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  • Staff Blogs
  • Why Do We Love Games Based on Movies, TV and Books?

Why Do We Love Games Based on Movies, TV and Books?

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Licensed games
There Will Be Games

Whenever I see an announcement for a game based on a movie, TV show or book I love, I sit up and take notice. Most of you do too, admit it.

We look forward to its release with great anticipation. We worry that it will disappoint us. Some of us even pre-order the game based on next to no information other than the title and a few tidbits in the publisher's description. 

And most of these games do disappoint, but we will defend a flawed game if it even makes the slightest attempt at capturing the feel of the material or characters that inspired it.

And why do very good games that are clearly based on an IP that was too costly to obtain always seem to fall a little short? Why is Dune better than Rex? What makes the Star Wars X-Wing and Armada succeed, where generic space ship battle games might fail?

Right now I am resisting the impulse to purchase the Wacky Races game, despite the buzz that it is not very good, because WACKY RACES! On the other hand, Betrayal Legacy has gotten nothing but good buzz, but I haven't paid it much attention. However, I know that if it had been Betrayal Legacy: Buffy it would have had it in my hands and ripping the shrink off the day it was released.

Is it just that I have a demanding inner child? A nostalgic longing for my youth? A desire to escape to some familiar fantasy world?

I just don't know. But at least I know that I am not alone.

There Will Be Games Licensed games
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Shellie "ubarose" Rose  (She/Her)
Managing Editor & Web Admin

Plays boardgames. Drinks bourbon. Writes code.

Articles by Shellie

Licensed games
Shellie "ubarose" Rose
Managing Editor & Web Admin

Articles by Shellie

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Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #298047 06 Jun 2019 14:03
I think that an existing setting can challenge a game designer to replicate a wide range of elements of that setting in the context of a game, which can sometimes lead to innovation. Even when the resulting game design is actually relatively unoriginal, it offers fans of a given franchise to revisit it and play with variant outcomes without resorting to writing fan-fic. A game that is less directly inspired by a specific IP presents less challenge to the designer, and is therefore less likely to inspire innovation.
Erik Twice's Avatar
Erik Twice replied the topic: #298050 06 Jun 2019 14:37
I'm one of those few weirdos who don't actually like when games are based on a existing property and would rather play a game that isn't. I'm simply not into the idea and would rather play something original.

I must admit I like that boardgames are mostly franchise-free. Big media franchises, remakes and clones have a massive influence on the gaming landscape. There's something tiring about yet another Star Wars/Chutlhu/Sherlock Holmes version of something and I'm happy I don't have to think about external "media franchises" when playing a game, that it's self-contained and designed purporsedly.

Of course, if EON took another franchise and made another Dune-level game, I would play it.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #298053 06 Jun 2019 14:46
@Shellhead
Intersting thoughts. Sometimes designers do innovate in order to create some aspect of a specific IP, like The Lords of the Rings game. Although sometimes they innovate and totally miss the boat, like that old Marvel Heroes game. And other times they just slap the IP on something and try and make it work (like I don't have high hopes for Batman Talisman).

Perhaps you are right, that what people are looking for is to be able to create more stories in a favorite setting with much loved characters, like fan-fic, or even just change the outcome of a familiar story. Perhaps the ability to do that is our measure of a game's success of failure.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #298055 06 Jun 2019 15:40
For what it's worth, Star Wars: Epic Duels is one of the worst games in my collection, but people always seem to enjoy playing. It has to be the IP, because the restrictions of the dice and cards can be maddening. I'm not even a big fan of Star Wars, as I completely skipped seeing the prequel trilogy and have no idea if I will bother seeing The Rise of Skywalker. But there is just enough of a sense of the setting in the game to give it an extra kick during play. One game, we saw Chewbacca take out Darth Vader with a tremendous bodyslam attack, and everybody at the table (except the Vader player) cheered.

But I agree that sometimes the IP theme/setting is a thin and cynical cash grab that makes for a poor game. Or sometimes the game is okay but just doesn't bring the theme to life, like the Buffy game from a few years ago that had pretty components and dry, boring gameplay.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #298057 06 Jun 2019 15:45
Yeah, Josh Look and I debate that Buffy Game constantly. It is a solid game, but too generic and dry and repeative for me. Josh ordered the expansion, so we will see if that helps it at all.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #298058 06 Jun 2019 15:50
@Erik Twice

I agree with you about having no excitement at about over used IPs. I've gotten to the point that I can't even distinguih between all the FFG Star Wars games. When I get news from them I can't even tell anymore if it is a pre-release notice for a new game or just their regular newsletter promoting existing games.
RobertB's Avatar
RobertB replied the topic: #298064 06 Jun 2019 17:23

Shellhead wrote: I'm not even a big fan of Star Wars, as I completely skipped seeing the prequel trilogy...


