Demetri’s Picks: Top Licensed Board Games

Let’s talk about li­censed games.

Licensed video games are no­to­ri­ous for be­ing soul­less cash grabs, and with good rea­son. For every Goldeneye 64 or Darkwing Duck, there’s a dozen games like Chicken Run for the Game Boy Color. This may sur­prise you to learn, but Chicken Run didn’t turn out to be a bas­tion of quality. 

Fuck this game.

It may sur­prise you then that, on av­er­age, li­censed board games tend to be a bit better! 

Obviously there are games that no one in their right mind should go near no mat­ter the medi­um, but I’ve found IP con­ver­sions of board games are some of the best adap­ta­tions out there. My qual­i­fi­er for this list was that these games had to be re­ceived well by non-fans of the prop­er­ties they’re adapt­ing, and all five of these games passed that test with fly­ing colors.

Super Mario: Level Up!

This is the lazi­est pick of the list be­cause it’s a game I’ve al­ready re­viewed. I ex­plain what makes this game work so well in de­tail there, but es­sen­tial­ly it’s a rethemed se­quel to a good game that very few peo­ple played called King Me!. Sometimes a fresh coat of paint is all you need, even if there’s some…mild the­mat­ic dis­con­nects present.

Each play­er re­ceives a se­cret card that shows which cute Nintendo mas­cots they want to suc­ceed. On your turn all you do is pick one of the char­ac­ters and move them up a step, then pos­si­bly use an item that’ll fuck things up. When a char­ac­ter makes it to the top step, the ta­ble si­mul­ta­ne­ous­ly votes on whether or not they’re hap­py with this re­sult. If it’s a unan­i­mous yes, every­one scores points ac­cord­ing­ly. If there’s a sin­gle no vote, the mas­cot gets sum­mar­i­ly ex­e­cut­ed. The Mushroom Kingdom has got­ten harsh.

It’s all fun and games and bing bing wa­hoo un­til Peach gets thrown down the god­damn stairs. Then every­one be­comes a con­niv­ing sun­nav­abitch. You’ll ad­vance char­ac­ters that aren’t yours just to kill them off in the vote. You’ll start votes that you want to fail but vote yes any­way, bank­ing on oth­er peo­ple to kill it for you be­cause your no votes are lim­it­ed. You’ll bluff, dou­ble bluff, and back­stab your way to de­mo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly elect­ed leader of the Mushroom Kingdom. It’s nasty, brutish, short, and fantastic. 

Bob Ross: Art of Chill Game

This is a game that ex­ists. You can buy it with mon­ey in cur­rent year.

Bob Ross episodes have a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing re­lax­ing and chill, so how bet­ter to con­vert that to a game than to have 4 play­ers com­pete in a race to achieve max­i­mum chill be­fore every­one else? That’s how I relax.

The weird­est thing about this game is the fact that it’s ac­tu­al­ly me­chan­i­cal­ly sol­id. You’ll col­lect paints, com­bine them on your palette, use dif­fer­ent types of tools to paint along with Bob, learn how to use paint­ing tech­niques bet­ter than every­one else for ex­tra points, and try to whack out as many fea­tures as you can be­fore the episode ends and every­one has to start a new paint­ing. And of course, there’s hip­ster bonus­es for fin­ish­ing those hap­py lit­tle trees be­fore any­one else. It’s pos­i­tive­ly bizarre and ab­solute­ly worth your time. 


War. War nev­er changes. Adventure games sure do though, and Fallout is one of the best ones in years.

If you’re fa­mil­iar with the Fallout uni­verse then you rough­ly al­ready know how this plays. 1 – 4 play­ers are go­ing to wan­der around the waste­land, get into fights, gain perks and equip­ment, and use said perks and equip­ment to fight more things to ad­vance the plot. The mech­a­nisms are easy to grasp and ex­plor­ing the waste­land in this fash­ion is gen­uine­ly interesting.

By far the coolest fea­ture of Fallout is the ad­ven­ture deck. It cribs the Choose Your Own Adventure book sys­tem of “if you make X choice go to card Y” in or­der to cre­ate a sprawl­ing web of choic­es that every play­er si­mul­ta­ne­ous­ly af­fects. There are four sce­nar­ios in the box lift­ed from Fallout 3 and 4 that’ll guide the gen­er­al plot­line, but with sid­e­quests and branch­ing paths give plen­ty of rea­son to re­play sce­nar­ios over and over.

