In the 21st Century, everything is a shared universe. It can get exhausting when we get one more piece of media from Marvel or Star Wars, and in gaming we are given countless offerings from other franchises. Whether it’s Warhmmer, Dungeons & Dragons, or the Cthulhu mythos, the age of IP dominance is alive and well across all of popular culture. But while this can be exhausting, there’s a good reason for it: people like what’s familiar. When you really like Star Trek, it’s nice to have a game that’s lets you set phasers to full, or set the warp drive and engage.
For me at least the issue is not so much the presence of so many different franchises, but that we are offered the same ones over and over. Granted, there have been lots of great games based on a lot of different media, but there remain some gaps. Well, not so much gaps as specific franchises that I would love to see on my tabletop or laptop screen. So let’s look at some popular franchises, and look at some ways that I think you could make them into first-rate game experience. Mostly this is just stuff I’d like to see. Indulgent? You betcha, but it’s my blog and I can indulge all I want!
Adventure Time Board Game
Let’s start with the one that I think is the biggest slam dunk, one obvious enough that I am not the first to make the connection. Adventure Time has a decent claim to being the most important animated series of the last decade, and even though its run on Cartoon Network has ended it still has its fans. That’s why it’s able to support a few games already, notably a couple 3DS titles and Card Wars, a kinda-sorta collectible card game that actually has a counterpart on the show. But for fans like me and my sons, I think an old-school adventure board game is the perfect format for Pendleton Ward’s particular brand of insanity.
When I say “old-school” I have one particular game in mind: Talisman. Talisman draws heavily from the same pool of old-school roleplaying that informs the insanity of the Land of Oo. For crying out loud, Finn even makes mention of his “alignment” in at least one episode. Killing monsters, getting loot, and going on bizarre adventures is basically all you do in Talisman. It has that same sort of mildly nonsensical arc, where you can meet goofy monsters, random stuff happens to you, and you fight your way to get the Crown of Command. All that’s required is a coat of Adventure Time paint, and I think it sells itself. The powers that be keep circling around this idea by setting Talisman in the Batman and Kingdom Hearts universe. Maybe they’ll get there eventually.
And if you aren’t wild about Talisman, there are a ton of light dungeon-crawling games that are just screaming for Jake the Dog and Finn the Human. Old games like Dungeonquest or Heroquest are layups, and even newer stuff like Clank would work. Adventure Time screams for a good adventure game. Let’s make this happen, Cartoon Network!
The Adventures of Tintin Graphic Adventure
I’m one of those snooty comics fans whose formative experience in the medium was The Adventures of Tintin. It remains a somewhat niche series in the US, but the rest of the world has grown to love the adventures of Tintin, Captain Haddock, Professor Calculus, and all the others. I also enjoy graphic adventure games from the 1990s, particularly those made by LucasArts. The way they resolve around puzzles, vibrant characters, and compelling stories means that it would be a great fit for Herge’s seminal series.
In its way, this could serve as a bit of a corrective to some tired elements of both Tintin and of graphic adventure games. Adventure games trended toward broad goofy comedy, requiring the player to do some silly stuff to get from point A to point B. This was most noticeable with LucasArts, who for all their great games worked best when they could laugh at themselves. But Tintin has enough different characters that it could be approached almost like Day of the Tentacle, which let the player switch between different viewpoints and plots all happening in different time periods. You can give more serious puzzles to Tintin and Snowy, more comedic pratfall stuff to Captain Haddock or Thompson & Thomson, and even science puzzles to Professor Calculus. There’s a lot of room for variety, globe-hopping, and mystery. Combine it with the ligne-claire style utilized by Herge, and you have a graphical feast as well.
More importantly, it provides an opportunity to address some of the more regressive elements in Herge’s work. Some early Tintin books, particularly Tintin in the Congo, have been justly called out for their colonial viewpoint and the infantilization of African characters. To Herge’s credit, such ugly qualities became less common as later books became better-researched, and as he made friends with people from the lands he was portraying. That said, these books are still tainted at least somewhat by unfortunate stereotypes. To add to that, the world of Tintin is oddly bereft of female characters. A more nuanced view of other cultures and more pronounced female perspectives would be welcome, either in a new story or even in an adaptation of an old one. I’m sure the notoriously stodgy Tintin fan community would lose their minds, but I think we’d have a pretty great game on our hands.
The Stormlight Archive Roleplaying Game
As of the time I’m writing this in 2020, fantasy author Brandon Sanderson remains the rare bestselling author who has never had a screen adaptation of his work. While I would pay cash money to see a screen adaptation (movie or television) some qualities of Sanderson’s work make him a great adaptation for the tabletop world. This has already been done for his Mistborn books, but for me the holy grail would be a tabletop roleplaying game based on The Stormlight Archive. This would be a truly massive undertaking, since the series is projected to eventually cover ten volumes. We already have three with a fourth on the way, each over 1000 pages long. I think that only a TTRPG could do it justice.
Three particular qualities of the Stormlight Archive make it ideal as a roleplaying experience. The first is that, as with many of Sanderson’s books, there’s a mechanical quality to how the world works. Magic in particular is informed by some pretty hard and fast rules. This is more pronounced in Mistborn, and Stormlight is hampered by the fact that after over 3000 pages we still don’t totally understand how or why it all works though. I have no doubt that such an explanation will eventually be forthcoming, but the wait might mean that we won’t see such my game until 2040 or so. But Stormlight also contains some wicked combat, revolving around the legendary shardblades. While their exact nature is also still unwinding, there’s a huge potential for cinematic fights with a magic system that could create something highly narrative. (The temptation would be to bog it down in mechanics, but it could be really fun too.)
The actual world of Roshar is particularly compelling as well. While most epic fantasy series have world-building as an integral part, the different cultures and national politics of Alethkar, Jah Keved, Kharbranth, Shinovar, and many other places lend a rich texture to the world. There are also different religions and cultural mores that would make for some fun roleplaying.
But the biggest draw for me is the characters. An appropriate subtitle for The Stormlight Archive would be “PTSD: The Fantasy Series.” Characters like Kaladin Stormblessed and Shallan Davar are carrying around painful pasts, dark deeds, and all sorts of trauma. Not only that, but they form all sorts of connections as the series goes on. Roleplaying games like Burning Wheel (unplayed by me) have shown how deeply character backstories and relationships can be integrated into a roleplaying experience. A focus on character and backstory would be ideal for Stormlight, and I’d be all over it.
Look, we don’t need more games, and we certainly don’t need more games based on someone else’s work. But we’re getting them anyway, so hey, it never hurts to dream about what we’d like to see. At the bare minimum, it’s good to prepare yourself for the kind of things that you’ll want to spend money on. These are ideas that would make me post the “shut up and take my money” Fry theme…Now that I think about it, a pick-up-and-deliver game based on Futurama might be fun.