Cardboard Cinema: 'Scott Pilgrim,' 'Rambo,' & 'Wet Hot American Summer' Board Games On The Way

(Welcome to Cardboard Cinema, a feature that explores the intersection between movies and tabletop gaming. This column is sponsored by Dragon's Lair Comics & Fantasy in Austin, Texas.)

In this edition of Cardboard Cinema, we'll be taking a look at a slew of upcoming board games that will surely have something to offer movie fans: a new miniatures war game inspired by Game of Thrones, a cooperative action game based on the Rambo movies, a card game set in the world of Scott Pilgrim, a board game that might as well be a Jurassic Park game, and a pen and paper RPG based on the comedy classic Wet Hot American Summer.

a song of ice and fire game

A Song of Ice and Fire: Tabletop Miniatures Game

CMON (formerly Cool Mini Or Not) have revealed their next big project: a tabletop miniatures game based on George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire book series, which you may know better in its television incarnation: HBO's Game of Thrones. The base game will offer plays units based on House Stark and House Lannister, inviting them to duke in out in battles both massive and intimate. Here's an excerpt from the official release:

Battles can range from large-scale wars with hundreds of miniatures, to simple skirmishes between a few units without complicating the elegantly designed rules. The game features several unique systems, including alternating activations that keep the players engaged; a Rank System that changes a unit's capabilities as the battle rages on; a Tactics System that provides strategic powers fueled by a finite resource each round; and, most importantly, the iconic Heroes, such as Robb Stark and Jaime Lannister, that can change the course of war both on and off the battlefield.

However, it's what's not said here that has me scratching my chin. Fantasy Flight Games has been making Game of Thrones games for years, with the tremendous A Game of Thrones: The Board Game and the excellent A Game of Thrones living card game initially hitting shelves long before the show even existed. Heck, they even published Battles of Westeros, a large-scale war game that sound awfully similar to this new project! While they have since made games more directly based on the show itself, the core of FFG's Game of Thrones line is directly based on the books, with art that reflects Martin's character descriptions instead of actor character likenesses. It's surprising that this new game exists at all. CMON is one of the youngest, hungriest and most successful board game publishers working right now, but FFG is an old pro that knows its way around the industry. I can't help but wonder what kind of a deal will allow both companies to work in Westeros.

In any case, CMON is known for delivering games that look great on your table and have the gameplay to back it up. I'm a big fan of the crazy and cinematic Zombicide and the the Viking-themed Blood Rage is one of the most thoughtfully designed war games I've ever played. They have the taste to deliver a Game of Thrones experience worth your time and money.

Still, I'll be perfectly honest and admit that I'm getting a little burnt out on Game of Thrones games that emphasize combat and war. So much of the series involves political intrigue and betrayal and backstabbing, you know, the stuff that actually leads to the wars in the first place. While I'll happily give this game a shot, it's time for someone with the right license to make a Song of Ice and Fire game that's all machinations and alliances and courtly intrigue, not just epic fights.

Anyway, A Song of Ice and Fire: Tabletop Miniatures Game is expected to his Kickstarter later this year before arriving in stories in 2018.

rambo the board game

Rambo: The Board Game

We know very little about the new Rambo board game coming from designers Christopher Batarlis and  Jim Samartino and publisher Everything Epic Games. However, this description is filled with words and phrases that may perk your interest:

Rambo: The Board Game is a thematic, cooperative, tactical, miniatures, scenario-based campaign game that allows 1-4 players to experience the events they remember from the film as well as embark on new, never-before-seen missions.

The game provides sealed "legacy-like" mission envelopes that gradually expand the game as each mission is completed. Each mission tells a story and takes the players on a unique adventure to various locations to save POWs, escape a military prison, raid a jungle encampment, defend a secret air base, survive a treacherous jungle, and more! Missions unlock new equipment and tactics to help players customize their experience and allow for high replayability and great tactical strategy. Taking actions and engaging in combat is done without random dice, but with a card-based system in which the player is in control and where every choice can be life or death!

To set up, players choose from an iconic variety of special forces characters each with highly detailed miniatures, including, of course, John Rambo, Col. Trautman, other members of Baker Team, and other companions that Rambo teamed up with over the years. Each hero has unique abilities and customization options that make them valuable during missions. You control how to approach the mission: Do you go in guns blazing? Or do you take a more stealthy approach? Perhaps you set a trap for the enemy? It's up to you to decide and lead Rambo and his team to victory!

