VIDEO GAMES AS BOARD GAMES

Translating a video game into a board game has been with us since…well, the invention of the video game. Back when I was young, I had a board game based on the old coin-op shooter, Zaxxon, which had two pilots attempting to survive the map without dying. It was cool, though a little repetitive since the map never changed. Nowadays, most successful video games can expect a board game adaptation. Even those only marginally successful but critically acclaimed can expect an offer for conversion to physical media.

From Software is especially popular as not only are there two Dark Souls games but two Bloodborne games as well. Bioshock Infinite's board game has players assuming the roles of city factions rather than the main characters in the original first-person shooter. Nearly every game franchise has been represented, including Assassin's Creed, Halo, Doom, and Gears of War. If a tabletop company doesn't reach out to design a faithful representation of your digital game, don't worry, as you can always get a reskinned version of Clue or Monopoly.

There doesn't appear any rhyme or reason over which ones are selected. You'd assume popularity would assure an adaptation, but no board games exist based on The Sims, Grand Theft Auto, or Wii Sports, but there is one based on This War of Mine, a game where players assume the roles of hapless civilians trying to survive a military occupation. 

Pinch me.

That same company, 11 Bit Studios, also made Anomaly, a reverse tower defense game and an arguably better idea for a board game, though this has not occurred.  Instead, their most recent title, Frostpunk, a real-time strategy game, is receiving the treatment with a Kickstarter in a few months.

Last year, I ran a list of the top 10 video games that are not yet board games but should be. A year later, Metal Gear Solid has received its adaptation, but Bulletstorm, Borderlands, Rainbow Six, S.W.A.T., and Homeworld have not. Not only that, but there are video games clearly intended to be a board game but aren't.  In many situations, the reasoning is that in many ways, a video game may be easier to publish as it requires no physical prototyping. One such game is Tharsis, which can best be described as a digital board game to such an extent that players have asked where the physical game is, assuming it exists.

There are a couple notable video games that have failed to materialize as board games, the most notable being from Japan. 

Admittedly, there is a Monopoly based on Zelda, and I mentioned the games from From Software, and there are deck building games based on Streetfighter and Resident Evil, but why is there a game based on The Binding of Isaac and not Final Fantasy.  Seriously, there isn't one. Dragon Quest, Mega Man, Metroid, Chrono Trigger,  Harvest Moon, Animal Crossing, Castlevania, Monster Hunter—none of them have board games.  And if you think adapting them would be difficult or impossible, remember they made a board game off This War of Mine. A board game based on Horizon: Zero Dawn recently came out.  This will inevitably grow.

The ultimate takeaway from all of this should be that there is no pattern on which games receive the board game treatment and which ones do not. However, we are forgetting one important point…most of these games are not really any good  Think of it, how many video game adaptations cleaned up at Origin, Essen, or Dice Tower.  The answer, none of them. Most appropriate their mechanics from other games and are often just employed as a miniature delivery device. Meanwhile, board games based on movies or television franchises have faired considerably better, with some being converted by leading game designers in the industry.

Often the video game rights are picked up by a fledgling company focused on only establishing their name. They nearly always pop up on Kickstarter and make bank, though returns are often mixed. Ultimately, why play a board game of a video game when you can just play the video game unless it's the acquisition of high-quality miniatures you want.

Do I think there is a future of video game adaptations?  Yes, but the secret will be to look for titles that fit the format…don't just acquire a franchise due to popularity.  I mean, that helps, but it must be more than that.