Video Game Board Games

It goes without saying that video game collectors love playing games, especially those with a built-in monitor or that hook up to a television set. Many video game enthusiasts also enjoy pinball, computer simulations, handheld electronic devices, DVD games, and the like.

But what about good, old-fashioned board games—the kind with a foldout board and various game pieces, such as tokens, cards, and/or dice? (Games for the original Magnavox Odyssey and games in the “Master Strategy Series” for the Odyssey2 don’t count—no screens allowed!)

The answer, at least for some video game gurus, is a definitive “yes.”

Noted video game historian Leonard Herman, author of Phoenix: The Fall & Rise of Videogames (Rolenta Press), is a huge fan of Monopoly, one of the best-selling board games of all time. According to an interview published on the Digital Press website (www.digitpress.com), he got his start collecting Monopoly boards in 1988, when he went to England and came home with a British Monopoly set.

Thus, a hobby was born, as Leonard explained: “In 1989, a catalog company offered the Russian edition so I said, ‘What the hell.’ Later that year, FAO Schwarz was selling the Italian, German, Israeli, French, and Spanish (Spain) editions. After that I was hooked! It eventually became an obsession! I even went out and bought a Sega Master System because Monopoly was offered for it.”

Herman’s Monopoly collection is vast and diverse, comprising anniversary editions, versions based on various cities (including Boston, Dallas, and New York), super-hero boards (including Marvel Comics and the Justice League), vehicular sets (such as Corvette and Harley-Davidson), sports editions (such as NASCAR, World Cup France 98, and Super Bowl XXXII), and many, many more (for a complete listing, visit www.rolentapress.com/rolenta/monopoly.htm).

Not surprisingly, the gem in Herman’s collection is video game themed.

“My favorite set is the one that [former] PSE2 Senior Editor Mark Androvich gave me,” he said. “Mark took a Make Your Own Monopoly set and transformed it into ‘Pongopoly.’ Each property is a different system.”

Ed Martin, a former Technical Manager for Chuck E. Cheese’s, is also into video games and board games, but his hobbies have merged even more clearly into one. He collects board games based on classic video games and has displayed them on several occasions at the Oklahoma Video Game Exhibition, an annual get-together in Tulsa.

“I’m a lifelong gamer and started out playing games like Clue, Masterpiece, and Monopoly,” Martin said in a recent interview. “I was around 10-years-old when video games first appeared and was instantly attracted to them. I had played pinball and electro-mechanical type games, so this was the next step.”

Despite his interest in video games and board games, Martin didn’t hear about video game board games until long after the mini-fad had passed.

“I was in college when most of the video game board games came out and was not aware of them at the time,” he said. “It wasn’t until years later that I discovered some of these board games, and it immediately became something I wanted to collect.”

The board games Martin is referring to include such titles as Centipede, Defender, Donkey Kong, Frogger, Jungle Hunt, Pac-Man, Pitfall!, Popeye, Q*bert, Turbo, Turtles, and Zaxxon. Most of these games were produced by Milton Bradley or Parker Brothers, and most were based on legendary arcade favorites.

I say “most” because, for example, Turtles was a great game, but it’s not exactly well-known among casual arcaders, making it arguably less than legendary. Pitfall!, of course, was patterned after the brilliant Atari 2600 cartridge, not an arcade cab.

Instead of pressing buttons and operating a trackball or joystick to play these games, users perform such tasks as roll dice, maneuver plastic and cardboard pieces, deal cards, and spin spinners.

Video game board games look neat and are nice to have on the shelf, but are they any fun?

“I have played Turbo, Pole-Position, and Berzerk and enjoyed those,” Martin said. “I read through the rules on the other games to get a sense of what they are like, but have yet to actually play them.”