You did yourself a favor there; those movies are f'in horrible.

To not stray too far from the thread, Star Wars: Rebellion is a game that uses its setting to enhance its gameplay. It would be a decent game without its setting, but I'd always be wondering what its deal was with all its chrome. But with its setting it tells stories that make it that much more fun.

Does it work all the time? Sons of Anarchy is an example of a mixed success. It's a pretty good game, making pretty good use of a property that a) isn't ubiquitous, and that b) some folks find distasteful. "I'm a biker running whorehouses and selling drugs and guns? Can't we play Agricola again?"
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #298065 06 Jun 2019 18:06
For a few years, Galeforce Nine was the best in the industry at translating an IP into a game. They had remarkable insight in identifying core elements of a show that could be translated into a game. Some examples:

Firefly: pickup-and-deliver game with a strong push-your-luck element. Making skill checks a core element kept the focus on the characters, just like the show.

Spartacus: a combination of gambling, bidding, combat, and take-that cardplay. As on the show, gameplay put an emphasis on both your noble house's relative stature and the ability of your gladiators.

Sons of Anarchy: here I think GF9 missed the mark a bit. The game is good, actually, and even euro-gamers seem to like it once they get past the theme. But the essence of the show is less about the brutal competition to exploit locations and more about a dysfunctional organization that is undermined by the personal agendas and secrets of the individual members. A more appropriate game model might have been a semi-cooperative game where each player is trying to win an individual victory with a hidden victory condition, while the whole group must cooperate to avoid a group loss to a publicly-known threat.
mc's Avatar
mc replied the topic: #298067 06 Jun 2019 18:57

Shellhead wrote: For a few years, Galeforce Nine was the best in the industry at translating an IP into a game. They had remarkable insight in identifying core elements of a show that could be translated into a game. Some examples:

Firefly: pickup-and-deliver game with a strong push-your-luck element. Making skill checks a core element kept the focus on the characters, just like the show.

Spartacus: a combination of gambling, bidding, combat, and take-that cardplay. As on the show, gameplay put an emphasis on both your noble house's relative stature and the ability of your gladiators.

Sons of Anarchy: here I think GF9 missed the mark a bit. The game is good, actually, and even euro-gamers seem to like it once they get past the theme. But the essence of the show is less about the brutal competition to exploit locations and more about a dysfunctional organization that is undermined by the personal agendas and secrets of the individual members. A more appropriate game model might have been a semi-cooperative game where each player is trying to win an individual victory with a hidden victory condition, while the whole group must cooperate to avoid a group loss to a publicly-known threat.


I know there's been plenty of Firefly talk on here, but just wanted to add, I think one of the main themes of the show is about the blurry line between morality and survival/making ends meet. The game does a great job of bringing that out, with the way that your crew, and the jobs you take, can be moral/immoral, with certain repercussions about those combinations.

I never watched much of Sons of Anarchy, and I haven't played the game, but from your description, yes, they missed the mark on it, because it sounds like they missed the underlying theme.
RolandHemisphere's Avatar
RolandHemisphere replied the topic: #298068 06 Jun 2019 19:02
Not to be purely a contrarian, but I cringe at the term I.P. and am instantly skeptical about a game set in a world that I like. I assume there will be translation issues, at minimum. How often does a narrative book get ruined by a narrative movie, and now you're translating a linear work of art into something absolutely non-linear like a game. It's a miracle the game bears any resemblance to the IP (cringe) let alone provides you with some of the experience of that thing you love.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #298071 06 Jun 2019 19:47
I think there was a golden age for IP games after BSG and through GF9’s best work. I was into it. I dug it. There were some great SW games in the mix.

Now we are pas the golden age and we have all of these bargain basement IP games, too many SW games, and still not enough Star Trek games worth playing. And only half a decent Doctor Who game. The definitive LOTR games are 20 and 15 years old and have never been bettered.

But we have games for Die Hard, Bill and Ted, and Labyrinth. And a $500 Batman game.

Look, I love all that IP. But I no longer care a whit about playing games based on them. Because board games really kind of suck at telling stories and depicting characters...and it’s those stories and characters I love. Not their pictures and names.
Sevej's Avatar
Sevej replied the topic: #298072 06 Jun 2019 21:56
It's complex for me.

