There’s something comforting about licensed board games. Learning yet another game’s rules can feel like an absolute chore sometimes, but when it’s for something you know, the familiarity you have with the thing it’s based on can be enough to carry you through.
While you can easily pick up a branded version of a classic game – like Risk: Lord of the Rings or Monopoly: Halo – and call it a day, there are plenty of great games directly inspired by popular franchises and series. If you’re looking to add another game to your sagging shelf and wouldn’t mind something familiar, here are a few board games we recommend picking up that are inspired by videogames, movies and more.
Unsurprisingly, the biggest pop culture franchise of all time has a lot of different board games based on it. The general vastness of Star Wars means that there’s a lot of variation when it comes to what people like about the series – not to mention everyone’s different tastes in board games too. To try and cover as many bases as possible here, we’re going to recommend our two favourites.
If you prefer strategy games, you’ll want Star Wars: Rebellion. You either play as either the Galactic Empire or the Rebel Alliance and command your respective army to topple your opponent. As the Empire, you’ll be in charge of a powerful fleet, with the goal of sniffing out the Rebel’s base and ending them. While the Rebels are all about cloak-and-dagger operations, preferring to make well-planned critical strikes to topple the Imperial forces. That might sound like it skews in favour of the Empire, but you’ll be surprised how balanced and constantly in flux games can be.
If your taste in games leans more towards HeroQuest or XCOM, Star Wars: Imperial Assault is a great strategy dungeon crawler. As its name suggests, you play as a Rebel soldier who is tasked with undertaking a mission against the Empire.
Imperial Assault is like a lite version of a tabletop RPG, where your success and failures will affect your following missions, and there’s enough elbow room to roleplay with the preset character you’re given. Missions usually take an hour or two to complete, so it’s an easy game to pick up and put down.
Let the spice flow. Originally released back in the 1970s, only to fall out of print until very recently, Dune is a fantastic strategy board game. Whether your only exposure to Frank Herbert’s sci-fi universe is Denis Villeneuve’s fantastic adaptation, or you’re a long time fan of the original novel series, you’ll get a kick out of those games.
You play as one of six factions – House Atreides, House Harkonnen, the Bene Gesserit, the Padishah Emperor, the Fremen and the Spacing Guild – as you vie for power to control of Arrakis. To claim your stake as the desert planet’s rightful ruler, you’ll need to expand your territories and win combats. Whoever controls the spice, controls the universe.
For a game made over forty years ago, it does lack the tightness and polish of more modern board games, but that’s part of the fun. In our review of the game, we praised just how unique and odd a game of Dune is:
“I can’t remember the last time I laughed, gasped and cursed like I did playing Dune. The way alliances can be made but then broken, the elastic nature of the basic victory conditions and the treachery lurking behind every decision made it feel like every player was always one step away from victory but at the same time one battle away from utter ruin at the same time.”
Before its final season torched any of the goodwill it earned, like dragon fire over a Lannister army, Game of Thrones had a stranglehold on pop culture. And while some of us would love to forget certain parts of it, you can’t deny that when Thrones was good, it was very good.
During that period, we spent plenty of time playing the second edition of Fantasy Flight’s board game. Much like the source material, the goal of A Game of Thrones is to secure your rightful place on the Iron Throne and become ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. To do this, you’ll play as one of the Great Houses and start planning a strategy to conquer Westeros by increasing your army and the land you control.
It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that table politics and schemes play a major part in this game. If you don’t backstab someone by the game’s end, then you’re not playing it right.
A game can take a few hours to complete and can be incredibly frustrating at times, but A Game of Thrones can be a rewarding experience that reminds you why we all fell in love with the series in the first place.
Based on John Carpenter’s iconic sci-fi horror movie, The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 perfectly captures the claustrophobic paranoia of its namesake. You play as one of 12 characters trapped on a desolate Antarctic base, complete various missions and figure out who has been infected before the outpost is overwhelmed by shapeshifting monsters.
It’s a co-op game until it’s not. Secretly, one player will be an imitation with the goal of slowing spreading their infection throughout the base. As things heat up and the contamination spreads, paranoia will set in, and you’ll begin to judge everyone’s motives and actions. Nobody trusts anybody now, and we’re all very tired.
If you’re a big fan of Betrayal at House on the Hill and how it suddenly turns one of your comrades into an opponent, you’ll have a great time with The Thing – even if it spawns some serious trust issues between yourself and your friends.
This dungeon crawler is the Dark Souls of board games.
If you’re a fan of tabletop RPGs, but can’t commit to a full Dungeons & Dragons campaign, The Lord of The Rings: Journeys in Middle Earth is a happy medium. In Kotaku’s review of the game, we called it “a fast, streamlined dungeon crawler, a great way for a small crew to spend a night (or a few weeks, the app saves your progress, of course) adventuring together.”
The Middle Earth inspired board game lets you play as one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s iconic heroes while you and your party adventure across the realm, visiting familiar locations like Gondor and the Grey Mountains.
Journeys in Middle Earth uses a companion app to hand out quest scenarios while also keeping track of your progress. The app also acts as the game master, so everyone gets a chance to play as their favourite hero of Middle Earth.
Based on Steven Speilberg’s iconic blockbuster, Jaws: The Board Game is designed for two to four players, with one of them taking on the role of the shark while the rest get to pick from Brody, Hooper and Quint. The game has two phases – the first is set on Amity Island, where the player characters need to determine the location of the shark while saving swimmers from its toothy maw.
The second phase has you heading out on The Orca to face the monstrous Great White. How well you do in the first phase will affect the second, and it’s entirely possible for the shark to kill its pursuers and emerge victoriously.
The rules are pretty easy to learn, and a game will usually last around an hour to finish, making it a great option for those who love board games but aren’t able to make huge time commitments for them. Twilight Imperium, this is not. The game itself is also fairly compact, so don’t worry, you’re not going to need a bigger table.
If you’re a fan of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy comic, you’ll want to pick this up. In this dungeon crawler, you play as a member of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense and are tasked with solving cases ripped straight from the comics. You’ll explore various locations where you’ll face occult threats, discover mysterious artifacts and throw fists with scores of horrific monsters.
The rules are pretty easy to get a handle on, and the game works as both a one-off adventure and an ongoing campaign. Hellboy includes some fantastic miniatures of Big Red himself, various BPRD agents like Abe Sapien and Liz Sherman, along with a few monsters. The game also usesMignola’s original comic artwork, which is always a sight to behold.