In an article called “Board Stiff” published in issue #20 of the Digital Press fanzine (1994), industry stalwart Joe Santulli reviewed a number of video game board games and enjoyed several of them, including: Pac-Man, which he said was “easy to learn, fun to play…allows the player a lot of control…all of the game elements are here”; Q*Bert, which he said was “about as close to the video game as you can get…the board is nicely organized and looks just like the pyramid from the video game”; and Zaxxon, which he said was “high-tech but understandable,” “well designed,” and “second only to Pac-Man.”

Pac-Man is indeed a worthy spinoff of its famous arcade counterpart. The set comes with a maze game board, four plastic trays, four Pac-Man playing pieces, 76 marbles (which fit into little holes on the board), two ghost pawns, and two dice. You move your Pac-Man figure from space to space, gobbling the marbles it lands on. At the end of your turn, you empty the marbles into your tray. You can also moves ghosts to try and land on another player. White marbles are ordinary dots while the power pellet-like yellow marbles give players “the ghost gobbler privilege.” 

It’s unclear exactly how many board games based video games were released in the U.S during the late 1970s and early’80s, but it appears to be around 20 or so. Martin knows for sure that there are four titles he’s missing: Dragon's Lair, Crazy Climber, Pooyan, and Wizard of Wor.

As with many collectors of pretty much anything these days, Martin found the bulk of his collection online. “I started collecting video game board games about eight years ago,” he said. “I bought most them on eBay for as little as $8 to as much as $30.”

Shipping for board games typically runs $10-$15, so that should be factored into the auction price, which can vary according to the game’s condition, availability, desirability (box and board art are key components in this area), and whether or not it has all its pieces.

For now, Martin plans on sticking with board games from the Golden Age of the arcades: the late 1970s and early ’80s.

“The games I have are based on arcade games from the height of the video game era,” he said. “There are board games that are based on games from later on that I have not tried to get (yet), such as Street Fighter II and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”

Other popular video game board games from this time—the late 1980s and early ’90s—include Double Dragon, Sonic the Hedgehog, The Legend of Zelda, and Super Mario Bros.

According to Santulli, the objective in Super Mario Bros. is to “be the player to guide a single Mario past Bowser at the end of the game. Along the way, collect coins for extra lives and avoid obstacles placed by your opponents. Take turns moving Mario through four worlds.”

Santulli said the Super Mario Bros. board game is playable, but suffers from a lack of hidden worlds and the fact that “controlling Mario is a second objective—killing Mario is more beneficial to win the game.” Santulli also said the game board is divided into “four cardboard strips that look very much like the sections of the video game,” but he would’ve preferred that they be attached to one another.

Board games based on video games are still being published, but not all of them are patterned after the actual gameplay—many just use the art and themes. For example, there are several video game-based Monopoly boards, including Monopoly Nintendo, Monopoly: Sonic The Hedgehog, and Monopoly: World of Warcraft.

Conversely, many modern titles, such as BioShock Infinite: The Siege of Columbia, Doom: The Board Game, Gears of War: The Board Game, Halo Interactive Strategy Game, StarCraft: The Board Game, and World of Warcraft: the Board Game are extremely faithful to their electronic counterparts.

In an article entitled “Top 5 Board Games Based on a Video Game” published on www.boardgamequest.com, the writer gives Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board Game the top spot, saying it “hits closest to home” among board game translations and that it “does a great job at recreating the feel of the turn-based strategy game. Players will found cities, work up the tech tree, deal with their encroaching neighbors, and advance their culture. All this feels in the spirit of the computer game.”

The appeal of video game board games may be lost on certain collectors and gamers. After all, why not just power-up the TV set and play one of the many classics compilation discs available, or maybe download that favorite arcade classic? Or maybe you could skip the retro scene altogether and play some Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, Batman: Arkham Origins, or Grand Theft Auto V?

Santulli offers three good reasons to own video game board games: “When there are kids around and you don’t want them anywhere near your television set; when video gaming is out of the question and more than one person wants to play; and when you just want them so they look good in your collection.”

~Brett Weiss is the author of the Classic Home Video Games book series (McFarland Publishers), and of The 100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1977-1987 (Schiffer Publishing). For more info, check out his website: www.brettweisswords.com