Licensed games used to have a terrible reputation to them. Too often, publishers slapped a sloppy game together that didn’t do board game fans or fans of the source material any justice. The time are changing and more and more companies are valuing the intellectual properties they get the right to. When you have a built-in fan base excited to play games with their favourite characters and stories, the onus is on the companies and designers to get it right. Here are some examples of the changing face of licensed games.
The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire
With an incredible IP like The Godfather, you’re going to want to entrust it to a designer that can make a game as epic and beautiful as the Francis Ford Coppola American crime masterpiece. Eric M. Lang delivered a tight, balanced, mean worker placement game, where players take the role of heads of different crime families looking to take control of New York City should anything unfortunate happen to Don Corleone. Over the course of four acts, you shake down businesses to gain illegal goods, complete jobs for the Don, and do your best to muscle out the competition. The goal of the game is to have the most money, but it’s not enough to gain the moolah, you gotta get it into your suitcase by game’s end. Between rounds, you have to pay tribute to the Don by discarding down to a certain hand limit, so suitcasing your cash often is a solid game plan. The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire has amazing individual miniatures for all the different individual family members, and beautiful art by Karl Kopinski. Fans of the movie will love it, but the game is solid and will please hobbyists as well. Insert unrefusable offer joke here.
Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle
Licensed games should evoke the feeling of the source material, while being able to stand on their own. Harry Potter: Hogwart’s Battle is a love letter to fans of the movies series, while still being a really fun game. Players work together to cast spells, gaining influence, lightning bolts, and healing hearts. The game is designed to be played through the different books in the series. Each new game you play, you can open a new book, which adds new characters, opponents, and rules. It has a sort of legacy feel to it, as the game gets more and more difficult along the way. Players get to choose from Harry, Hermione, Ron, and Neville as characters. As they delve deeper into the game, the characters age and develop their powers. They’ll need that extra help too. By the time Book 7 is opened, the foes are really tough and the task of defending Hogwarts is monumental. This is a great introductory game to deckbuilding. New players can learn the mechanics over some of the easier games, before the return of He-who-shall-not-be-named is truly felt. A game that every can enjoy, but fans of the series will particularly love.
I grew up a fan of Tintin and the Ligne Claire style of illustration made famous by his creator Hergé. So when I first saw the box for Witness, it already felt familiar. Witness is a cooperative mystery game, that takes advantage of a broken telephone mechanic. It’s set on the world of Blake and Mortimer, a scientist and an MI5 agent whose adventures were chronicled in the Tintin magazine in the 50s and 60s. In Witness, a crime is selected and the main details are read aloud to all the players, then everyone reads the information pertaining to the crime in their own individual casebook. Over the course of four rounds of ‘whispers’ players share their information back and forth, trying to keep straight everything they’ve been told as more and details are piled on. At the end of the round they will have to answer three questions that will test how observant they were and how well they shared their information. Witness requires exactly four players, which some people may see as a hindrance, but I actually quite like. Some games will tell you it can be played at different counts, but really should never leave the recommended number. Witness simply forces that. It’s a fun, fast mystery game that I love coming back to.
The DC Deckbuilder
You could easily make a case for MARVEL Legendary in this spot and not be wrong, but I have a soft spot for the DC Deckbuilder. It could have a little to do with the fact that I was a DC fan growing up. I still have my Death of Superman comic in wrap and countless Batman titles like The Dark Knight Returns, The Killing Joke, The Cult, and Arkham Asylum filled my lazy afternoons as a youth. Players choose or get dealt a DC hero, Supes, Bats, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, the Flash etc. and gets an advantage based on their character. You can acquire cards from a lineup including equipment, locations, villains, and super powers. You work to improve your deck, and when you’re ready you can take on the current super villain wreaking havoc on the city. Once the stack of villains is exhausted, the game is over and players total up their score. It doesn’t always make a ton of sense (spending punches to gain kicks?!), but it’s dumb fun, like a comic book should be. There are enough nods to make fans happy, while keeping the game accessible for everyone.
Bloodborne: The Card Game
Fans of the Bloodborne video game will tell you that you better be prepared to die…a lot. That definitely holds true in the card game version as well. Players take on the role of Hunters entering a Chalice Dungeon to take on the evil monsters that lie within. Each turn they will choose an action like attacking with a ranged or melee weapon, transforming a weapon, or entering the Hunter’s Dream. The goal is to have a hand in dispatching the current creature, thus collecting Trophies and Blood Echoes. However, if you don’t spend turns resting in the Dream, you’re going to die and lose any unbanked Echoes (which stinks). Bloodborne: The Card Game forces players into a semi-cooperative stance as you team up against the monsters, but ultimately only one of you will escape the Dungeon to freedom. There are enough cool gothic weapons and terrifying monsters to keep fans of the video game happy, and with an expansion, The Hunter’s Nightmare, scheduled for next year, there will be even more death-inducing fun to have below the surface of the Earth.