My time spent playing games over the past thirty plus years, and a bit, has taken place almost exclusively in the video game realm. Board games, although something that have been present in my life over a longer period of time, only began to make a significant impact during the past two years. I strayed from the mainstream and wandered down some less worn tracks to see what lay there and emerged invigorated and in love with an old pastime reborn as a new obsession.
However, despite my new love for board games, video games will always have a special place in my heart. And, on the back of that, and as a long time joystick twiddler, here are ten board games that have elements to entice even the hardiest of pixel warriors out there.
My only parameters for the list were that the games selected either had an obvious nod to the video game world or played in such a way that they would appeal to the usually more immediate play associated with gaming on a screen.
Now, push start, and enjoy.
King of New York
To begin the list we go to downtown New York, throw in some huge raging monsters intent on tearing the place and each other up, add the armed forces equipped to the nines with troops, tanks, and jets, and drop in a fiendishly simple ruleset involving some magnificent over-sized dice. King of New York is a recipe for fast, explosive fun if ever there was one!
My reasoning behind selecting the follow up to the equally brilliant, King of Tokyo, is based largely upon the immediate shift away from what are often considered the norms of board gaming offered within this box of delights. Straight from the off, King of New York, is big, bold, and bloody beautiful. The game places players into the gargantuan bodies of a variety of Godzilla-esque beasts, and then pitches them into a battle to the death…or enough victory points to claim the crown.
King of New York is fast paced throughout, allows players the opportunity to power up their creatures in interesting and imaginative ways, brings in an additional element over King of Tokyo in the shape of an ever more dangerous armed forces city defence, and never, ever outstays its welcome. Tokyo and New York are two of the first games that landed upon my own table having ventured from the mainstream, and both still make regular appearances two years later. Go get your Godzilla on!
Dead of Winter
Dead of Winter might not seem like an obvious choice as a game that will appeal to the video game player out there, however, beneath what at first glance appears a complex and daunting prospect for those new to more variety at the board game table, lies a game that echoes a number of elements from many of the zombie flavoured video games out there.
At its core we have a game that is about taking a character’s strengths and using them as a best fit in a bid for survival against a bleak zombie riddled winter’s background. Dead of Winter offers so many great ideas. We have moments of story telling between the action, where players are placed in delicate situations requiring important life and death choices to be made. We have collectable items dotted in the various town locations ripe for searching, tools and weapons with which to tackle the zombie threat. We have an endless search for the basics of life, such as food and fuel, that will allow us another sunrise. And, we have a possible traitor among our number.
The game is on a par with the best of the zombie titles offered on console, it holds similar tropes of course, but it has an important added ingredient that the screen rarely delivers, Dead of Winter has communication. Chat, and light-hearted tension fill the air around a typical Dead of Winter session as players find some semblance of social cohesion in a struggle for survival, whilst harbouring doubts about which one might be working against them. Dead of Winter is Telltale’s Walking Dead given life at the table.
Quest for the Antidote
I believe one of the most critical aspects in introducing anyone to a new board game, particularly if they are new to games removed from the mainstream, is that it is easy to pick up and play. Quest for the Antidote, is remarkably simple. Here we have a game that adopts a simple roll and move mechanic, then throws in some basic combat, and drops a few collectable items about the place.
The game is actually only a few steps removed from Monopoly in some respects, players roll, move their piece, take basic actions, and sit back. Yet, strangely, the game feels a little bit like a simple adventure video game. It looks big and colourful on the table, each player is on a quest to recovery specific items, and the monsters that block the way are typically side scrolling platformer-esque.
Quest for the Antidote holds so many positives for new players. It is fast, simple, and fun to play. The game certainly won’t offer an insight into the vast depth of games that are out there, but sometimes all we want to do is switch off, and have a good laugh with friends, and in that respect this game holds a few aces.
Now here we have a game that simply oozes eight-bit charm from every pore. From the pixelated art work to the classic side-scrolling hack and slash dungeon crawl, Boss Monster, is a modern day card game with very traditional video game trappings.
This is a game that will instantly make video gamers of a certain age drift off into a blissful haze of distant memories, and equally offer the more modern player an instantly recognisable place to play. As an added element of loveliness, Boss Monster is also an absolute blast!
Players must competitively build a classic side scrolling dungeon in which to trap and defeat the bold adventurers daft enough to seek gold and glory. Players score points by killing off the various adventurers, but must make sure they don’t leave themselves open to attack, and potential doom at the sword, bow, or wand of the daring few.
In terms of board and card games that will prove attractive prospects for the video game fan, Boss Monster is an absolute no-brainer. The fact that it is also a very, very good game is the gold inside the chest. May your traps be fiendish and your beasties mean.
Cash ‘n’ Guns
Sometimes board games come along that feel absolutely nothing like board games. Cash ‘n’ Guns is one such game. Part crime spree, part Mexican stand-off, the game is all about holding your nerve whilst looking down the barrel of a (sponge) gun, and calling one another’s bluff in a race to get the richest pickings from a recent robbery.
Cash ‘n’ Guns is a game that is far more about the interaction around the table than the actual events taking place upon it. It allows players to actually point physical sponge gun replicas at one another and ask the question, “Do you feel lucky?” For the video gamer we have a game that is a million miles removed from the traditions of movement around a board, but still offers the sort of social, fun environment so alive in the games that reside outside the mainstream glare. I often use this one as an evening opener, it works a treat as a gateway to more involved titles, and also as a brilliant ice-breaker. The mild levels of tension, and brilliant components are a winner every time!
