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Board Game Adaptations of Video Games (and Dragon Valley)

Jesse Dean
United States
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Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
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Board Games have been the target of media adaptation and tie-ins for a long time. Themed versions of monopoly are endemic, but even in the realm of quality board games, we have seen such noteworthy franchises as Dune, Star Wars, and Lord of the Ring adapted into well-received board game since the late 70s. Board Games have similarly been adapted to video game form, with Sid Meier’s Civilization being one of the earliest and noteworthy examples of this, but Europa Universalis saw a similar treatment, and the rise of iOS devices this trend has accelerated as accurate facsimiles, rather than reimagining, being increasingly common. I don’t have a particular problem with either of these sorts of adaptations, but neither particularly thrills me. Media tie-ins are only marginally interesting to me, because I generally care about the overall tightness of a game’s theme then what theme it has. I have been largely disinterested in board games directly ported into video form, simply because I prefer to play them around the table with my friends. Adaptations can be good, I love Europa Universalis, but I think it is important to create an experience that fits the strengths of the medium rather than trying to recreate it directly.

There is a recent trend in adaptations that I find more exciting however, and that is adaptations of video games into board game form. These are preferable to board games translated into video game form mostly because of the forced innovation; due to the limits of board games in both physical components and preferable play time it is impossible to directly translate most video games into board game form. This has resulted in a variety of board games that, while not necessarily good games or good adaptations, are at the very least interesting and provide an indication at the various ways future video games can be turned into board game form.

Dragon Valley
While this one is not a directly licensed adaptation of a video game, it shares the same general style of the tower defense genre. Unfortunately, rather than going with a super tense struggle for survival that is prevalent in the sort of tower defense games I prefer, where you are trying futilely to overcome hordes of enemies before ultimately failing, they have gone with a less tense design that focuses instead on survival and more on harvesting enemies for victory points either through direct combat or by using walls to direct them off cliffs. While this is a perfectly valid decision, both creatively and from a marketing position, as few people like to fight hard before ultimately being the person who fails the least, I admit this almost certainly unfair expectation did leave me a little bit disappointed. I have just written a new review of it which focuses on the game’s particular merits and flaws, rather than my unfair expectations, here: You Split! I Choose...Orcs?

Dungeon Lords
While I never, ever want to have to teach it again Dungeon Lords provides an interesting adaptation of the “Dungeon Keeper” style of games where players are the evil overlord in a dungeon, fighting off invading adventurers. As it is designed by Vlaada Chvatil, it combines an effective implementation of the theme with an interesting twist on an older method of resource distribution. Unfortunately, this effectiveness is diminished by the level of rules overhead and length compared to the amount of interesting game play. It is nowhere near as bad as Automobile, but it is sufficient that I have not played it since my initial exploration of the game.

Eclipse is another game that is not exactly a direct adaptation, but is strongly inspired by the Masters of Orion series of video game. The best example of this is the ship design system, where Eclipse has a total of four different blueprints available to each of the races, and players are able to take an action to customize their ships based on researched technologies. The game also features a number of other stylistic flourishes related to Master of Orion 3 and a fairly innovative action selection system that is completely unrelated to the original video game. You can see my review here: A Total Eclipse of the Grand Strategy Genre?.

Planet Steam
Inspired by the classic economic video game M.U.L.E., Planet Steam is focused on exploiting the resources of a planet in a science fiction setting, with intense competition for real estate and an intense focus on market manipulation that is fairly true to the original game. A player’s particular action capabilities are severely constrained by available resources, and it is quite possible to end up in an unrecoverable situation. Whether you consider this a perk or a flaw will depend on your perception of catch-up mechanisms.

Puzzle Strike
Puzzle Strike is a fairly typical Dominion clone, with a unique twist directly related to its theme that pushes it ahead of the rest of the pack. Puzzle Strike very effectively implements puzzle fighter style video games, where the players use crash gems to push a steadily climbing pile of gems at their opponents, both protecting themselves and pushing their opponents closer to defeat. This focus on actually knocking out your opponents rather than a race for victory points, and the clever way Sirlin has translated Puzzle Fighters into a deck building games has resulted in a game that is much more tense and exciting then the other deck builders I have played.

Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board Game
Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board Game is one of the few video game adaptations that I have played that actually has a license. Designed by Kevin Wilson it is a very faithful adaptation of the Civilization series of video games, with a minimum of mechanical meanderings and a laser focus on producing a board game that is true to the video game experience. Unfortunately, in this case I think it remains a bit too true to the video game, resulting in a design that feels somewhat lacking, particularly since I have become disinterested in this style of games in general as you can see here: Two Different Styles of Civilization Games

Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization
Through the Ages is the second Vlaada Chvatil game on this list, and that is no accident, as he really seems to be at the forefront of adapting video game ideas into board game form. Through the Ages is less of a strict adaptation of the Civilization series of video games then Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board Game, but it is an adaptation none the less and a rather effective one. I greatly enjoyed Through the Ages for a period of time, but eventually grew weary of the dominance of certain strategies, and my eventual disenchantment with this style of games in general drove down my appreciation of Through the Ages.

Yomi is another Sirlin adaptation, and another fun and effective translation of a video game genre into card game form. Where Puzzle Strike was an adaptation of the Puzzle Fighter games, Yomi is an adaptation of Street Fighter-style fighting game. The complete edition comes with a set of 10 characters, each with its own distinct fighting style and flavor that remain fairly well balanced. I absolutely love this game, and it really probably deserves a higher ranking in my Top 10 of 2011 then it currently has.

Based on these games I think there is a lot of potential for new translations of video games into board game form, even for particular styles of video games that have already seen excellent board game examples. Through the Ages and Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board Game are good examples of the extremely diverse ways you can present even a specific game series, and it seems that BattleCon War of the Indines is presenting another interesting take on the fighting game genre.

I wonder what other sorts of staple genres we will see in coming years. The most challanging example of these genres will probably the sidescroller. I am not sure how one would be able to translate something like Super Mario Brothers into board game form without losing something fundamental from its character. However, I am not a game designer so it will be exciting to see what sort of other great video game adaptations will appear in the coming years.

Have I missed out on any particularly major video game to board game adaptations that I should check out? What are your favorite adaptations?
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