A Case to Play Licensed Games

This morning I want to make a case to play those oft scorned games that are tied to a show, book, or movie: Licensed Games. In both video games and board with that there are the horror stories of these game being at best lackluster or even industry crashing (I’m looking at you, Atari’s E.T.) but today I want us to look at some of these games and even advocate that you play some of them.

Understandably there is hesitation while looking at Licensed Games because the IP (intellectual property i.e. the book, movie, or series used as a theme) is expensive and thus less money and effort went into the design of these games. I ask, at this point, to consider that for a lot of the designers making a game with a big IP license can help them either make sure a new game concept can actually get made or even keep a game studio open. On my own shelf, I have several of these games. Some of these games have IP that I like (Harry Potter & Game of Thrones) and some that I do not (Trueblood) and they all have their merits in terms of game play.
Does it mean that these game is good or bad because I like or do not like its IP? No, it simply means that I may be drawn to some of these games but not others. For instance I am not a fan of the vampire romance craze that occurred during my high school days and so in a normal setting I would not look at Eternal Night (a Trueblood game) and would have missed out because of initial aversion.  In contrast, I have a Game of Thrones game that is interesting but not really memorable which was disappointing. There are also games that I have played where the IP helps me like the game more like Harry Potter Battle Hogwarts which has some interesting cooperative deck-building mechanics. In looking at these examples it occurs to me that my initial impressions of the games were based on the IP but they were not indicative of if I would like playing the game or not. However, there is a something to be said if you despise the IP of a game then no matter how good is the game then you won’t play it because for several games the theme is part of the experience. Also there is the difficulty in convincing your game group to look past the IP even if you have. In short, what you should consider is ‘do I really dislike the IP on this game to the point of not wanting to play it no matter what?’ and if you are at least indifferent then try it!

Now the question that you are probably asking now is ‘how can you tell that one of these licensed games are worth your time or no, especially if you don’t like the IP used?’ Well there are a few steps you can go through to figure out if one of these games you find is worth it. First look where you are, are you online, in a local hobby game store, a Target or other super chain, or even a thrift store? Where a game is being sold tells you a lot about the audience of gamers that it caters to. In a Target for instance, since they try to sell a lot of people they might have their games be more mass market and simple to learn for casual families. Game focused stores such as Card Kingdom are more selective about what they stock so you may find some better designed games there regardless of IP. Basically get a feel for the other games on the shelves to see if those games (regardless of theme) would work for you. If you are online, you might instead see what games are suggested that you look at as well. Second, look at the game box to see what the components and game play look like. With licensed board games you will probably get some great components (especially with Cryptozoic and Fantasy Flight games) but I look to see what gameplay is featured. If a game is simply another game (like Monopoly) but with the IP on top of it then you may want to stay away from that game (unless you like the IP of course). I personally look for gameplay that is interesting to me and if knowing the IP is integral to playing the game. As a final check, do some research with reviews and gameplay footage. I personally do this last so that I can try to form my own opinions before looking at reviews. BoardgameGeek.com is a good place to start as are Amazon reviews of the game but take these with a grain of salt. Boardgamegeek for instance does not rate licensed games very well and focus more on European (very heavy) games. On the other side Amazon reviews will be written by people really passionate about the IP or people who were really unhappy with the game.

Several of these games can be fun and innovative and this morning I wanted to make a case for maybe ignoring the IP on one of these games and just playing it. Something to think about this morning and I hope you try a new game that you wouldn’t have before.