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A VICE Gaming Guide to the Best Licensed Board Games

Against the odds, board games based on pre-existing properties tend to be some of the best on the shelves.

by Giaco Furino
13 July 2016, 6:52am

Sometimes powerful brands, like Marvel or Star Wars, aren't content being comics or movie franchises, and so want to branch out of their comfort zones into other realms of other forms of entertainment. The result of these unholy unions usually ends up awkward, famously terrible, or just... kind of goofy.

But for reasons mysterious and unknown, the board game medium fares really well when taking on a license or pre-existing IP. From intricate Marvel card and dice games, to a silly Monty Python game, to a fantastic, paranoia-inducing Battlestar Galactica board game, the world of licenses almost always shines on hobby shop shelves. So let me take you through some of the best and pick apart why, on earth, these collaborations work so well.

The Legendary Marvel Series

Game Type: Collaborative Deck Building
Number of Players: 1-5
Time to Play: 30-60 minutes

Upper Deck, once known chiefly for making addictive sports trading cards, burst onto the board game scene in 2012 with the release of Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game. This is a classic "deck building" game, meaning players use a base set of cards to "recruit" better cards into their decks. Heavy on theme, this card game (and its horde of expansions) pits players together against the board game, recruiting heroes like Thor and Gambit to defeat foes like Dr. Doom. Each card has an ability that feels true to its character (for example, Gambit's cards involve an element of risk), and the end result is an immersive gaming experience for Marvel fans.

Battlestar Galactica

Game Type: Bluffing
Number of Players: 3-6
Time to Play: 120-240 minutes

The longest "time to play" on this list, Battlestar Galactica perfectly captures the feel of the 2004 sci-fi cult classic TV show. Players each take a role as a crew member on the ship, and a small portion of players are given a hidden role as an evil Cylon. Throughout the game, players must work together to secure the safety of the ship, while trying to determine who at the table is a traitorous Cylon. Cylons can't seem too eager to wreck the Galactica, so they have to take to subtle forms of subterfuge. Most games end with players screaming, shouting, and pointing fingers until either the Cylons enact their plan or the humans isolate and eliminate them.

Dice Masters

Game Type: Collectible Dice Game
Number of Players: 2
Time to Play: 60 minutes

Sometimes a specific license carries a board game, elevating it beyond the run-of-the-mill. But with the Dice Masters system the core game itself is so addicting it could feature squares, circles and triangles and it would still be enthralling. Dice Masters started with Marvel Dice Masters, but has now moved on to scoop up Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, DC Comics, Dungeons & Dragons and Yu-Gi-Oh!. The game itself is similar to a deck building affair, in that you start with a basic pool of dice, and can use those basic dice to "recruit" better heroes, characters, and more, to your team. But this game isn't collaborative: you're setting your heroes into pitched battle with your opponent, and it's a last-player-standing brawl.

The Fluxx Series

Game Type: Chaotic Card Game
Number of Players: 2-6
Time to Play: 5-30 minutes

Some of the quickest, craziest games on this list, the series of Fluxx games by Looney Labs are the type of games for people who want to get in, get out, and get on with their night. The Fluxx games are all about constantly shifting rules. Every card played adds, subtracts, or changes the goal of the game, with rounds that can last as little as a few minutes. Because of this loose affiliation with rules and instructions, the Fluxx games become a sort of happy blank slate, easily accommodating vibes as different as the chaos of Monty Python Fluxx and the dour detective work of Batman Fluxx. With licensed titles including the two aforementioned releases as well as Firefly Fluxx, Adventure Time Fluxx, Regular Show Fluxx, Cartoon Network Fluxx and Oz Fluxx (out of print), the collection manages to feel uniform in its abandon and true to each individual source material at the same time.

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Ghostbusters: The Board Game

Game Type: Cooperative Board Game
Number of Players: 1-4
Time to Play: 30-120 minutes

Released in 2015 by Cryptozoic Entertainment, Ghostbusters: The Board Game (and its upcoming sequel, which raked in over $750,000 on Kickstarter, and is due out next year) asks players to work together to subdue wild ghosts that leak out all over Manhattan. Combining beautiful miniatures, simple tactical gameplay, and a campaign mode where players can "level up" their characters, this is an easy entry point into the world of cooperative play. A lot of love for the original franchise went into the core mechanics of this game, as rules were handcrafted to simulate the behaviours of famous baddies like Slimer and the Stay Puft Marshmallow man, and mimic the use of proton packs. This game manages to balance deep fan-service (the sequel will include monsters based on those old Kenner action figures) with evocative gameplay to take the IP to the heights of board game acclaim.

Moby Dick, or, the Card Game

Game Type: Dice Rolling/Hand Management
Number of Players: 2-4
Time to Play: 60 minutes

Of all the games on this list, a dice rolling, variable player power, hand management game based on Melville's massive whale adventure/oil harvesting instruction guide may seem like a strange choice. But this game is fast paced, pulls from key moments of the book, and sees you hunting with (and, kind of, against) your fellow players to take down whales. The end game is always a showdown with Moby Dick, but the goal isn't to catch and kill the massive white whale, but to simply survive. Hand-crafted with an artisanal flare, Moby Dick, or, the Card Game captures the livelier moments of the novel and will leave you trembling in Moby's wake at the finish.

Related, on Motherboard: The Best Board Game Ever Created is Now On Steam

Legendary Encounters

Game Type: Player vs. Player/Cooperative Deck Building
Number of Players: 1-5
Time to Play: 30-60 minutes

Legendary Encounters: A Predator Deck Building Game and Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Building Game are just as stressfully awesome as the movies they're based on. Alien Deck Building lets players take on the role of characters like Ripley, Bishop and Corporal Hicks (stay frosty). You collect and add cards to your deck to improve your chances against hordes of Xenomorphs attempting to overrun you. Predator Deck Building has two different modes: Predator and Predator II. In fitting with the movies, the first mode is fully cooperative, and you play as humans trying to track down and kill Predators. In the second mode, you each play as Predators, fighting against one another to get the best glory kills. Both of these games can be integrated with each other, so you could play as humans in Alien also fending off Predators (no fair), or you could play as Predators in Predator hunting for Xenomorphs.

@giacofurino

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