In the last few years, two potential big-screen adaptions of board games seemed to get a little traction with the Hollywood studios. Several drafts of a Monopoly movie were prepared, and at one point, it even seemed like Ridley Scott might saddle up to shoot the thing. Meanwhile, Adam Sandler orbited around a comedy based upon the brain-curdlingly dull Candy Land.
Now, I can’t tell you how those films would have turned out, and I’m certainly not going to say Monopoly and Candy Land absolutely, definitely should not be movies. But I am happy to say, with 100% certainty and even a bit of simmering frustration, that Monopoly and Candy Land should not be board games.
At least not board games anybody ever plays. Just put the dang things in a museum already.
This is not the place to rip crappy games apart in glorious, gory detail, suffice to say that these are awful examples of what a board game can be. If you really want me to let rip and unload both barrels on them, by all means give me a tap on the Twitter shoulder – and be ready because once I’ve got your Twitter handle, I won’t stop recommending better games to you.
And amongst those better games are some that rather obviously seem like excellent material for movies. Let me introduce you to a few now, and how they’d show videogames the way this Now A Major Motion Picture lark should really work.
Kickstarter and boardgames have a very intimate relationship, and Scythe is a great example of how it can go very right. After Jamey Stegmayer’s latest and greatest was backed to the tune of $1.8 by 17,739 gamers in late 2015, it quickly became one of the most anticipated, not to mention extremely hyped games of 2016.
Thankfully, it was also one of the best. A brilliant blend of thematic, atmospheric and even a slightly story-driven styling with tight, gently innovative and fairly deep gameplay, it’s actually quite hard to accurately describe Scythe without making it seem more complex and difficult than it really is.
But the fantasy world of Scythe is much easier to grasp in a moment, being beautiful, seductive and visually compelling. Originally conceived by the artist Jakub Rozalski in a portfolio of paintings, which were only later optioned by Stegmayer as the basis for his game, this is an alternative version of Europe in the post World War I-era. It’s an agrarian continent shocked and destabilised by bitter conflicts that had been fought with technology very different to our world’s – which is something you’ll spot right away when you see the hulking great mech on the front of the box.
Scythe takes place after a war, not during it – in fact, it’s been well-observed that this is a cold war game, not a war game. There can be conflict, and in almost all games there will be some scrapping, but as a player of Scythe, you’ll usually be building up your Mech forces as a deterrent, not to deploy them aggressively. Usually.
There are five key player-characters in Scythe, each the commanders of a different faction. These are nationals of their own specific, fictional yet recognisable countries, and each has their own animal familiar.
The Rusviet Union, for example, is lead by Olga Romanova, with her loyal Tiger Changa always at her side. Play as the Nordic Kingdom, meanwhile, and your avatar will be Bjorn, forever accompanied by Mox the musk Ox. Two more factions were added by the Invaders From Afar expansion, with one being a mash-up of all kinds of Celtic and British influences and the other exploring an overlap of Chinese and Japanese ideas and characteristics.
The story of Scythe obviously depends on how each game goes, but the broad strokes would be those of a political thriller set against the international stage of simmering tensions. Sooner or later the mechs would come out, and the different factions would unleash their varied weapons of war upon one another… but not without consequences.
There’s something a little bit Guillermo del Toro about the Scythe movie I have in my head, with its mechanical aesthetic, bold but sophisticated characterisation, and vast scope. He’s certainly already shown how he tells excellent genre stories that refract both historical and human themes. In fact, I so fancy the notion of a del Toro movie of Scythe that I’m almost tempted to ship him a copy of the game and watch what happens once it has its hooks in deep.
Arkham Horror: The Card Game
There’s also some del Toro flavour to Arkham Horror: The Card Game, especially as one card features an image of Dr. Milan Christopher, mid grisly investigation of a big, Mimic-like bug. I think Christopher’s design is an overt del Toro homage, in fact.
This is the latest in a string of games that Fantasy Flight call their Arkham Files series. The root inspiration is HP Lovecraft’s pandimensional horror stories, but other works in ‘the mythos’ by other authors have been folded in too. One layer above that, the game universe is officially derived from Chaosium’s Call Of Cthulhu role playing game.