I like how IP is implemented in War of the Ring and Rebellion. But I like the idea of Imperial Assault so much more than Journeys in Middle Earth, because of the player characters choice.

I like the Alien IP, but a tactical game would miss the point completely, and I'm not really into social who-dun-it games, so I actually prefer that one not being gamed. Even Nemesis seems to be unnecessarily complex.

I'm more susceptible to IP originating from games, since their universes/worlds are designed for gaming. However, I've also come to the realization that some games are best played on PC/consoles.

So a board game with an IP I love will get more scrutiny for me, instead of an easy pass.

EDIT 1: Designers, forget getting "horror/tension" in board game. I breeze to the scariest pc games. Your pile of cardboards, plastic and wood will do nothing.

EDIT 2: Wacky Races is absolutely something I'd be into as board game. The cartoon itself is almost like a game, and even every week they do the same thing (like a game!).
DarthJoJo's Avatar
DarthJoJo replied the topic: #298073 06 Jun 2019 23:26
This is a little bit of a deviation from the original topic, but what about settings original to board games? How excited do people get for those?

There aren’t too many, off the top of my head there’s AEG’s Tempest and Fantasy Flight’s Arkham Horror Files, Terrinoth, Android and Twilight Imperium universes. Plaid Hat’s Mice & Mystics and Summoner Wars had spin-offs. Possibly Sentinels of the Multiverse as it had a miniatures implementation. I guess Warhammer could be a board game universe, too. Of course there’s Magic and all it’s planeswalkers. It’s even getting a Netflix release of some sort.
WadeMonnig's Avatar
WadeMonnig replied the topic: #298074 06 Jun 2019 23:50
Games based on IPs have the distinct advantage of not having to fill in a back story/ built a universe. If a furry dude slams the guy in black, big deal. If chewie slams Vader, holy smokes! Reference points are an easy sell, from star wars to sherlock to king Arthur. Egyptian folklore in Kemet or Greek mythology in Cyclades... the twisted cyber gods of Lords of Hellas. Hell, generic fantasy is a staple because we know it.
Shapeshifter's Avatar
Shapeshifter replied the topic: #298082 07 Jun 2019 06:09
My rational side tells me that there is a 99% chance an IP game will not come even close in emulating the thrills of watching the movie it was based on...simulating the cold-sweat thrills of running through narrow corridors chased by Aliens. Yet despite this, I still look forward to the GF9 "Aliens" game, regardless of the knowledge all the original designers of their golden age have left the boat.
I still hope to at least get a small part of the nostalgia vibe when I see an IP pass my radar. Especially stuff from my childhood (anything related to cinema from the '80) is sensitive for my cravings to at least revisit a snippet of the warm glow of the past.
I agree with Barnes that boardgames generally suck at creating interesting characters. But what games sometimes can do is translate the excitement of a specific scene into a tension-filled moment/decission in a game. For deep connections with characters RPG's are a far better medium. But short-time thrills can in my experience be transferred.
Legomancer's Avatar
Legomancer replied the topic: #298087 07 Jun 2019 07:54
I'm one of the ones who feels that an IP game has to really stand out to overcome its IP nature. I don't want games based on films and shows I enjoy, because I don't want to play someone else's narrative. I don't want to navigate the fiddly bits of chrome that are there because "that's how it happened on the show". And I'm a nerd who recoils at fan service, so ensuring the fez and jammy dodger are in the Doctor Who game are as off-putting to me as the damn plastic dinosaurs in the Firefly game.

Ironically, I sometimes do enjoy exploring worlds created FOR a game. I like the Fallout worlds, and the Android ones. I loved exploring Magic narratives through flavor text, though I wasn't interested in the novels. But those worlds have to offer something beyond generic fantasy or sci fi.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #298088 07 Jun 2019 08:53
I'll just mention that 15 years ago games that had a pop theme were deemed junk prior to seeing them, simply because they had such an awful track record. There were a couple of shining exceptions, but the concept was snake-bit.

Gale Force 9 came along and reversed that trend, and I think that has rehabilitated the concept. But I don't know how long that will last, because recent games in the category haven't really been very good.

As for Star Wars, I've complained for years that FFG's games, in spite of being very different from each other, had remarkably interchangeable titles in the form "Star Wars: <Non-descriptive Noun>". I can't tell them apart until I see the pieces, which is an epic marketing failure if there ever has been one. My personal favorite -- Star Wars: Betrayal. Can any of you even picture the game in your mind?
RobertB's Avatar
RobertB replied the topic: #298091 07 Jun 2019 09:47

Sagrilarus wrote: As for Star Wars, I've complained for years that FFG's games, in spite of being very different from each other, had remarkably interchangeable titles in the form "Star Wars: <Non-descriptive Noun>". I can't tell them apart until I see the pieces, which is an epic marketing failure if there ever has been one. My personal favorite -- Star Wars: Betrayal. Can any of you even picture the game in your mind?