Terror in Meeple City
If there’s one thing video gamers are renowned for, it’s having dexterity in them there fingers. The hand-eye co-ordination and swiftness of action carry many a gamer through some death defying feats of magnificence. So what better than to bring a little dexterity into the board game arena?
There are plenty of options out there for introducing some meeple flicking to proceedings, but my own personal favourite has to be, Terror in Meeple City. The game offers another chance to wreak havoc upon the civilised world in the guise of a big bad Godzilla type beast. Only rather than throwing dice, this time players actually get to attack the buildings physically. This is usually done by dropping your heavy wooden beast piece from a reasonable height upon the stacked layers of the city buildings, thus sending floors crashing and meeples scattering to the streets (these scattered few can then be eaten in true terrifying beastie fashion).
The game offers a complete removal once again from tradition. The board is set up, nice and neat, everything in its place, and then torn to absolute shreds by gleeful, lunacy tinged players. For the video gamer it offers an insight into what can be done with board games these days, and also allows them to flex their dexterous fingers away from the norms of the controller.
If Dead of Winter is Telltale’s Walking Dead, then Zombicide is Left 4 Dead! Here we have a game that throws players into the thick of the action, and asks only that everyone blasts their way to glory.
Zombicide is heavy in miniatures, and quick on the action. It doesn’t worry about the long term requirements of zombie apocalypse survival, no need for fuel and food, just make sure the shotgun is loaded and the nerves are intact. It has that immediate feel that video games do so easily, and offers little respite between decisions. The zombies are straight from the newer more interesting variety that have evolved in game and on screen from the old school shufflers of yore, and everything is in place for something as close to video game zombie land as board games can ever get.
The obvious video game inspiration is alive and kicking in Zombicide and as an experience, it should be ticking plenty of boxes for those making a step from screen to board.
Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate
I really enjoy Betrayal at House on the Hill, but I love Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate! Perhaps this is in part because of my own video game roots, roots that have weaved a way through the old top down brilliance of Baldur’s Gate itself.
As a game the Betrayal series has so much to love. We have exploration of the unknown, a brilliant top down view of rich and detailed locations, interesting characters, and most importantly, a brilliant traitor mechanic that completely shifts the focus of the game and breaks allegiances with a single blow.
The reason for it appearing in this list is again about offering something that is familiar. Baldur’s Gate has a broad appeal for players in cardboard, role play, and video games respectively, but on top of that it has an obvious visual appeal, offers collectables and ways to power up a character that won’t seem alien to joystick warriors, and shifts the balance from co-op to one vs many in a truly inventive, story driven way.
Truth be known, despite compiling this list, and being a long in the tooth devotee to the mighty video game, I’ve never actually ever really sought a board game with video game trappings. And then one landed in right in my lap. Adrenaline is a very strange beast. Here we have a title that has obvious video game elements, so obvious in fact they burst from every corner of the board! We have wide ranging and weirdly wonderful weapons galore, from huge rocket launching limb splitters, to close quarters ninja heart stoppers, and every weapon can be powered up to unleash additional effects and damage, and we have pick ups for ammo, death shots, awesome characters, and…respawns! That’s right, in Adrenaline when you die you get a respawn.
But then away from the fray, Adrenaline is also a brilliant tactical shooter that requires players to use the grey matter as much as the trigger finger. It tasks each warrior with some bullet management, and utilising this to best effect reaps great reward. Then when a player is killed they become worth slightly less for the next kill, so players have to seek out the points by targeting a variety of opponents rather than just the one. And finally, when a player is shot they get bursts of adrenaline that open up new abilities. Adrenaline is the video gamer’s board game, but more than that it is also the board gamer’s board game, in fact, it’s just outright wonderful and should be hitting your own table as soon as possible.
To wrap things up I decided to choose a game that is definitely not an obvious choice. Gloomhaven is huge. It is the sort of game that proves daunting upon simply opening the sizeable box. The co-operative dungeon crawler packs in so much in fact, that many will never complete the adventures on offer. But, in a day and age where sprawling RPG games such as The Witcher 3, Fable, and Skyrim, keep players entranced for months on end, there is ample room for the even the biggest tabletop equivalent.
Gloomhaven is the RPG for those not inclined to play Dungeons and Dragons. It is the game that allows everyone to embrace the adventure without the need for a Dungeon Master, and it is a wonderful, rich and fulfilling journey for the video gamer seeking fresh adventure in a fantastic world.
As a game, the rules are actually far less daunting than the scope of the stories ahead, and most players can be knee deep in some incredible tales in little time at all. In board gaming we often talk about ‘gateway games’, those titles that prove a good starting point for players looking to widen the boundaries of their own board game habits, but in the right hands any game can prove a gateway game, and thanks to a brilliantly written ruleset, a deep and immersive land, and the classic elements that exist throughout our fantasy escapes be it at the table or on the screen, I have no problem suggesting Gloomhaven as the perfect place for pixel adventurers to cut their cardboard teeth.
And there we have it…
I was a mainstream board game player and a dedicated video gamer. I now find myself split between the two entertainment forms with a slight edge towards the table. I began my own journey with a couple of the games on this list and encountered the others as my travels progressed. Whether rolling dice or pulling triggers hopefully this little list has offered a few ideas for potential stops along your own journey. Most importantly though, let’s just play more games!