by John Dorney
Here is a List of the Top 10 Board Games Based on Books
1. The Lord of the Rings
Game Plot: You are a Hobbit. You are taking the ring to Mordor. You know the drill.
Whilst it’s not the most fashionable and popular of games these days, I have a huge amount of affection for The Lord of the Rings board game, as it was one of the first to open my eyes to a world beyond Monopoly and Cluedo.
A truly seminal title, helping to widely popularize the co-operative genre of Board Games (where players do not compete with each other, but battle together against the game itself), it never entirely feels like you’re actually walking through Middle Earth, but it’s a great entry point. And with the expansions, if you can find them, one of you can be Sauron as well.
Similarity to the book: Reasonable. It follows some of the events of the book in the right order. With enough of you Fatty gets an expanded part, which loses points, but if you succeed the game ends with a massive anti-climax, so some of it’s bang on.
See also: Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation, The Hobbit, all manner of LotR spin-off games.
Game Plot: Four players – no more, no less – try to solve a crime through whispering their incomplete information to each other.
Let’s just be delighted that this game exists. Another co-operative game, it’s sort of like a high-stakes Chinese whispers game that someone decided to set in the world of, of all things, Blake and Mortimer, a Belgian comic book series obscure enough to make Lucky Jim look niche.
Some of the translation work leaves a bit to be desired, but it’s a short, fun game that’s unlike anything else you’ve played (if you can get through the awkwardly specific number of players).
Similarity to the book: Hard to gauge, as I’ve only read one Blake and Mortimer book – The Yellow M – but I’m pretty certain that the eponymous heroes tended not to base deductions on memory tests, and at the very least were nowhere near as incompetent as my family.
3. Fury of Dracula
Game Plot: Various Vampire hunters try to track down the elusive Count in a race across Europe.
This beautifully illustrated game isn’t quite as co-operative as the previous two, being a sort of one against many hidden movement game. One person plays Dracula, traveling in ways only he can see, the others – from four players having a good time, down to one player getting their brain melted – try to locate his trail before time runs out.
A genuinely tense cat and mouse game that generally starts slow, before becoming a full blooded panicking race against time.
Similarity to the book: Low. Lots of references, but ultimately it feels more like the idea of the book, than the book itself. Maybe you should discuss tactics by writing letters to the other players as you go, though I accept that might increase the run time.
Game Plot: You are an actor/playwright in Elizabethan England – guess which one – hiring actors and technicians in an attempt to put on the best possible play and get the Queen’s favour.
Finally, a game where you’re competing against each other! Although since all of you are represented by the same picture of Shakespeare, you’re sort of fighting yourself. Which is odd.
Each round you select and activate famous Shakespearean characters who all give you different point bonuses at the end of the week. There might, perhaps, be a touch too much going on in this game, but if you get the expansion you can hire the Bear of Winter’s Tale ‘Exit pursued by…’ fame, for which I’ll forgive anything.
Similarity to the book (or in this case original plays): You can have Juliet as a character in a play opposite Falstaff and Hamlet. With none of them wearing any clothes. So unless you’re watching an especially pretentious student production, I’d say it’s not similar at all.
See also: Council of Verona – a game you play as the characters of Romeo and Juliet!
Game Plot: Various interstellar groups battle, negotiate and betray each other, all the time with their eye on the main prize.
The sharper-eyed among you may have noticed that the photo accompanying this title is not of the board game Dune, and is instead of a board game called ‘Rex.’
That is because the game of Dune, a classic of its genre, is not currently readily available (due to rights issues? I’m not sure). But what you can get is the same game, reimagined and rethemed to take place in the universe of much-loved board game epic ‘Twilight Imperium’. So it’s based on Dune, just a few steps along.
Similarity to the book: Were you not paying attention? It’s nothing like it at all. It’s called Rex.
See also: Dune. If you can find it.
6. Game of Thrones: The Board Game
Game Plot: Battle for control of the land of Westeros! With lots of beautiful and dinky pieces.