FFG doesn't need me to take up for them, but here I am :) . I bet there's some kind of marketing or branding principle here, that makes them want to shrink the actual title down to what its shorthand title would be anyway. But on the box itself, they do provide a short description. For example, "Star Wars: Armada - A Game of Tactical Fleet Combat". Sitting right next to it here at work is "suburbia", and that's all you see on the box until you pick it up and flip it over.

I'll grant, though, that FFG is hanging Star Wars on any game that can conceivably hold it. "Star Wars: Micturition - A Galactic Pissing Contest Game".
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #298097 07 Jun 2019 10:18

DarthJoJo wrote: This is a little bit of a deviation from the original topic, but what about settings original to board games? How excited do people get for those?

There aren’t too many, off the top of my head there’s AEG’s Tempest and Fantasy Flight’s Arkham Horror Files, Terrinoth, Android and Twilight Imperium universes. Plaid Hat’s Mice & Mystics and Summoner Wars had spin-offs. Possibly Sentinels of the Multiverse as it had a miniatures implementation. I guess Warhammer could be a board game universe, too. Of course there’s Magic and all it’s planeswalkers. It’s even getting a Netflix release of some sort.


I'm usually not excited about original settings for boardgames. They tend to be bland imitations of IP, and there isn't much incentive for most game designers to put the effort into genuine world building. However, a lot of the material for the various games in the Arkham line are directly distilled from the excellent Lovecraft Country sourcebooks for Call of Cthulhu that Chaosium published in the late '80s. Even the layout of the various towns in Arkham Horror is based directly on the maps that came with each Lovecraft Country sourcebook.
fightcitymayor's Avatar
fightcitymayor replied the topic: #298111 07 Jun 2019 11:38
As an associated question: Where do some of these IP fans come from?

Example: the Ghostbusters boardgame that Cryptozoic Kickstarted 4 years ago. It made $1.5 million with over 8000 backers, and suddenly everyone started acting like, "Yo, dawg, it's GHOSTBUSTERS! Everybody love them Ghostbusters! Auto-buy, dawg, git on board, yo!" And I sat here asking myself if I had ever, in my 40+ years of living on earth, actually had a conversation with another living soul about Ghostbusters. My answer was No. Yet somehow the hype machine got revved up (for what ended up being a predictably terrible game) and people lost their gotdayum minds for a minis-based KS game about f*cking GHOSTBUSTERS.

So how do people go from probably not even consciously thinking about an IP for probably several decades to suddenly wanting to take said IP into their loving breast and stroke it and kiss it and obsess over it and pretend they were world-class grade-A superfans all this time? That's the weirdest part for me.
Not Sure's Avatar
Not Sure replied the topic: #298133 07 Jun 2019 18:01
Counterpoint, I parked next to this person at the library the other day.




I still don't really like licensed games much.
Sevej's Avatar
Sevej replied the topic: #298142 08 Jun 2019 10:20

fightcitymayor wrote: As an associated question: Where do some of these IP fans come from?


Peer pressure, man.
Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #298143 08 Jun 2019 10:28

fightcitymayor wrote: As an associated question: Where do some of these IP fans come from?

Example: the Ghostbusters boardgame that Cryptozoic Kickstarted 4 years ago. It made $1.5 million with over 8000 backers, and suddenly everyone started acting like, "Yo, dawg, it's GHOSTBUSTERS! Everybody love them Ghostbusters! Auto-buy, dawg, git on board, yo!" And I sat here asking myself if I had ever, in my 40+ years of living on earth, actually had a conversation with another living soul about Ghostbusters. My answer was No. Yet somehow the hype machine got revved up (for what ended up being a predictably terrible game) and people lost their gotdayum minds for a minis-based KS game about f*cking GHOSTBUSTERS.

So how do people go from probably not even consciously thinking about an IP for probably several decades to suddenly wanting to take said IP into their loving breast and stroke it and kiss it and obsess over it and pretend they were world-class grade-A superfans all this time? That's the weirdest part for me.


I talk about Ghostbusters literally every day. No sarcasm.
drewcula's Avatar
drewcula replied the topic: #298153 08 Jun 2019 19:15
I find most of these responses fascinating, largely because I completely disagree.
Playing board games tied to a particular IP is AWESOME!