Fallout is a game that cre­ates mem­o­rable sto­ries. You’ll re­mem­ber your ghoul that found a sniper ri­fle and popped Deathclaw heads from a mile away. You’ll re­mem­ber ex­plor­ing a vault and get­ting roped into the res­i­dents’ lot­tery. You’ll re­mem­ber pulling a vic­to­ry out of your ass one turn away from fail­ure. It may not be quite as free-wheeling as the source ma­te­r­i­al but get­ting to play it along­side your friends makes it a dif­fer­ent, yet fa­mil­iar, experience.

Star Trek Panic!

Do you like Star Trek: TOS? You’ll like this.

I should ex­plain a bit more than that. Star Trek Panic is a co­op­er­a­tive game where play­ers take the role of Enterprise crew mem­bers. Your goal is to com­plete a cer­tain num­ber of mis­sions with­out ru­in­ing the ship. And the game will end­less­ly at­tempt to ruin the ship. In stan­dard coop game fash­ion, every time a play­er gets some­thing done, the game will take a turn and make things worse. Your group is con­stant­ly putting out fig­u­ra­tive and lit­er­al fires just to keep your jet pow­ered space fris­bee to­geth­er for just one more turn.

Star Trek Panic is par­tic­u­lar­ly no­table be­cause it suc­ceeds at cre­at­ing gen­uine ten­sion. Unlike some coops where the threats come and go (and the fun scales sim­i­lar­ly), STP man­ages to con­stant­ly ratch­et up un­til it cul­mi­nates in every­one crash­ing and burn­ing or just bare­ly suc­ceed­ing. There’s an earned sense of sat­is­fac­tion to win­ning at this, and that’s wor­thy of note.

Sidenote: this game was fun to the point that it made me want to watch orig­i­nal Trek. I’m re­al­ly glad it did, the show’s great.

Sons of Anarchy: Men of Mayhem

Does any­one even re­mem­ber Sons of Anarchy? I nev­er watched the show, so I hon­est­ly don’t know the kind of im­pact it had. I hear it start­ed good and then got real stu­pid, which sounds like a lot of shows. All I know is that some­where along the line this game got made and it’s an ab­solute ace.

The premise is sim­ple. You run a bike club. So do the oth­er peo­ple at the ta­ble. You want to get rich by send­ing your dudes out to do all the crimes. So do the oth­er peo­ple at the ta­ble. You’re will­ing to send any­one who gets in your way to the hos­pi­tal, or the morgue if it comes to that. You see where I’m go­ing with this.

What makes this one spe­cial isn’t what you’re try­ing to do as much as how you do it. Violence and in­tim­i­da­tion can get a lot done, but bribery and a bit of sweet talk will get you fur­ther, and usu­al­ly at less cost. I’d rec­om­mend read­ing this chunk from the rulebook:

Non-binding ne­go­ti­a­tion is a tricky bal­ance. You’ll nev­er know if some­one is re­al­ly go­ing to hon­or an agree­ment or try to leave you in a ditch some­where, but the ever loom­ing threat of mu­tu­al­ly as­sured dude-murder of­ten works as in­cen­tive. You’ll make ridicu­lous multi-person deals know­ing full well that any­one could roll up and pull guns at any mo­ment. I could mix more metaphors and wax po­et­ic, but it’ll all just be vari­a­tions on me say­ing that this is a damn good game. It’s also per­pet­u­al­ly on sale and you can get it for less than $20, so that’s neat.

Honorable Mentions

There are plen­ty of oth­er li­censed games of note, the above are just some of my fa­vorites. Here are some oth­er no­ta­bles that you might like even better:

Bioshock Infinite: The Siege of Columbia: Playing as the bad guys is al­ways a fun twist on a li­cenced game. Even more so when you get into turf wars with oth­er vil­lains. If only that Booker ass­hole didn’t keep show­ing up and ru­in­ing your plans.

Spartacus: A Game of Blood & Treachery: It’s Spartacus, only more fight­ing and few­er dongs. 

The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire: Someday, and that day may nev­er come, I will call upon you to play a game with me. But un­til that day, ac­cept this rec­om­men­da­tion as a gift now that I’m fi­nal­ly writ­ing ar­ti­cles again.

The Godfather

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Demetri Ballas

Demetri has an un­healthy ob­ses­sion with cards and num­bers. He gripes be­cause he cares. He’s @Vysetron on Twitter (most­ly memes) and Instragram (most­ly games).

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