It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a book of good quality must be in want of a good adaptation. Think of the many movies and shows that have brought some of our favourite reads to the screen. When done properly, characters and events we have enjoyed on the page can come to life and even introduce beloved stories to new audiences.
However, some books receive that extra special treatment by transitioning, not only from page to screen, but also from page to board! That’s right, you loved the movie… now you can play the board game.
For the purpose of this list we are thinking less about book themed board games and more about games that are direct interpretations of books. Some of the ZATU bloggers are on hand to share their favourite book to board game adaptations!
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns - Pete Earnshaw
I love a good read! Whether it’s a modern novel, classic fiction, a graphic novel or manga - reading in any form is a wonderful pastime. Being a bit of a comic book nerd though, you can imagine my excited curiosity upon learning that Cryptozoic Entertainment had released a tabletop game based on Frank Miller’s 1986 Batman story, ‘The Dark Knight Returns’.
Along with such works as Art Spiegelman’s ‘Maus’, The Dark Knight Returns was instrumental in lifting comics and graphic novels up from being something just for kids and an art form more suited to an older audience. This was mature storytelling at play, and Batman: TDKR is widely considered one of the greatest Batman stories ever told. In a not too distant future, Bruce Wayne has retired and hung up the infamous cape and cowl as Gotham City descends further into chaos in a world where superheroes are outlawed. Then one fateful night The Dark Knight storms back into action for one final crusade against crime. So the question is how do you translate a beloved comic book into a successful board game experience, especially in light of the myriads of superhero based board games? The answer is… pretty successfully!
As Batman: TDKR is a 4 part story, the board game is set up as a 4 chapter replay of the events that take place on the page. All of the action occurs on a large and interactive map of Gotham City where players will be creating new paths, placing riots, press and police presence and, at times, even destroying locations. As you progress throughout the story, Bruce will inevitably be pushed to the limit and it’s up to you to keep him alive until his story is told. Each chapter of the game uses its own unique deck of available cards, all featuring classic artwork and dialogue from Frank Miller’s tale. Although you are constrained by the plot of TDKR, there is plenty of wiggle room to play in this sandbox of Miller’s dystopian Gotham and manoeuvre the various characters to their inevitable conclusion.
All in all, when it comes to faithful adaptations, this game really deserves the cowl… I mean crown!
Dune Imperium - Dan Street-Phillips
Frank Herbert’s Dune series is possibly one of the most influential Sci-Fi books of the last century. Without it we don’t have Game of Thrones or perhaps, more scary, which I have said before but will say again and again, we never get Kevin Bacon in Tremors! Before 2021 if you had asked about a ‘Dune Game’, you would be talked at for hours about the epic 1979 offering from Avalon Hill. That game, lovingly brought back by Gail Force 9 games in 2019 is an immersive experience that puts a number of friends together for a good chunk of the day and tests whether they will remain friends by the end. Its asymmetric character powers are game breaking in all the best ways and its ability to create and then break alliances in the most brutal ways, make for an incredible experience.
However, it is 2021’s mega hit Dune Imperium that, I think, is the superior board game. Using worker placement and deck building mechanisms, you move your agents around Arakis as you gain resources and build alliances with the different factions. You might want to befriend the Fremen in order to gain valuable water or you may even want to get into (figurative) bed with the emperor to gain power in the council. All this whilst also adding cards to your deck by spending influence. And then you get combat! At the end of each round, those with troops in the fight compete for powerful prizes. Points are tight and the tension is high at every turn. What makes the game so good is that if you have not read the books then the game is strong enough to work on its own world building, but if you have, then the level of detail sprinkled through the cards is truly brilliant to explore.
Princess Bride – Rachael Duchovny
“It’s still my favourite book in the world. And more than ever, I wish I had written it.” To immerse yourself in the world of The Princess Bride is an adventure only further realised by adding the Board Gaming experience to the much loved book and film franchise.
William Goldman’s script, from his novel, is brought to life wonderfully within this game. And what better way to celebrate and discuss board games where ideas originated from books than with a board game that is, well, actually a book! The game board itself is a book with 6 chapters. As you wish, you may turn each thick cardboard page to reveal a new chapter. On each double paged display you are presented with a different board layout closely linked to key elements within the movie, and therefore the book. Which is an abridged version of another book. Which doesn’t actually exist.
Most importantly each chapter delivers different challenges to overcome before you can reach the end and find your happily ever after. It’s truly inconceivable to imagine any fan of The Princess Bride not enjoying a playthrough. Death cannot stop true love and I could not put this game down and stop playing. Though technically you can play it in six individual chapters providing a shorter playtime with six mini-games, using the novel as the overarching theme.
