As Board Game Quest’s self-professed movie person, I’ve been tasked with compiling a list of board games that would make terrible movies. (I’d like to point out that I only describe myself as the “self-professed” movie person because the editorial staff of the site disagrees with that assessment. I’m also being told that I need to clarify that no one on said editorial staff “tasked” me with this assignment and that I’m doing this of my own free will.) For the purposes of this list, I’ll be keeping my trademark snark mostly in check and trying to take a serious look at respected modern games that simply wouldn’t translate well to the big screen.
We’ll start with an honorable mention entry that isn’t technically part of this list and therefore isn’t subject to a snark-free analysis. Monopoly—including all of its variants—would make a terrible film. When I was a kid, I would have loved Monopoly: The Movie; people dressing up as cowboys anachronistically competing in the real estate market against people who drive around in fancy cars and, somehow, an anthropomorphic purse. But unless you’re scrapping the entire game concept of Monopoly, there isn’t really a narrative structure that would fill out the plot for a film.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system: It’s time for the official, Board Game Quest list of games that would make terrible movies, brought to you by the Movie Person (self-professed or whatever).
Even if you’re one of the people who was never a fan of Dominion’s stripped-down deck building mechanics, it’s hard to deny its place as one of the most important games to be released over the past 15 years. One of the main knocks against it, however, is that at best it has a confusing theme and at worst it’s completely absent of theme. If you squint hard enough, you can see a theme in some of the cards—the witch gives curses, for instance—but other things don’t make any sense. (Adding a village to your kingdom gives you extra actions for… reasons? And there are now so many different versions of the village that it has become almost a parody of itself. Blessed Village, Merchant Village, Border Village, Dancing Village, Cursed Village, Bustling Village, Valley Village. Some of those aren’t even real, but I bet you can’t point out which ones.) I suppose the movie would be set in a vaguely medieval time frame with similarly vague trappings. There’s a bunch of royals fighting over land and they’re all adding stuff to their kingdoms to see who is the most royal or something. The climactic scene would involve a bidding war where people are throwing gold and silver onto a table in an effort to buy the last available province at Ye Ole Victory Point Shoppe.
I know what you’re going to say: Pandemic would make a great movie. And while I hear you, I’m also here to tell you that you’re wrong. Sure, the second edition’s artwork already looks like it’s a movie from the 90s about an outbreak, but that alone should be your clue that the entire thing is a waste of time. We already have that movie and, given what we’ve all been through over the last year or two, who needs a movie with this theme anyway? We’ve all lived it.
Sagrada is a neat little puzzle game with about as little a theme as possible. “So, I have to make a stained-glass window, but only certain pieces of the numbered glass fit in certain places and never next to similarly colored or numbered glass?” Yeah, it’s best not to think too much about it. The movie, which I’m assuming would star most of the lesser cast members from Game of Thrones, obviously takes place in a village with far too many cathedrals, each of which is vying to win the top prize at the annual Heavenly Colours Stained Glass Festival. The movie is set in modern times, but the village is probably metaphorically stuck in the past and is definitely named “Appledale Upon Hartfordshire” or something. It’s like a light-hearted Hugh Grant comedy only it doesn’t star Hugh Grant. (He would, however, have a wink-and-nod cameo at the end as one of the judges of the competition.)
I actually think Everdell would make a really neat animated family film about adorable creatures banning together in the woods to build and develop new territories. Unfortunately, no one would be able to even see the movie behind the ridiculous cardboard tree. Pass.
Another well-known and popular game that would make for a disastrous movie experience is Kingdomino. Like Dominion, it would involve the ruling class attempting to build the best kingdom, but unlike Dominion, the whole thing would be focused on the kingdom’s cartographers looking at architectural blueprints for much of the film and determining how they will position the assorted forests and deserts and swamps and bodies of water in such a way that would make their five-acre-by-five-acre grid most appealing. Of course, the cartographers would also be grappling with the complication of matching terrain types next to each other, a conundrum that would be comically debated in the film’s many “cartographers in the cafeteria” scenes. The sequel would be about new rulers, but this time they would be constructing seven-by-seven kingdoms and trying to win the heart of the queen, who also controls a dragon for some reason. (I noted that the main characters of this film would be cartographers, so it goes without saying that a movie based on the game Cartographers would also be terrible and is therefore not included on this list.)