Let's break down the key words here, starting with "cooperative." Even though John Rambo himself tends to be a lone wolf in the movies, the game will see players working together as a team, playing as various characters from the films and fighting a foe controlled by the game system itself. The next big word is "miniatures," because many publishers have learned that any game that promises decent miniatures (especially those based on known properties) is guaranteed to move copies, especially on Kickstarter. And then there's "legacy-like," which requires us to pause for a moment and consider it.

As some of you may know, the legacy game was born with Risk Legacy, a brilliant riff on the classic (i.e., old and hasn't aged well) game of world domination. Instead of just marching around the world killing each other with dice rolls, the game came with sealed compartments that were only opened under certain circumstances. Each compartment would introduce new rule and components that drastically and permanently altered the game. Players were even instructed to mark the board and tear up cards and do things that could not be undone. It was wild. And it was followed by the even better Pandemic Legacy, which married those rules-altering, components-destroying ideas with a game system that wasn't, you know, terrible. More recently, legacy games hit a speed bump with SeaFall, a wholly original game that was a dud with just about everyone who played it despite some interesting concepts.

And that brings us back to Rambo: The Board Game, a licensed miniatures based game that seem to be making use of legacy ideas. Is this a sign that legacy games are here to stay, that we're going to start seeing them in more and more games? Or is this a game attempting to stand out from the pack by adopting a mechanic commonly seen in games that appeal to "serious" board gamers?

scott pilgrim card game

Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Card Game

If you want a great deck building game, you've got options (to put it mildly). Popularized by the great Dominion, this style of game captures the thrill of crafting an effective deck of cards without the monetary commitment of a collectible and infinitely expandable system (like Magic). For those unfamiliar with this type of game, it goes like this: you start off with some cards and you add more cards to your deck from a bank in the middle of the table; from there, you try to hone your deck, adding and removing the necessary cards, so that the various pieces click together and work in unison and form a well-oiled machine that is efficient and powerful and geared toward achieving the goals of the game (whatever those may be). I'm especially fond of Arctic Scavengers, a game where your deck is your "tribe" of post-apocalyptic survivors, and you recruit new people, new cards, into your crew to battle the other players.

But the truth is that there are a lot of deck building games out there, and there are a lot of good ones. A new one will have to be something special to demand your dollars. Enter Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Card Game, which certainly looks promising.

Based on the brilliant comic series written and drawn by Bryan Lee O'Malley (which inspired the also brilliant Edgar Wright movie Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), this game sounds like it takes the basic design of a deck builder and makes your choices as a player thematically relevant to the Scott Pilgrim universe. I'll let this official description do the explaining for me:

Players assume the roles of their favorite characters in the Scott Pilgrim universe, each of whom comes with a unique starting deck. Innovative double-sided cards let you decide whether to solve your problems with hard work and empathy, or whether to embrace the unpredictable world of gratuitous video game violence.

In other words, it sounds like you'll be crafting a deck to play in one of two very different ways, embracing one lifestyle/gameplay style over another. That could certainly be very cool, and it's an amusing way to transform Scott Pilgrim's core conflict (growing up or reveling in immaturity) into an actual tabletop experience. With O'Malley's wonderful art to draw upon, the game should certainly be a nice thing to look at. And with a card game, where most of your time will be spent staring at the art in your hands, that's a necessity.

Designed by Keith Baker, Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Card Game is due out this year.

dinosaur island

Dinosaur Island

The bad news is that the Kickstarter for Dinosaur Island has already wrapped up and you cannot contribute. The good news is that Pandasaurus Games raised over $500,000 to bring this game to life and you will almost surely be able to nab a copy when it's available later this year. The best news is that Dinosaur Island is a thinly-veiled riff on Jurassic Park where each player is building their own dinosaur-centric theme park and must balance running a successful park with keeping all of their visitors, well, alive. This sounds great.

It helps that Pandasaurus is a reliable publisher with their fair share of great games and that designers Jon Gilmour and Brian Lewis have quite the track record (I'm especially fond of Gilmour's Dead of Winter, which managed to breathe new life into the zombie board game). Here's the description of the game:

In Dinosaur Island, players will have to collect DNA, research the DNA sequences of extinct dinosaur species and then combine the ancient DNA in the correct sequence to bring these prehistoric creatures back to life.  Dino cooking!  All players will compete to build the most thrilling park each season, and then work to attract (and keep alive!) the most guests each season that the park opens.

Do you go big and create a pack of Velociraptors?  They'll definitely excite potential guests...  but you better make a large enough enclosure for them.  And maybe hire some (read: a lot of) security.  Or they WILL break out and start eating your guests—and we all know how that ends.  You could play it safe and grow a bunch of herbivores...  but then you aren't going to have the most exciting park in the world (sad face).  So maybe buy a roller coaster or two to try and attract guests to your park the good old fashioned way?

