We are Groot.
Those three words acted as a catalyst. From that moment on geeks, nerds, comic book fans, and the general public were hooked on the adventures of a space man, questionable barbarian, green woman, talking raccoon, and a sentient tree. Those were three words that bound us all in a moment of unity. We were all watching Guardians of the Galaxy and, in that fraction of a second, we were all Groot.
The long story short, I have just finished watching Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 again, and it got me thinking: How come there are no decent Marvel or DC board games? More importantly, why is there no real Guardians of the Galaxy board game?
“Oh, but there are games!”
Okay, so let’s confront the elephant in the room. Yes, there are Marvel and DC games. I own a few myself, with Batman Love Letter on my gaming shelf. DC actually has a lot of games, a large bunch of which were created by Cryptozoic such as DC Rivals, with Looney Labs creating Batman Fluxx. Marvel, on the other hand, have recently created Marvel Munchkin and the Marvel Legendary game (which does have a Guardians of the Galaxy Expansion Pack, but it is just an expansion). There are games out there.
An interesting, and completely unrelated, fact – I once played Batman Fluxx with Andy Looney, who created the game, and he signed a “Friend” Keeper card for me to prove it. True story. I keep the card in a frame.
Back to the point, what we are seeing is one of two things. Either we are seeing deckbuilding games like Marvel Legendary and DC Rivals, or we are seeing the superheroisation (yes, let’s make that a word) of existing franchises. Marvel Risk, Marvel Monopoly, Batman Love Letter, Marvel Munchkin, Dice Masters, Batman Fluxx, Marvel Hungry Hungry Hippos – these are all existing franchises that have produced a version of their own pre-existing game with the Marvel or DC properties. These don’t capture the essence of the characters as well as they could due to the games essentially being about something else.
Interestingly, this was something picked up on the Dice Tower video about games that need to be dethroned- they noted that Sentinels of the Multiverse was the only Superhero game that really felt like you were playing as a superhero and that it needed a new game to come along to challenge it. As a genre, superheroes appear to be often overlooked. You can see the video here.
One of the reasons (I believe) why there aren’t many Marvel and DC games is due to the fact that the characters are so big and robust. If we take Guardians as an example (and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, to really pull on the heart strings) there are so many big characters in that franchise alone. There’s Rocket, Groot, Drax, Gamora, Star Lord, Mantis, Ego, James Gunn’s Brother, Taser Face, Nebula, and, of course, it goes without saying, Yondu (if you haven’t seen the film, just…just buy it – you won’t regret it; and these references will a lot make more sense).
Those personalities are three-dimensional and complex, and those concepts can be incredibly hard to get across in a board game. This is something roll and resolve will never do. It is something set collecting or tile placement could struggle to get across. Worker placement is also out as workers are faceless meeples in the majority of those games. Instead, it is not a mechanical solution that presents itself, but rather an emotional one. The question does not become “how can I create the best game?” but rather “how can I portray the characters the best way they can possibly be portrayed?”
This is ultimately where deck building has presented itself as a solution, and also where games like Dice Masters come in handy. The card based systems allow for various versions of a character to be presented within a game. This is vital for being able to even vaguely portray the characters correctly; however, it is still limited within that portrayal. Where they can spark the mind to come up with amazing scenes involving favourite heroes, they are still restricted in regards to what the cards say.
Needless to say, attempting to putting the characterisation first has resulted in some pretty poorly received games where the mechanics just aren’t up to scratch. Ultimately, mechanics make a game, and so it is no good sacrificing one for the other. Batman: Arkham City Escape is one such example of that.
One of the largest things still holding back the birth of a new era of superhero board games is that there is no real will from the large comic companies to push forward with a unique Guardians of the Galaxy game or a real Batman game. The board game audience is not the primary audience for Marvel and DC, so why create an original game when letting out the rights for the franchising of said characters will do? What they fail to see, however, is that board games about Superheroes could be as large as the Cthulhu or Star Wars properties are for Fantasy Flight.
What Would Work?
I can’t help but feel that there are a few things that Marvel and DC need to consider. Both are now looking at miniature games, which is one way to go, with the Batman Miniatures Game now having a second edition that is being released; however, they are yet to make a real impression in the gaming industry.
Said he, having a band of the Joker’s Thugs.
I think though, ultimately, what the games need is a larger aspect of roleplay.
Most of the time, as players, we don’t buy games about specific superheroes and around specific themes because we just want to see the mechanics of the game. There is a whole host of games that let us, as gamers, explore mechanics without needing to buy a superhero licensed game. Legendary could be one exception to that rule, but there aren’t many others.
Instead, we buy superhero franchise games because they allow us to further explore the characters we have grown to know and love. They, quite literally, let us be our heroes or the villains or the hapless explorers in our own games. Games like the Arkham/Cthulhu series by Fantasy Flight allow this as well, as they explore the same universe over several games. This could be a good solution – create a series of interconnected games that allow you to explore the characters between them. Decksploration games and more encompassing deck building games are also an option. Most importantly though – RPGs would be perfect. Yes, a couple have existed in the past, but now we are in the golden age of cinematic superheroes, it would be the perfect time to bring those RPGs back.
Let me play as the Guardians of the Galaxy, and not just through an expansion pack, dammit! I want to play as Drax in something where he hasn’t just been an after thought!
So, what do you think? Do you think we should see a resurgence of superhero games or are you all hero-ed out? Has superhero fatigue set in or do you have an idea for an awesome game using a licensed superhero? Let me know in the comments below!