Where do you turn for a cinematic experience when there’s nothing you want to see playing on the big screen? The world is filled with plenty of one shot, cinematic-adjacent experiences, but once your VR session, escape room puzzle, or immersive theater show is done, that’s it. If you’re looking for entertainment that can be rewarding and, yes, cinematic over and over again, return to your roots and jump back into the world of board games.
It’s a great time to be a fan of board games. BG hardcores follow designers like Uwe Rosenberg and Vladimír Chvátil the way we follow our favorite directors. Target and Walmart bid on the rights to hot new games. And closer to home, Mondo has been been combining movie properties and modern board game mechanics for pretty perfect pairings. But while you wait for the Fury of Dracula meets The Third Man, “Let’s hunt Harry Lime!” game of your dreams, here are some modern board game mechanic genres that’ll give you a cinematic night at the table.
“I have a competition in me. I want no-one else to succeed.” - There Will Be Blood
If you’re familiar with Risk, you have a solid point of reference for area control games. The board is divided up into sections, and your goal is to take control of those sections for fun and profit. Your opponents will be doing the same, and even games with gentle theming like Carcassone can become intense battles you and your family will be talking about for weeks… if you’re still talking to each other after the game ends, that is. If movies about protagonists who want to win at all costs and where no battleground is too tiny, area control will be right up your alley.
“The idea was to bring together a group of remarkable people, see if they could become something more.” - The Avengers
Gone are the days where sitting at the table meant you were playing against everyone else. These days co-op is a popular mechanic that allows players to work together to beat the game instead of focusing on beating each other. Whether you’re trying to stop the world from falling victim to deadly diseases (Pandemic), trying to get off a rapidly flooding island (Forbidden Island), or just trying to keep monsters from beyond time and space on the other side of a gate to a different dimension (Eldritch Horror), cooperative games are for those who love seeing teams come together to save the day instead of going every person for themselves.
“Who knows what the tide could bring?” - Cast Away
Although typically played with cards, drafting games are still in the wheelhouse of modern board games. The mechanic is typically simple: every turn each player selects a card from a selection of options. The tough part is that chance, fate, and your fellow players are conspiring against you to force you into the picks you don’t want to make. You know how you squirm when a character in a movie has to pick between an impossible choice? Imagine that, but round after round, trying to make the most of those bad rounds and capitalize on the good things that come your way.
“There’s no fate but what we make for ourselves.” - Terminator 2: Judgement Day
Perhaps the most exciting innovation in modern board gaming, legacy games are games where every play-through of a game counts, the end result influencing every game played after it. Game one may be a vanilla play-through of the regular version of the game, but after that each game will be different, featuring new rules and mechanics based on the results of the previous games. Every game in Risk: Legacy, for example, means changes the next time the world goes to war, in ways the players rarely see coming. If you’re a fan of huge franchises with deep continuity, you’ll feel right at home with legacy games.
“You think we need one more?” - Ocean’s 11
In most games your options in any given round are limited by the rules. In worker placement games, your options are limited by your resources. Every round you can send your workers — be they farmers, magician’s assistants, or factory workers — to a select number of locations, typically racing against your opponents who are also sending their workers out into the world. Do you waste a worker on a move to shut out your opponent, or do you do what’s best for you? If you think that heist planning is more interesting than the heist itself, you might find the shifting landscape of worker placement comforting.