When Digital Goes Cardboard: The Most Creative Tabletop Video Game Adaptations

When Digital Goes Cardboard: The Most Creative Tabletop Video Game Adaptations

With Deadly Premonition on its way to a board game adaptation, it's time to look back at the creative, clever, and just plain weird board game adaptations of the past.

It’s official: Deadly Premonition, Swery65’s fever dream of a game about a man that can have an epiphany while drinking coffee, is getting a board game adaptation. It’s officially achieved full funding on Kickstarter, hot after an elusive countdown last week teasing its announcement.

Deadly Premonition: The Board Game will be a two-to-four player card game, with each player acting as a detective. There’s a killer among you, the murderer of Greenvale’s Anna Graham. The board game, like the video game, is essentially a murder mystery, with more mysterious qualities permeating about, and residents to be suspicious of. As far as board games go, Deadly Premonition: The Board Game feels up to par in accordance with recent tabletop adaptations, such as The Witcher and XCOM. Games that thematically remain true, with only their moment to moment action tweaked for the table.

In a past list from 2014, we spotlighted the board game likes of World of Warcraft, Starcraft, Sid Meier’s Civilization, and more. But for the most part, they all operated as typical board games, not iterating much on what makes the games that inspired them so special. World of Warcraft is a deeply time-consuming (much like its digital counterpart) 16-player tabletop game. Starcraft, alternatively, shares the same universe as its game’s namesake, but operates differently entirely. Few though, truly smash the expectations of the digital games that begat them. But like Deadly Premonition, there are other game-inspired board games that cleverly bring their IPs to tabletops everywhere. Sometimes literally. Sometimes via other means.

Angry Birds: Knock on Wood

Angry Birds: Knock on Wood may be the truest board game adaptation of a video game in existence. Surprisingly similar to the game itself, the board game is resigned to destroying flimsy structures and murdering evil pigs. The game has you physically build tiny structures to plop green pigs onto (designated by cards), and then opponents gear up a bird into a mini-catapult, ready to break it down. It’s almost like you’re playing Angry Birds in real life, only with plastic animals instead of the real thing. (Less harmful that way though, I guess.)

Doom: The Boardgame (2004)

Not to be confused with DOOM: The Board Game (2016). The DOOM games, the best ones anyways, are almost completely devoid of personality. Doomguy is a husk of a man; he wields a shot gun, and he blows demons to smithereens. He grunts sometimes. It’s hilarious then to resign all that lovingly personality-less wonder to a typical tabletop game—a genre that thrives on personalities coming together, working together, and clashing. Doom: The Boardgame pins players as marines, working their way through a selected scenario, doing Doom-like things (exploring Mars, killing demons, getting guns). Bonus points for your best Doomguy impression though.

"Pokemon card collection" by Jarek Tuszyński is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Pokemon Trading Cards

Pokemon Trading Cards are ubiquitous. Virtually everyone knows of them. Anyone in their mid-to-early twenties had a deck or two (or in my case, a binder full of Fire energy cards because I was an incredibly naive, stupid kid who traded everything away). Pokemon Trading Cards boiled down the excitement and adventure of Pokemon games into flimsy cards. But as with the best card games, collecting Pokemon Trading Cards became obsessive, and it's still (somewhat) around today.

Portal: The Uncooperative Cake Acquisition Game

I think just writing about this has transported me back to the year 2007, when cake jokes were a thing (and an annoying thing, at that). The Uncooperative Cake Acquisition Game might be the only game on this list that feels willed into existence by the omnipresent power of memes. Portal: The Uncooperative Cake Acquisition is a board game that plops players back into the mysterious Lab of Portal, and rewards successful “portal” tests with slices of cake. The determined winner is the person with the most miniature plastic cake slices by the end, but collecting slices is by no means an easy journey. *takes deep breath* In this board game, the cake isn’t a lie after all.

Street Fighter II

When I think of a Street Fighter, or any fighting game really, the last thing I think of is how it’d be reimagined as a board game. And yet, here we are, with the 1994 board game Street Fighter II, which isn’t even the only board game iteration of the series. Street Fighter II is a traditional-leaning board game: players pick a Street Fighter character, and navigate a 3D board, inching ever-closer to the villain Bison. Battles are fought via specialized dice (of course), or if you prefer, cosplaying as the characters and beating the shit out of each other. (Don’t do that, actually.)

Super Mario Bros. (1988)

Super Mario Bros., like the Angry Birds board game, does the impossible: it does its best to truly reimagine the digital game as a board game itself, right down to its side-scrolling perspective. Super Mario Bros. has players pushing a card of Mario across a 2D scene (flat on a board, of course), replicating the 2D platforming of the actual Mario games. Items come in the form of actual cards, allowing Mario to face whatever pops up in his path. But it’s far from the only Mario-inspired game.

Super Mario Bros. “The Great Ladder Race Game”

Super Mario Bros. “The Great Ladder Race Game” (yes, that is the full name, quotations and all), is a mess. There are two ladders, with Mario and Luigi clambering down them. Two players situate the two plumber brothers at the top, wiggling the ladders back and forth so the brothers can slowly but surely fall down the ladder (there are hooks attached to their backs). The winner is whoever gets to the bottom first. “The Great Ladder Race Game” is silly in concept and fittingly faded into obscurity after its 1989 release. That is, until this resurfacing.

This War of Mine

This War of Mine is a complex tabletop board game that’s adapted from the 2014 title. In the game, up to six players embody miscellaneous survivors, of the characters from the video game. Together, the players work together to live on, unravel mysteries, and work together. The board game credits itself as deepening and expanding the plot of the game, which focused on the civilian experience in a city torn apart by war. Of any game, This War of Mine almost seemed most ripe for a decent tabletop, campaign and character-focused adaptation. And luckily, it got it.

What’s your favorite board game adaptation of a video game? Are you more a fan of game-licensed Monopolies, or are the sprawling campaigns of World of Warcraft more your jam? Let us know in the comments!

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Caty McCarthy

Features Editor

Caty McCarthy is a former freelance writer whose work has appeared in Kill Screen, VICE, The AV Club, Kotaku, Polygon, and IGN. When she's not blathering into a podcast mic, reading a book, or playing a billion video games at once, she's probably watching Terrace House or something. She is currently USgamer's official altgame enthusiast.

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