You seem a decent fellow. I hate to kill you. But the game most definitely will if you don’t choose wisely. I found chapter 3, The Cliffs of Insanity, a particular tricky scenario to navigate, where Prince Humperdink is hot on your trail and one wrong move could end it all. You could say it’s a bit of a cliffhanger! The Princess bride is timeless. Loved as much today as it was when I was a child. It’s not a kissing book. It’s a story of adventure, of sword fights and bravery. Yes of course there’s betrayal and attempted murder but there’s also love, honour and camaraderie.
“When I was your age, television was called books.” And board games were, well much like The Princess Bride, an enduring form of entertainment and excitement. Now I do worry I’m overselling the game so here I will just stress that this is a wonderful experience for any fan of the book/movie but if you haven’t seen/read or loved The Princess Bride before I would probably give it a watch before you make that purchase and I’ll apologise in advance for all the references you are currently missing out on.
However, if you think you’re that smart, I highly recommend this game. The pure nostalgic joy of playing through the chapters only to need a miracle to survive is a lot of fun. It may not have as much replayability but you will certainly have fun storming the castle! And with that… all that is left to say is “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!”
Red Rising – Andy Broomhead
I did this the wrong way round in many respects – not picking up a copy of a Red Rising book until I’d
had a good few attempts at playing the game. Adapting a dystopian/sci-fi book to a board game is a gently trodden path (Hunger Games, Ender’s Game… stuff with “game” in the title it seems).
The Red Rising adaptation is a remarkably simple one – remarkable in that when I first got into the hobby, I passed on this because it felt too complicated for me. I’m pleased to say it isn’t. The game is an homage to Fantasy Realms, there’s no doubt about that, and Jamey Stegmaier himself has said exactly that. What I like is how the complex class systems and characters in the books have been simplified into a quick draw one, discard one game. The opening to the second book reveals a class structure that is faithfully replicated in the instructions and in the game. Higher class cards (Gold, Bronze) tend to have higher basic points and higher end game bonuses if you can chain the right cards together. Lower class cards like Reds have slightly lower core point values, but if you build our hero, Darrow, an army of cards, you’ll score big at the end. The game strips away the layers of complexity in the books neatly, characters are all there and the Houses are represented as little asymmetric powers.
I got hooked on the books after playing and being able to revisit the game and see it brought to life in this way is great!
War Of The Ring - Drew Leonard
It would be a huge omission to leave The Lord of the Rings out of this list, given how many games are based on it. Some of these emulate the book more closely than others, but War of the Ring does a great job. For the unfamiliar, in War of the Ring one player takes the role of Sauron, attempting to conquer Middle-Earth by force. The other controls the Free Peoples, and must defend their lands against Sauron while also attempting to move the Fellowship to Mordor and destroy the Ring. Like many Lord of the Rings games, War of the Ring takes a very high-level view of the book. The fine details of character interactions and plot points are missing here. What it does instead is give a great feel for the broad arc of the history depicted in the books. As the Free Peoples you will usually make the same choices as the Fellowship does in the book, and for the same reasons. Should we risk going through Moria or take the slower route south? Stop and recover in Gondor or press on? Meanwhile the Shadow has to decide whether to focus on military assault or hunting for the Ring, or to balance the two. It really is an impressive feat of theming.
War of the Ring is one of those games that shouldn’t work in theory. It’s huge, and fiddly and takes a long time to play until you’re pretty experienced. But a lot of what makes it work is the obvious love of the source material. Everything from the art to the mechanics shows that this is a game made by people who love Lord of the Rings, and if you do too then it’s worth trying at least once.
Kingsbridge - Favouritefoe
I have read a fair few of Ken Follett's novels over the years but somehow the epic KINGSBRIDGE series of ambition, anarchy and absolute power set in twelfth-century England has eluded me. So, KINGSBRIDGE the card game seemed a perfect choice for this list of great suggestions! KINGSBRIDGE is based on the familiar mechanics of Patience. But, whilst that age-old game is a solitary pastime, KINGSBRIDGE turns that card swapping and set collecting into a multiplayer game which can also be played solo. Plus, it introduces players to the characters from Follet’s series.
In the game you share the deck, and you want to be first to lose all your cards. You can place as many cards from your hand on to any of the 6 starting "columns" so long as you're starting a new column or laying them on to existing cards. Either way numbers must run in ascending order from 1 - 13. During your turn, you can lift and shift cards onto other columns so long as you do not re-order them, and they continue to run from 1-13 post meddling. When a column contains 1-13 in that precise order, the set is complete and removed, opening up a free column. If you can't lay anything on your turn, you can discard and draw a new hand (note that you can’t in solo!). Plus, there are some genuine KINGSBRIDGE characters who give one-time special abilities to manipulate the melds and/or tweak the 1-13 rules if you choose to use them!
At first we thought KINGSBRIDGE was going to be simple. But the subtle challenge presented itself as soon as the cards in our respective decks started to run low! Kingsbridge is perfect for a light, quiet game where we can chat about our day and just enjoy playing together, or one I can solo peacefully and patiently!