Mystifyingly not titled ‘Board Game of Thrones’ this warfaring classic is like Risk for bastards. And because Risk is pretty much ‘Risk for bastards’ already, you can only begin to imagine how backstabby and evil this game is.
An insanely intimidating rule-book conceals a straightforward and rewarding battle game, which always manages to feel epic and historic.
Similarity to the book: Very similar to some aspects, veering heavily onto the war and conflict side of the novels. But, unless you have a very relaxed group of players, considerably less of the sex and incest.
See also: Various card games riff on the worlds of Westeros.
Game Plot: The inhabitants of Wonderland are having a Parade! But they get really awkward if someone else has turned up in the same costume… or something… Look, it’s not a thematic game in the same way as the rest of these. So it doesn’t really have a plot that makes sense. Just go with it.
A deceptively simple card game that starts off innocently enough before ultimately turning into a stab-each-other-in-the-back-fest. Pretty much a pure strategy game, really, and if that’s your thing it’s great for giving a short, punchy game, but one with lots of complex decisions. And it looks gorgeous.
Similarity to the book: None whatsoever. There’s, like, thirteen different Alices, which unless I’ve forgotten a chapter in the ‘Drink me’ area isn’t part of the book. And there’s thirteen versions of everyone else too. It’s just an excuse for a lot of pretty pictures, really.
Game Plot: The various heroines of Jane Austen’s novels are getting married! To each other’s husbands. Or other characters. Or not at all. They’re looking for the best match, so they can’t afford to be choosy, but watch out ladies, if you’re not careful you’ll end up an old maid!
Another card game, this one effectively collates all of Jane Austen’s characters into a hectic battle for who can come out best in society. A fun little filler game, and a perfect riposte for anyone who thinks modern gaming is all about dungeons and monsters. Though if you like the latter, you can play the inspired ‘And Zombies’ expansion to riff on the modern genre of the literary mash-up.
Similarity to the book: Well, it’s like all of them and none of them, really, as it plays like someone’s torn up all the pages of the complete works and put them back together in a random order. But it does effectively feel like the world it’s representing.
See also: Marrying Mister Darcy
9. Arkham Horror
Game Plot: Lovecraftian monsters are erupting through dimensional gateways. Only a motley group of investigators can stop the arrival of one of the elder gods.
There can hardly be a more cliched theme for board games than the Cthulhu mythos, to the degree that some games even take the piss out of this (Smash Up’s ‘Seemingly Obligatory Cthulhu Expansion’ for example). But this is the real deal. An epic and really rather unwieldy though fun co-op game that is nonetheless an absorbing and
An epic and really rather unwieldy though fun co-op game that is nonetheless an absorbing and grueling way to spend an afternoon if you have time.
Similarity to the book: I’ve not really managed to get through Lovecraft. He leaves me cold like Poe. But the impression I get is this places it all rather more front and centre, and some of the expansions bring in other author’s weird fiction works (most noticeably The King in Yellow).
See also: Eldritch Horror, Elder Signs and about a billion other board games.
10. Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective
Game plot: You are one of the Baker Street Irregulars investigating ten baffling crimes – in some cases really baffling due to awkward translations – and trying to do better than Sherlock Holmes in unraveling them. Spoiler: you won’t.
I remember playing the kid’s classic 221b Baker Street, a slightly awkward Cluedo/Clue type roll and move game with some thumpingly easy clues. This is what that game wanted to be.
A (mainly) meticulously detailed game where you search for clues in maps and newspapers and interrogate key witnesses, that’s perhaps got a lot more in common with Choose Your Own Adventure games than a standard board game, but still fab.
Similarity to the book: Strong. While the cases are new, the tone and style is expertly replicated and you really do feel like you’re solving cases.
See also 221b Baker Street for the younger Holmes loving board game enthusiast.
Honourable Mention: Friday
This is something of a rarity in board games – a game that is literally for one player and that’s it. Oddly enough, despite the ease I’d have gathering enough people to play it, I’ve not managed to. But I will one day.
See also: Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on a Cursed Island. A well-regarded co-op, which I’ve also not played, but is soon to be reissued in a snazzy new edition, so I will do soon!