I recently spoke with Tim Fowers, designer of Burgle Bros, Paperback, and other great games about his design for Burgle Bros 2. One of the topics we discussed: Movies that make great board games, and the inspiration he pulls from the world of film.
That set me thinking: There are tens of thousands of fantastic movies that could reliably be turned into board games. Look at films like Groundhog Day, Jaws, Alien, Dune, and plenty of others: They’ve translated well into exciting, accessible board games.
Surely there must be more movies out there that demand a board game adaptation, and we would be remiss to not mine the world of independent and art films for ideas. Here are six films that could make for absolutely stunning board game adaptations.
The film that launched the career of iconic director Wes Anderson into the popular eye, Rushmore is a coming-of-age story about teenager Max Fischer, who definitely, absolutely, assuredly would have had strong feelings about designer board games.
Fischer, who attends the titular Rushmore until he is dismissed for terrible grades, owing at least in part to his desire to be a part of every club and hobbyist group at the prestigious private school. The film centers on his unsuccessful attempts to romance an older woman, as well as his attempt to find his niche in a public high school.
In true Wes Anderson fashion, the game would have to be filled with callbacks to classics — games, films, books, and music, as a real blast of nostalgia — and a postmodern bent. Maybe it’s a time management game about trying to lead every club at your high school before you eventually discover that there’s something better out there for you, and that something doesn’t hold the same glamor or prestige you wanted. The message? Sic transit gloria. Glory fades.
You know what the world needs more of? Weirdly complex board games that take multiple plays to understand. Primer is a film in which the protagonists accidentally discover time travel, and it, too, is complex, circular and confusing.
Most great complex board games start to make sense during the first play, but if you want to make a game based on Primer, you need to really lean into taking things in a different direction. The game has to take three or four plays before you even start to grasp the mechanics, and it should probably start simply and ramp up very quickly in complexity from the first turn. Time travel is a weird, confusing, difficult thing, after all.
28 Days Later
The gaming world is not hurting for games about zombies. But you know what most zombie-themed board games have in common? You’re supposed to fight. 28 Days Later is a zombie film about trying to stay safe in a fallen world.
A game based on 28 Days Later could be a smashing combination of Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, where the atmosphere can slowly build, and any game with a sand timer that makes you feel panic deep in your bones. Imagine Magic Maze merged with Zombie 15′ merged with a creeping sense of dread, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor is playing in the background the whole time. Sounds like my kind of game.
As the film that launched the extremely successful career of Christopher Nolan, Memento deserves to be memorialized in the form of a game. Memento is a mind-bending film in which roughly half the movie is expressed in a forward, linear fashion, and roughly another half is expressed backward. It features a man with anterograde amnesia after an attack on him and the murder of his wife; he’s unable to form new memories after the attack. He attempts to solve the murder of his wife by tattooing himself with evidence.
A game based on Memento could be a deck-building game in which you build a really well-streamlined deck of cards, which you then shuffle and split in half. You alternate which half of the deck you use, and if you see a good combination of cards, you have to remove them from the game after using them. (How do you decide if a combination is good? I don’t know. Ask Christopher Nolan. That’s my solution.)
There Will Be Blood
No, this won’t just be a game where you shout “I drink your milkshake!” at your friends: It’s a heavy economic game about becoming an incredibly wealthy oil baron by the arcane process of oil drainage, much like in the film There Will Be Blood.. In this adaptation, the winning player is the one who manages to avoid falling prey to their inner (and perhaps outer) demons. (Each round, you receive bonus points for doing a Daniel Day Lewis impression.)
Wild Strawberries, a film about a grumpy old man reflecting on his life, is a veritable classic by Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. It’s also a film that almost demands adaptation into an experimental board game.
An adaptation of Wild Strawberries would necessarily involve some sort of personal storytelling, and you would probably have to start as a bit of a grump, experience dream sequences that are barely attached to what you’re doing narratively, go through a number of strange encounters, and end as a happy, good person who values life in a more significant way. Wait, am I allowed to spoil a 64-year-old film? I hope so. If not, well, um, pretend I didn’t say anything.
And how about a bonus list item too?
A mystery in which you investigate suspects, make logical deductions, and deal with a colorful cast of characters? Why, it sounds like the perfect board game. Maybe you can call it “Evidence.” What’s that, you say? What do you mean, “It’s been done?”
What other independent, weird or esoteric films could make great games? Is an Arrival game about translating totally unknown languages just waiting to be unleashed? Share your thoughts in the comments.