5 – WATERWORLD (1995) — includes a Spoiler Alert

Producer: Martin Bradley
Players: 2-4
Ages: 8+

Some people may laugh at the inclusion of this title. However, the movie once nicknamed Fishtar (after famed money-pit Ishtar) has aged well over the last 20+ years, especially in light of its original reception; partially because climate damage has made its apocalyptic premise more plausible than it was in 1995.  But as boardgamegeek reviewer Peter Belli said: “Never judge a game by its movie.”

All players take a role similar to that of the “Mariner” in the movie. The object of the game is to find “Dry Land”. The bad guys are the “Smokers”, and their headquarters, called the “Deez”, is the wreck of the Exxon tanker Valdez. Smokers may attack the players, or the populated atolls. If Smokers destroy all 12 atolls, ALL the players lose the game. Moreover, in order to find Dry Land you will have to go to the Deez and grab the compass from the Smokers!

To win, you must access four resources, the map, and Enola (the girl with the compass tattoo on her back). There are four Enolas in the game, but that’s not much of a stretch. The preparation of the compass is an important part of setup — but valuable, since it effectively hides the location of Dry Land. The 25” x 18” board provides a huge area in which to search.

4 – THE GODFATHER: CORLEONE’S EMPIRE (2017)

Designer: Eric M. Lang
Players: 2-5
Ages: 14+

Nearly half a century after the movie’s 1972 release, this game works hard to re-create the movie’s themes. It’s not just a “thug placement game” — you also have a don, a wife, and an heir. The cards in your (limited) hand represent contracts, contacts who provide you with special advantages, and illegal businesses.

The game has five rounds, and you must pay tribute to the Don at the end of each and every round. The winner is whoever ends up with the most money, so paying too much tribute can cost you the game. . . but not paying enough can land you in the East River! Isn’t this the kind of high-risk, high-reward choice that tempts people into organized crime in the first place?

3 – PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN BUCCANEER (2006)

Publisher: Hasbro, Parker Brothers (no designer credit). 
Players: 2-4
Ages: 8+

Whoever does the best pirate impersonation gets to go first. You sail from place to place to do some salvaging, some trading, and of course some piracy! The board has six harbors and three islands. You win by collecting 20 treasure points, which come in denominations of 2 to 5. 

Given that this game is for players as young as 8, it’s no surprise that its play time is less than an hour. The boards and the cards are both bright and colorful, and the “islands” come equipped with slots for the cards you can draw when you reach them. 

2 – HARRY POTTER: HOGWARTS BATTLE (2016)

Designers: Forrest-Pruzan Creative, Kami Mandell, Andrew Wolf
Players: 2-4
Ages: 11+

Strictly speaking, this game is not based on any single film of the Harry Potter franchise, but it works hard to capture the feel of the story, as well as the setting of Hogwarts. It’s a cooperative game for 2-4 players. You can play as Harry, Hermione, Neville, or Ron. 

You begin with very simple spells, and a pet. Winning battles allows you to progress through your years at Hogwarts. Over time, you become capable of facing tougher villains by learning new spells, or gaining new allies. 

Conflicts begin with a Dark Arts event, which causes something bad to happen: you might get attacked, or lose some cards from your hard. Villians may even try to gain control of some of the movie’s critical locations particularly relevant for aspiring magicians; if they take control off all  the locations, the players all lose!

Rules Girl has an excellent video about this game (under its entry on boardgamegeek) that covers the game in under 4 minutes.

1 – JAWS (2019)

(No, not the plastic shark whose jaws snap shut while you try to fish trash out of its mouth. That game was released by Ideal in 1975).

If you ever read Peter Benchley’s Jaws, then you got to read about shark attacks, and watch a whole townful of adult authority figures go hysterical as their livelihoods and marriages fall apart into an alcohol-soaked haze. This game makes a worthy effort to reflect that storyline through its main conflict, which is about humanity’s struggle to predict, and control, the forces of nature. 

One player, who controls the shark, handles the “nature” part. The other 1-3 players are all humans: Hooper (a gentle, charming scientist who disdains motivations of anger or revenge against a “dumb brute”, much like Starbuck from Moby Dick); Quint (a tough-as-nails sailor who watched sharks eat dozens of his shipmates after his ship sank during wartime); and Brody (the local sheriff, who comes off as sort of a buffoon but is quite determined).

Much like the book, the game happens in two acts. In the “Amity Island” phase, the shark crashes the beach buffet. The human players try to find the shark’s location and prevent it from turning any more people into sushi. Ultimately, the beaches are closed to the public. Desperate to save the town’s prosperity, the human players start the game’s “Orca” phase, where they kill the shark (or die trying!) 

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