I still haven’t gotten to play Oath because none of my colleagues here at Board Game Quest have invited me to play. (My lack of an invite might have something to do with the fact that I often walk around Board Game Quest Headquarters shouting things like, “I’m the movie person around here!” and “I disagree with every decision the editorial staff makes!”) The truth is that this one seems like it could be a great movie, but I’m far too cynical to believe that Oath would be handled well in Hollywood. I imagine it would be given to a veteran filmmaker looking to make an award-bait, castle intrigue movie and it would become a convoluted mess. The film’s usually strong cast would overact to save the confusing script, and no one would be able to settle on a single, convincing accent for the region of the film. It would also be long. Like The Irishman long, but still somehow feel incomplete once it’s over. One thing I’m sure of, however, is that the costumes would be based on the game’s printed wooden pieces. And they would be wonderful.
The Search for Planet X
As deduction games go, The Search for Planet X is actually fairly tense, but a movie about competing scientists traveling to conferences and reading obtuse information about gas clouds for two hours would be about as boring as you can get. Think Contact, only somehow even more slowly paced. Like Contact, I’m pretty sure Matthew McConaughey would also star in The Search for Planet X: The Motion Picture and it might actually be fun to hear him utter the line: “A dwarf planet in sector seven? All right, all right, all right.”
Doesn’t an action movie about Vikings battling each other (as well as a few monsters) in order to carve out their place in Valhalla sound pretty cool? It sure does but look me in the eye and tell me you believe that this type of movie can ever be good. I mean actually good. Not just having good action or good special effects, but also a coherent plot and compelling characters. I’ll assume by your lack of eye contact that you’ve ultimately decided you agree with me. Regardless, this movie would star Zoe Saldana, Dwayne Johnson, and Jason Momoa, and would be one of those “that was a pretty fun movie” that you forget everything about the second you leave the theater.
Viticulture is a great game and for me, it’s one of the prototypical designs involving worker placement. As a movie, however, it would involve watching vineyard owners meticulously send their employees off to fulfill various tasks season after season. I imagine the filmmakers would look to spice things up by adding a few comedic elements, perhaps in the form of a farmhand who routinely makes mistakes (probably played by Rebel Wilson). They’ll likely even throw a villain into the film to create some sort of tension in the third act. A greedy land developer, perhaps, one who wants to buy all of the connecting vineyards, thereby forcing our main characters to put aside their differences and team up against him. And since whenever I hear the word “greedy” I picture Board Game Quest publisher Tony Mastrangeli, he seems like the obvious choice to play this character. Regardless, this entire ordeal sounds like it would be as exciting as watching paint dry, which segues nicely to…
Vital Lacerda’s tightly designed, heavyweight euro is about as crunchy as a cube-based board game can get. But since the theme of the game involves competing museums vying for visitors and exclusive art pieces, the only direction I can plausibly see the movie going is to have it focus on a couple who own two art galleries in the same city and they each retain ownership of one of them after they divorce. As they attempt to outdo each other, the pranks, marketing gimmicks, and animosity rise to a fever pitch before, obviously, the two realize they’re still in love and get back together at the end. I see Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill cast as the divorced couple in an attempt to capitalize on their Jump Street chemistry. (Now I actually kind of want to see this movie.)
Listen, I get it: Looking at the artwork and production values of Scythe automatically makes you envision a sweeping agricultural epic with complex characters and an intricately developed world. The film would have political intrigue. And industrial intrigue. And farming intrigue, I guess? It would also have multifaceted, but clearly defined villains—I’m looking at you, Saxony Empire. Oh, and let’s not forget about the mechs. Giant, all-terrain machines that engage in combat with rival factions. This sounds amazing. Sadly, none of this excitement exists in the actual game itself. The world-building surrounding Scythe is impressive and sure feels like it was created to be filmed or at the very least crowd-funded into a graphic novel, but the game is essentially a move around and collect stuff so you can do other stuff exercise. The mechs only occasionally engage in combat and most of the time their main purpose is to help you transport workers and resources from one space to the next. (I would like to see how they’d represent this on screen though. A dramatic scene of five workers cramming into the cockpit of a mech, along with a few barrels of oil, some spare wood, and a dozen bars of metal.) I’m not saying I wouldn’t go see the Scythe movie, I’m just suggesting it probably wouldn’t be very good if it stuck closely to the mechanisms of the game, which are great, but don’t lend themselves directly to a movie script.
Now My Little Scythe, on the other hand, would make an outstanding film.