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Board Game Movies: The Character Flaw
Head in the Clouds
Updated: Tuesday, Feb 16, 2016

Hello, Chaz Marler from Pair Of Dice Paradise here, and I’ve been discussing the universe of intellectual properties that exist in board games, books, movies and television, and how some of them are strong enough to cross over to other forms of entertainment.

Last time, I mentioned how it seems barely any board games have successfully made the transition to movies. But why it that? I mean, movies are stories, and stories center around a conflict to resolve. Similarly, board games, by their very nature, center around conflict as well. And yet, most of the existing movies based on board game properties, and those in development, seem to be lackluster at best.

So, what’s going wrong? Let’s return to two examples of board game movies that I think demonstrate what the issue is: Clue and Battleship. Both films introduce a problem to solve. One, a murder mystery. The other, how to fit fourteen-hundred CGI special effects into 131 minutes of film.

The primary difference between the games the two movies are based on is a lack of character. More specifically: characters.

For example, who is the harried naval commander in Battleship calling the shots? You. Who’s the intrepid settler establishing a city-state on the island of Catan? Still you. Even in Monopoly, you’re just projecting yourself onto a die-cast metal racecar. Unless you’re playing with Kevin, who always takes the racecar, in which case, fine, I’ll be the shoe.. again. But regardless, the players are still just objects circling Atlantic City like some sort of real estate absorbing heirlooms caught in low orbit. (Coincidentally, real estate absorbing heirlooms orbiting Atlantic City? Still better than the Monopoly movie’s current plot.)

Clue had the odds in its favor because at least that game includes established characters to build a story around. But, even then, referring to the persons populating Clue as “characters” is a bit of a stretch.

But without established characters, screenwriters have to first invent new ones, often having nothing to do with the game’s original premise. And then, build a story around that character while simultaneously retaining as much of a tether to the board game that the movie is based on as possible. The end result is a presentation that serves two masters: trying to develop an original new character while simultaneously making callbacks as much iconic nostalgia from the game as possible. In film school, I believe they call that “a hot mess”.

So, are there any other board games that already have that critical blend of conflict and character needed to successfully make the leap into other forms of entertainment? Well, that’s what we’ll explore next. I’ve got my list of potential board game universes fit for the big screen. Which games are on your list?
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