However, the forces of evil, controlled by another player, are prepared to fight back and will attempt to shake your team off the trail and ensure that those fated to die and suffer get what's coming to them.

Tragedy Looper can be a tricky game to wrap your brain around at first, but it's a satisfying, deeply brain-burning experience that appeals to amateur sleuths and genre fans in equal measure. The dynamic between players is just so satisfying: the bad guy knows everything and must watch as the heroes slowly learn his master plan through repeated trial and error. As they live, die, and repeat, they grow more powerful, forcing more direct showdowns and riskier gambles from both sides. There are a fair number of time travel games out there, but none that so beautifully capture a group of heroes battling a timeline that refuses to bend to their wishes. The box may look like anime, but you'll feel more like Jake Gyllenhaal (or Tom Cruise or Bill Murray) when you play this one.

The Game: Dark Moon

The Movie: The Thing

Dark Moon began its life as BSG Express, a home-brewed revision of Fantasy Flight Games' beloved Battlestar Galactic game that played in half the time. By stripping out all the excess fluff, a hulking, thematic behemoth of a game transformed into a razor. Gone was the sense of scale and adventure, but in its place was raw paranoia, fear, and deeply personal intensity.

BSG Express eventually escaped its status as a print-and-play game you could download for free online and became Dark Moon, which invents a brand new science fiction aesthetic to replace the Battlestar license. The basic set-up should be familiar to anyone who has seen their fair share of genre movies: players represent the crew of an isolated mining colony in outer space that has been subjected to a virus that turns normal people into violent maniacs who want to sabotage the entire colony and kill everyone inside, and the infected are hiding in plain sight.

Dark Moon might as well be John Carpenter's The Thing: The Game. Each round, players are presented with an event threatening the colony and everyone is forced to work together to resolve the problem and keep the crew alive. But a few of the people at the table are secretly infected and will do everything they can to sabotage the plan, quietly wreaking havoc while claiming innocence. The best games of Dark Moon find players pointing fingers at actual innocent players as the infected sit on the sidelines and bid their time. Paranoia rules every second of Dark Moon and figuring out whom you can trust is easier said than done.

By utilizing a clever dice system where everything you can do is rolled and hidden behind a screen, other players never know if you can't help save the failing life support system because you actually can't contribute anything worthwhile or because you're a damn dirty traitor. Remember that scene in The Thing where Kurt Russell's MacReady shoots a colleague to death because he made the wrong move and learns after the fact that he was human all along? The feeling of that scene haunts every interaction in Dark Moon. One wrong move, one ounce of trust placed in the wrong person, can bring the whole thing down. Lying to your friends and stabbing them in the back has rarely been so chilling... or delicious.

The Game: Hanabi

The Movie: A Night at the Opera

Hanabi is built around one of the most ingenious designs in modern board gaming. Players work together to co-operatively to assemble their various colored and numbered cards in the right order, but with one huge hiccup: they hold their hand of cards backwards, so everyone else can see their cards while they themselves cannot. Actions are extremely limited and mistakes are punished with extreme harshness – on your turn, you can play a card or you can share limited information with another player to help let them know what they have in their hand.

There is a vague story attached to Hanabi (players are scrambling to assemble a fireworks display in the dark moments before the show is set to begin), but the game tends to become an impressive farce full of terrible decisions and miscommunication and laughter. The disastrous "let's put on a show!" vibe can't help but remind me of the Marx brothers' A Night at the Opera, where gags compounded on top of gags to create unforgettable scenes of confused mayhem. As you scramble through a game of Hanabi, it's easy to imagine the players taking on classic vaudeville personas. You are a bunch of goofballs stumbling in the dark, failing to tell each other the one thing that will end the madness.

But who wants to end the madness? Half of the fun of Hanabi is the game's always-evolving logic puzzle, but the other half is the laughter you choke back as you realize your friend has taken the hint you gave him and interpreted it in the exact wrong way. And usually, one calamitous decision in Hanabi leads to more, as the discarding of one key card often means well-orchestrated plans being chucked right out the window. Normally, mayhem this intricate has to be designed and acted by comedic geniuses – Hanabi generates it for you on the spot while simultaneously presenting you with a game that appeals to all ages at tastes. Priced at only $10, Hanabi is the biggest bang for your buck in modern designer board gaming. Not playing this is the tabletop equivalent of saying you haven't seen a Marx brothers movie.

The Game: Arctic Scavengers

The Movie: The Road Warrior

Have you watched the Mad Max movies, seen the various tribes, gangs and communities run by the ruthless likes of The Lord Humungous, Aunty Entity, and Immortan Joe and declared "I can do better"? Here's your chance to prove it. Arctic Scavengers puts you in charge of your own band of survivors in a deadly post-apocalypse. You must recruit new people to your cause, gather supplies and weapons, and, when the time is right, throw down with your rival tribes to solidify your power. While the icy apocalypse seen in this game is a world away from the arid apocalypse of The Road Warrior, the principles are the same: the world has fallen, but it's now your turn to rise.

Arctic Scavenger's beautifully integrated theme makes it one of the best "deck builders" on the market right now. Like the massively popular Dominion (which essentially invented this kind of game), you begin Arctic Scavengers with a tiny deck of useless cards and must recruit and purchase cards from the center of the table. The only way to win is to beef up your options and increase the size of the your deck, but the only way to be competitive is also find ways to ditch cards to keep every hand you draw lean and mean and free of useless junk. And while Arctic Scavengers is, in many ways, just Dominion with a new coat of paint, that paint is so much for thematically satisfying than Dominion's vague medieval theme. Do you go scavenging for weapons and medicine but risk finding nothing? Do you recruit refugees, who provide powerful end-game points, or do you go after the trained warriors who can help you defend yourself in the moment? Every strategy and choice feels dramatic and vital.

Arctic Scavengers is satisfying as a card game with cool art, but it's something truly special when you take notice of the story you're telling. Despite a quick playing time of roughly 45 minutes, each game feels genuinely epic and filled with dramatic twists and turns. You could just play a card and take its text literally (it's worth more points, it lets you draw extra supplies, etc.), but it's so much more fun to imagine exactly what's going through the minds of your fictional soldiers and gang members and helpless families as you use throw them into the thick of it to achieve your ends. Play Arctic Scavengers with a few people who don't mind narrating what's going on in their camp as they play their cards and you'll realize that no one ever needs to make a Mad Max board game. This one will do just fine.

Previously on Cardboard Cinema...

Star Wars Board Games, Episode 2

Star Wars Board Games, Episode 1