For a physical video game collector that loves strong stories, and dislikes the toxic faceless nature of online play, I found myself feeling less and less attracted to modern video game release. But, thankfully, boardgames have filled the void. While there are solitaire board games, the vast majority encourage people to gather around a table and experience something together; much like the “couch co-op” video games of yesteryear. And for those who like to fill book shelves with boxes, board games are obviously physical products in huge boxes. Some elaborate collectors editions even echo the glorious limited edition video games that publishers used to convince us we needed.
So, if you’re thinking of making the Switch from Video games to table top board games, where should you start? Now to be clear, I’m not talking about board game versions of video games – that’s a another topic for another day. Instead, let’s look at five Board Games that have mechanics, stories or themes that have undeniably been influenced by existing video game series and video game mechanisms…
‘Tiny Epic Quest’
Gamelyn Games’ ‘Tiny Epic’ series, take popular board game genres and distil them down till they can fit into a small box; without losing the complexity or depth. But while doing this, series designer Scott Almes’ appears to have been influenced by certain video games. The look and play-style ‘Tiny Epic Tactics’ will be familiar to anyone who has played ‘Final Fantasy Tactics’ or ‘Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together’. Similarly, ‘Tiny Epic Galaxies’ owes a debt of gratitude to the ‘Elite’ and ‘Everspace’ games.
But it is probably ‘Tiny Epic Quest’ that’ll be most familiar to video game players; one look at the game board will remind most of an Overworld map in ‘The Legend of Zelda’ games. As you play this game, you’ll navigate around this world of horse, fighting goblins and learning spells. You’ll pick up legendary weapons including a lamp, shield, bow, boomerang and even a master sword. With simple card and dice game play, you’ll easily be exploring fire, desert and dark temples. But thankfully the water temple in this game won’t have you flipping the table in frustration!
In a Kickstarter campaign video filled with chip tune music and pixel art, BrotherWise Games admit that their game ‘Boss Monster’ is “inspired by the golden age of video games”. “If you’ve spent more than your fair share of time playing as an 8bit bounty hunter, a kung-fu fighter or vampire slayer, then you’re going to like this game” promised designer Chris O’Neil. “It’s retro gaming goodness stuffed into a card game” agrees his brother Johnny. As the title would suggest, players are actual the boss of a ‘Final Fantasy’ or ‘Dragon Quest’ alike dungeon, defending themselves against the heroes that intend to slay them. By laying cards and expanding your dungeon, a player sets traps and obstacles to stop any plucky adventurers in their tracks. Further expansions even add mini bosses and item cards. It’s an accessible but surprisingly varied game and as the designers say, “it’s simple enough for a casual games player to pick up and enjoy”. Of course prior knowledge of Super Nintendo era JRPGs is not required to enjoy ‘Boss Monster’, but it will mean you’re far more likely to recognise the parodies and homages you find on the cards.
One of the most critically adored and commercially successful board games of the last 10 years, is also a great board game for video game fans to pick up. ‘Pandemic’ is the poster child for board gaming’s recent surge in popularity; an entry point for those new to the hobby yet strategic and scalable enough for long term table-top aficionados. In this game, up to four players are aiming to stop several worldwide infections from destroying mankind. It’s a subject matter that has become frightening relevant recently! You draw cards from a deck to see how the viruses spread and move your player pawns around the board to cooperatively cure the infections. To spice things up further, everyone playing picks a different character. This gives them access to a unique special ability that’ll help with the World saving. ‘Pandemic‘s success is, in part, due to the strong narrative and the atmosphere it creates. As a result it’ll be appealing to video game fans, something designer Matt Leacock was very much aware of. “It’s [designed to be] similar to an electronic game” he says. “You chose your characters, you get new rules and the state of the world changes … It is an unveiling story.” While the base ‘Pandemic’ game plays like a table-top version of a strategy management video game, the much longer ‘Pandemic Legacy’ campaign game introduces levelling up and unique customisation of characters, something RPG players will be very used to!
What’s the best board game ever made? Well according to the Table-Top Gospel - the website Board Game Geek- its ‘Gloomhaven’. It’s a co-operative adventure game throwing up to 4 players into a fantasy world with an epic story told over many scenarios. But it’s not just monster battling and treasure chest looting. Like ‘The Witcher’ style video games, you can choose where to explore in the world and how you react to different NPC characters and events will influence where you can visit and how the story unfolds. In terms of gameplay, ‘Gloomhaven’ is a unique dungeon-crawling experience. Each turn you’ll select two action cards, which determine the movement and combat actions you’ll take. Although you’re co-operating, all players make independently choices, leaving it up to them how to best deal with different challenges that the group are collectively facing. This simple card mechanism is incredibly accessible but still gives complete control over the progression of the game. “’Gloomhaven’ is, in a lot of ways, inspired by video games” says designer Isaac Childres.
Admittedly, the main ‘Gloomhaven’ game might be a little intimidating to people new to board gaming. it comes in a huge box weighing more than 10kg, filled with map boards, hidden compartments, hundreds of cards and dozens of miniatures. But thankfully a shorter, cheaper, smaller version exists in the form of ‘Jaws of the Lion’. It explains how to play the game, as you actually play the game. So it’s a great starting point for a video game player who loves a ‘Skyrim’ type game; allowing them to explore a similar world and enjoy a similar gaming experience without staring at a screen.
This is a board game that makes no attempt to hide its inspiration. “The point-and-click adventure game genre was born in 1976 on the PC. In this type of game, the player assumes the role of a character in an interactive story driven by puzzle solving and exploration” the game’s tutorial notes. “This game is a direct adaption of these mechanics to the cardboard medium that requires no electronics to play”. So essentially ‘Cantaloop’ is a classic point-and-click adventure game in book format. While the designer may well be aiming to make an experience close to a ‘Monkey Island’ game, Hook the protagonist is more like Rufus from the ‘Deponia’ series. Similarly the humour is closer to a ‘Leisure Suit Larry’ game, but of course the comedy is a pre-requisite for this genre. All the hallmarks of point and click games are here in ‘Cantaloop’. You talk to characters, combine items to solve puzzles, and explore a unique world to advance the story. It’s an intriguing game, and while its execution may be fiddly at times, playing it really does feel like a fitting tribute to the best that LucasArts and Seirra offered in the nineties.
Of course, if you enjoy any of these games there’s a wealth of other board games to explore. If, like me, you are fed up with 10 year olds running rings around you and questioning your parentage in an online video game, perhaps it’s time you put down the controller and picked up some dice.
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