Funko was founded as a bobblehead-producing company in 1998–though doesn’t it seem like they’ve been around forever? Only after the original owner, Mike Becker, sold it to Brian Mariotti did the now-ubiquitous Pop! line emerge in 2010 and begin to spread its tendrils.
The company seems to have deep enough pockets to license right across the spectrum: comics; movies; tv shows; sports figures; music; videogames. Their online catalog contains approximately 17,300 distinct Pop! figures, and they show no signs of slowing down, perhaps because there’s something biological/evolutionary about the appeal of these miniatures. They’re neither realistic nor posable like “action figures”, or vaguely silly, like bobble-heads. Instead, the huge heads and eyes, intentionally or not, mimic those of babies, which humans are programmed to love. And yet you can’t really play with them; they’re top-heavy and therefore prone to fall over unless you put them down gently. In the words of Edwin Starr, “What are they good for? (Absolutely nothing!)” I don’t mean this in a negative way: the fact is that their main purpose is to be collected and then sit on a specially-lit shelf and be gawked at.
So when Funko announced early in 2019 that they were going to release a line of Pop!-based boardgames, I (and most of my tabletop friends) responded with a collective shrug, as if to say, “There’s no way this is going to be good.” And when I told Pop! collectors their reaction was surprised and pretty muted, as if to say, “Play with them? You mean use them?”
In other words, there was not a lot of incentive for Funko to spend much on developing the “game” aspects of the games. Their pre-existing audience would probably buy them anyway, and the tabletop audience was not likely to be won over anyway, so why bother?
And yet, to their credit, Funko has subverted these expectations. In the Funkoverse Game System, Funko has created a credible tactical miniature ruleset that capitalizes on their immense licensing catalog to provide the potential for fascinating PvP matchups: Batman vs Voldemort; Harley Quinn vs Hermione; Rick & Morty vs Rose & Blanche from the “Golden Girls”. And that’s definitely just the beginning.
Initially there are two big sets containing four figs each (DC and Harry Potter) and four smaller sets containing two figs each (DC, HP, Rick & Morty, and Golden Girls). Each set comes with everything you need to play standalone but the system has been designed to mix and combine them and you’re gonna wanna anyway.
Funkoverse is a race to 6 or 10 points depending on the number of figs per side. It’s almost what Overwatch would be like as a board game–to the point where their promotional materials use standard video game categories like tank, support, and so on.
Instead of real-time, play proceeds in I-go-You-go rounds. You activate a fig on its turn and do two actions with it, following which it is Exhausted until the next round. Aside from the basic move and challenge (combat) actions there is a rally action (see below) and a generic Interact action which you use to pick up stuff from the board. Movement and combat are easy and streamlined, though the lack of adjacency around corners is easy to forget at first and a bit unrealistic, as it forces you to march straight through doorways instead of slink around them–although one could argue that that is exactly the point: this is not a stealth game, folks.
But most importantly, each character has two or three unique special actions on its card which give the game its thematic and customizable “juice”. Each special action requires the spending of an appropriate Ability token from your pool, which goes onto a Cooldown track. At the end of the round all tokens on the track slide down one notch until they become available again. So naturally the more awesome a power is, the longer the cooldown time. There are also Items, some of which themselves have cooldown times when used, and have little plastic bits you slip into the little round fists of your figs.
Challenging an opponent has two outcomes: either you fail, and nothing happens; or you succeed, and knock them down. Knocked down characters take a turn to stand up again, which makes them very vulnerable to being challenged again and knocked out, which scores points and kicks them off the board for the rest of the round (they respawn in their home base). This means it’s worth keeping your team together so another character can spend an action to rally your fallen hero up.
And that’s basically that. Simple, goofy, fun.
But as if that weren’t enough, each Funkoverse set comes with a two-sided mapboard and four, count’em four different play modes: capture the flag, area control, territory coverage, and plain old knock’em sock’em. Which means you have a ton of options every time your play.
My only beef is that, although each box is supposed to be playable standalone, I find in practice that with two figs per side the game drags on a bit because a lone fig is prey to being double-teamed repeatedly, and the other fig on its own can’t accrue points fast enough to compensate. So you end up with two-on-two punchups with less attention paid to the scenario goals. You need three figs on a side for things to be tactically interesting, and I might even experiment with four on a side so I can have two “squads” of two. Therefore, you’ll have to buy at least two (and probably more) sets.
Candidly, I think Funko planned it this way, because the two-fig boxes are a little too balanced, character-class-wise. For instance, both Rick and Morty are support class, which makes for pretty tame and defensive play, whereas both Rose and Blanche are tanks, so games turn out to be toe-to-toe slogging matches.
That aside, Funkoverse has the potential to become the gateway tactical mini game this holiday season. It’s accessible, eye-catching, and fun. To give you an idea of how hot this game is already, at GenCon people had to wait in line to attend a one-hour demo just for the right to buy advance copies of the first six sets. Funkoverse hits retail October 15, and many stores are taking preorders, so you wait at your peril.
Thanks to Funko for providing review copies of two Funkoverse Strategy Game kits for this write-up.