Of course there are stinkers and cash grabs. There are also a lot of exceptional games that are richly thematic to existing properties.

Let me use a beloved character as an example. Batman. Who doesn't love Batman? I fucking adore Batman. Not all incarnations of the Detective, and I don't go as deep as all, but let's just say I know my way around the bat cave.

There is no ONE way to enjoy Bats. Read the comics. Watch the movies. Binge on the television shows and cartoons. I also happen to own a few Batman shirts. Christ, I wore a Gotham Bandits Under Armor shirt this morning while jogging. I have Danny Elfman's soundtrack in my car (I still listen to CDs). I own a Batman cake pan. I've played a few bad Batman video games, but I've also played a few great Batman video games. WHY THE HELL WOULDN'T I WANT TO PLAY A BATMAN BOARD GAME?!

I recently got Monolith's Batman: Gotham City Chronicles. I presume Barnes is referring to this system when he flippantly says it costs $500. I didn't pay $500. The core game is $130. But hey, if you wanna buy all of the expansions? Yeah, that will set you back. I digress.

Batman: Gotham City Chronicles is totally bad ass! It's not the second coming, but it is the second coming of Monolith's Conan. I enjoy Conan a lot. The rule book was rough around edges and many of the scenarios are wickedly one-sided, but I was excited to learn Batman would be using a refined version of the rules. It's neat. A few too many icons for my taste (twice as many as Conan), but it's one hell of a tactical game. In that regard, it's a very specific aspect of Batman. Primarily fighting and burglary. Detective work is minimal. Fine by my buddies and I. We got into it, and have been having a blast. Bonus, I'm going to enjoy painting them.

When my gaming buddies come over, we embrace the IP of the evening. Soundtracks, DVDs (on mute) playing in the background, themed foods, and the occasional costume.

Great Great Great stuff:
1) Spartacus = it's a toga party.
2) Men of Mayhem = we wear biker rings (NOTE: this game is about the gangs, which is why the game is not called Sons of Anarchy).
3) The Thing = we've been playing it in the winter with the windows open.
4) Dune = I don't need to say anything, except Duncan Idaho sucks.
5) Conan = 1 vs many in a system that really pays homage to the source material.
6) Batman: GCC = 1 vs many with some many deep diving scenarios (batcow), I'll need to revisit some Silver Age comics.
7) Murder She Wrote = what? F:ATties don't know it? I've held onto my copy since the late eighties. Social Deduction at its finest.
8) Hellboy = I'm no longer on the co-op train, but James Hewitt's design is kind of fun.
9) The Walking Dead = I'm not the biggest war gamer, but this can be a very clever skirmish where the Walkers are an equivalency of X-Wing asteroids that eat people.
10) Mars Attacks = I don't think anybody gives a shit about these gloriously gory Topps trading cards. Except for me. It just so happens the board game version is very campy and fun.
and
11) Ghostbusters. Yeah. I bought it. Confession; the 2nd boxed game ain't so hot. Rules were bloated and the hubris was a bit too large. JUST LIKE THE FILM. But the first Ghostbusters board game? Great fun. Yeah, it's a co-op and I'm not a fan of playing nice - but ghostbusters is a light, beer and pretzel goofy time.

I'd write more examples, but I'm going to the grill with a beer in hand. I'll think about having the group come for our next trip to Gotham. We're going to encounter the Scarecrow.

I'll also think about going to Origins next week, where I'll play a demo of Restoration's Games new version of Epic Duels, 'Unmatched.' You know. The version that Barnes is excited about. The version with public domain literary characters...

PS - Come to my house in D.C., and we'll play any of the above. I'll serve Batman cake.
n815e's Avatar
n815e replied the topic: #298154 08 Jun 2019 21:48
I feel like I can tell just about anyone “don’t cross the streams” and they will get the reference and what that means to the conversation at hand.

I currently have forty-ish games and 16 of them are related to some movie or book or television series (including at least one I have never seen an episode of). 8 others have been described as “it’s like the board game version of this...”.

Eclipse is the board game version of MOO. Stronghold is like Helms Deep. Argent is anime Harry Potter where Dumbledore is retiring. Cyclades is sort if like Clash of the Titans. And so on...

It’s easy to get someone interested in an IP game. It’s neat to be able to experience a story you love or change its course. It’s quick to identify with the characters you already know. Perhaps you want to explore the setting further.

The same reasons go into playing historical games, really. You want to participate in something you know or have interest in.

And this is how we determine if an IP game is thematic. Does it somehow reflect what we consider the essence of the subject through its mechanics? Do the designers “get” what it is about?