Lovecraft’s stories are full of existential dread, influential ideas, unnecessary ellipses and casual racism. Thankfully, this card game seems to be most interested in the first two items on that list. But whereas real Lovecraft is despairing, cold and built to grind you down, in the Arkham Files games, there’s life raft-like sense of pulp adventure. It’s like Republic Pictures made a Saturday morning serial that starred Cthulhu instead of Dick Tracy or The King of the Rocket Men.
I single out Arkham Horror: The Card Game over other games in the series – the original Arkham Horror, Elder Sign, Mansions Of Madness – because of its narrative flair. It plays like a card game but it’s chock full of RPG ideas, with clear stories that can be effected by the players, developing characters, and a sense of atmosphere that borders on the immersive.
Several of the cards evoke action movie cliches too, like the fire extinguisher, which you can swing around repeatedly as a heavy weapon, or actually set-off as a one time use to create a distraction and make a sharp exit.
If Scythe was the best game of 2016, Arkham Horror: The Card Game is the other one, the one that came into its own a little bit later, after some time to let it settle in. In my imagination, we’ll next see them competing for box-office dollars in 2019.
Scaling things up from Game of the Year contenders, here’s one that’s very widely held to be one of – if not actually the – very best game of all time.
But maybe it doesn’t belong on this list. Just look at the box – they’re calling it Pandemic Legacy: Season One. Perhaps it should really be in an article called ‘Boardgames that should be TV shows’. And yeah, I’ll take a 13-part Netflix series, if it’s on offer.
The original Pandemic, of which this is a spin-off, already has a movie, more or less. Whenever I played that game, which was an awful lot more than any other, I felt like I was playing Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion. The tropes are the same: disparate characters travel the world as deadly disease spreads, risking the life of all humans on Earth. Both feature the CDC in Atlanta prominently, and show the varied contributions made to crisis medicine by scientists, soldiers, field medics and so on. And both are amazingly exciting, stirring and dramatic.
The twist with Pandemic Legacy is that every time you play the game, it’s different. You make certain marks and changes on the playing board as you go along, cards get ripped up and thrown away, previously sealed boxes of secret components get opened and added to the mix. There’s a finite number of times you can play (at most it will be 24) before you reach the end of the story and see just how well you did overall.
And somewhere in the middle of all this, you’ll realise that it’s not Contagion you’re playing anymore, though it would be a terrible spoiler for me to tell you what it actually is.
I think Pandemic Legacy could make a fine film, and there are lots of filmmakers who could present an interesting spin. There’s something particularly Kathryn Bigelow about the prospect in my mind, though. Or, to put it another way, all of the core elements have been very well executed somewhere or another in her body of work.
Added bonus: Pandemic Legacy Season Two is just a few months away, which means there could already be a sequel story in the chamber from the very instant the first one hits.
Robinson Crusoe: Adventures On The Cursed Island
There have already been several adaptations of Robinson Crusoe, but to the credit of this prospective movie, it wouldn’t actually be another. No matter what the title is, this isn’t really a retelling of Daniel Defoe’s lonely island classic. Instead, there are four lead characters here, shipwrecked together and that alone is enough to change almost everything. Friday does show up and there’s a lot of business about building shelter and planting crops, but this game injects a whole lot more. How much more? Well… King Kong’s in it, if that’s a big enough clue.
As a scenario-driven game, Adventures On The Cursed Island has actually got plenty of different stories packed in, not all of them featuring a giant gorilla. I don’t think you could make each one into a single movie of an ongoing franchise, however – there would be too much repetition required, especially in the opening scenes. Smooshing a bunch of them together could be a great idea, though, especially if done with a sense of loopy, anything-goes fun.
In Hollywood terms, this would be somewhat like a Shawn Levy movie, or maybe something Joe Dante would have been offered right after Gremlins. Getting the script right would be key, and I think something like the recent Goosebumps movie would be a fair standard to expect.
There are countless classic, irresistible boardgames that don’t evoke quality movies. For example, Sushi Go! would need to be all but invented from scratch, and Power Grid would have to actively betray the best qualities of the game in order to be a compelling strong movie. Nonetheless, I look forward to the days when good quality games are getting optioned by Hollywood. If nothing else, it will be a great milestone for the expansion of this hobby that I truly love so much.
Now then, If you’ll excuse me, I’m off for a game of Tokaido, and the beautiful Ozu movie it always conjures up in my head.