Although the theme is wild and outlandish (and totally aware that it's riffing on Jurassic Park and unapologetic about it), the game itself looks like a thoughtful, crunchy game filled with challenging decisions. The player boards remind me of Agricola, but instead of planting crops, you're building dinosaur enclosures. While it certainly looks a bit complicated for board game newbies who may be attracted to the theme, the best of these complex, European-style games tend to function like clockwork – once you understand how the various systems interact, they are easy to grasp and often relaxing, relying more on personal puzzle solving than direct, mean-spirited conflict between players. Keep your eyes out for this one.

Wet Hot American Summer documentary

Wet Hot American Summer: Fantasy Camp

Even as designer board games find themselves being embraced by a larger audience, tabletop roleplaying games often seem quarantined in their own tiny corner. Ask someone on the street to describe an RPG, and they'll talk about basements and and Dungeons & Dragons. And while D&D is better than ever right now (the new fifth edition really is the fantasy adventure game I've always wanted), RPGs are so much more than elves and paladins. Games like Fiasco drop players into a Coen brothers movie. Our Last Best Hope tasks you with saving the world, Armageddon-style. The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen is a group storytelling experience that, somehow, plays even better when everyone has been drinking. RPGs are more varied, and more accessible, than ever before.

So this Kickstarter campaign for an RPG based on the cult comedy classic Wet Hot American Summer isn't that crazy. The game finds players taking on the roles of counselors, campers, and staff at Camp Firewood, thrusting everyone into a variety of increasingly wacky and bizarre situations. The emphasis here seems to be less on dice rolling (although there is some) and more on improvisation and interaction between players. As someone whose RPG sessions tend to be more about character dynamics and interesting choices than simply making the numbers on my player sheet get bigger, I definitely see the appeal here.

The only potential roadblock is that the very nature of this game requires everyone at the table to be funny and that simply won't appeal to every kind of gamer. In fact, some of the best RPG sessions I've ever played involved more outgoing players bouncing off the more reserved players, with the resulting character dynamics proving delightful, insightful, and sometimes totally insane. Hopefully, Wet Hot American Summer: Fantasy Camp is designed to allow some players to take on more straight characters, giving them the job of reacting to the more outlandish moments instead of causing them (although it remains to be seen if playing that kind of character would be fun).

Here are some of the features from the game, taken from the Kickstarter page. I especially like how this game can be played in one-off sessions or as a longer campaign, based on the preference of the group:

  • Play as Wet Hot Heroes: The manual includes so many playable characters, like lovelorn Coop, top dog Beth, or a surprisingly nimble Can of Vegetables.
  • Create Your Own Custom Character: Whip together a character in minutes with our simple character sheet template. Choose your rank – camper, counselor, or camp staff – their personality, and their special powers. Even the lamest campers have special powers!
  • Explore Camp Firewood: Take the jet ski for a spin. Dominate the Capture the Flag field. Score big in the sports equipment shed. Firewood is yours for the camping!
  • Design Your Own Camp: Take your game higher and higher by designing your own custom camp. Wanna liberate an oppressive fat camp or go astro-nuts at space camp? The possibilities are endless.
  • Activities Galore: Do long RPG sessions give you MCB (Moist Chair Butt)? Fantasy Camp integrates activities as varied as singing, dancing, scavenger hunts, walking outside (gasp!), and arts & crafts – okay, arts & farts & crafts – to create a more immersive camp experience, and because it's funny.
  • Collect Firewood Treasures: Wanna sneak a peak at Andy's gernal? Looking for a sweatband to help your New Way training? Need some lube... for your pussy? Camp Firewood has tons of items to discover that will assist your character.
  • Roll the Dice of Fate: When your character gets in a major jam, they'll roll the Dice of Fate. They may discover bug juice with regenerative powers... or fall off a cliff and get struck by lightning. Whatever happens, you cannot sue the camp.
  • Evolve Your Camper: You can play your characters for one ridiculous game and throw 'em out, or play multiple games with the same characters for a bigger story. The more games you play as your character, the more your character evolves and changes – like Pokemon who get sexier.
  • Wet Hot Bonus Content: The book includes a foreword by David Wain and game tip interviews with cast members on how to kick butt playing as their characters.
  • The Kickstarter has reached its funding goal already, and you have a few more days to chip in. $10 will get you a digital copy of the game, and $20 will get you a physical copy.