Nothing says “Good Game. How about another?” like flipping the chess board and yelling loudly. As long as you yell it in Russian.
Bart introduces us to the word Kwyjibo. A big, dumb, balding, North American Ape with no chin and a short temper. It’s worth 22 points, unless you’re playing with a Kwyjibo, then it’s worth domestic violence.
To convince Rabbi Hyman Krustofsky to forgive his son, Bart and Lisa engage him in a scripture battle, trading quotes from the Torah. They meet the Rabbi on his home battlefield, and trade quotes like moves on a chess board. When Bart delivers a quote that wins over the Rabbi, he does it over a literal chessboard.
“You sunk my Scrabbleship!”
“This game makes no sense”
“Tell that to the brave men who just lost their lives”
The best games are the games that make no sense, but you’re more invested in them than you are in anything else.
You gotta love the Flanders’ Board Game Collection. Nothing says “excitement” like the Good Samaritan, and by excitement I mean “quiet contemplation”. You have to throw out the dice though, because dice are wicked. You can just move one space at a time, because it is less fun that way!
When school closes due to a strike, the children are free wreak havoc. So Bart goes out and does all the things he would do without school. Mess with construction workers, play violent video games, and, of course, reenact a scene from the 1993 film “Searching for Bobby Fischer”. To be fair though, Bobby Fischer won three games of chess at the same time. Suppose that’s still more wholesome than flying a kite at night.
On a rainy day with your family, sometimes you’ll want to break out a fun game to help pass the time. Maybe you’ll want something deep and engaging to help take your mind off of things. Maybe you’ll want to try. . . Emissaries of Byzantium. Here’s a hint, don’t. Unless you think your kids would prefer to be adopted by people with names like “Mav” and “Portia”.
The 60’s were a simpler time in Springfield. Joe Namath’s long flowing hair inspired women to become hippies, companies could freely participate in germ warfare, and there weren’t any safety restrictions on board games like Operation. Apparently, it’s a myth that the old games of operation could shock you, but there is a growing family of games out there that will.
Get your church group together for the “Vatican’s Great Detective Game”. This actually looks like the best game in the Flanders’ collection. Who could cast doubt on the faith? Was it the secular humanist, in the school house, with misinformation? Just make sure you don’t cut your finger on the knife.
There have been a ton of monopolies as a running gag on the Simpsons. Everything from Rasta-Mon-Opoly to Edna Krabappoly.
The one time they play “original” monopoly, Bart cheats by using legos as hotels and the whole thing descends into violence and chaos. So, a pretty accurate depiction of a game of Monopoly.
The Simpson’s Treehouse of Horrors XXI contains a smorgasbord of board game references when Marge forces Bart and Milhouse to play board games instead of violent video games. They manage to open a copy of “Satan’s Path”, where you can be the devil or the thimble. Once they start playing, Satan’s Path Jumanjis all the other board games to life and starts destroying the town. They reference 50 board games, easily. Think you can name them all? Let me know in the comments below, and feast you eyes on the ridiculous board game mayhem.
The 80’s and early 90’s were a weird time for television, and it didn’t help matters that companies like Hasbro, Parker Brothers, and Pressman had money to burn on ridiculous board game commercials. Lets take a look at a few of them, shall we?
I also just want to take a quick moment to appreciate the truly horrifying muppets used in the 13 Dead End Drive commercial that they’ve paired with equally horrible puns.
Did I miss any of your favorite board game commercials? Are you perplexed as to why Crossfire isn’t on this list? Come to our Reddit Forum to get into a fight about whether or not Crossfire counts as a board game.
Reading board game rulebooks is tedious, but when board games get into your books it can make reading fun! Lets look at 10 times authors incorporated board games into their narrative.
“Tak reflects the subtle turning of the world. It is a mirror we hold to life. No one wins a dance, boy. The point of dancing is the motion that a body makes. A well-played game of Tak reveals the moving of a mind. There is a beauty to these things for those with eyes to see it.”
He gestured at the brief and brutal lay of stones between us. “Look at that. Why would I ever want to win a game such as this?”
I looked down at the board. “The point isn’t to win?” I asked.
“The point,” Bredon said grandly, “is to play a beautiful game.” He lifted his hands and shrugged, his face breaking into a beatific smile. “Why would I want to win anything other than a beautiful game?”
Patrick Rothfuss writes such compelling stories, in part, because he strives to put his characters in realistic and relatable circumstances. The idea of playing a “beautiful game” is one that resonates deeply with many board gamers; it becomes a potent life philosophy, but Rothfuss keeps it grounded in a simple exchange between characters enjoying a game.
Smiling, he seized his dragon, flew it across the board.
“I hope Your Grace will pardon me. Your king is trapped. Death in four.” The prince stared at the playing board.
“-is too far away to save you. You should have moved her to the center of the battle.”
“But you said-“
“I lied. Trust no one. And keep your dragon close.”’
There isn’t a single word wasted in the Song of Ice and Fire series. George R.R. Martin catches a lot of flack for 8 page descriptions of every last meal, but, if you read deeply into any scene, every page is dripping with foreshadowing and clever metaphor.
The game of Cyvasse is played with pieces that clearly map to different houses and characters, so a game of Cyvasse can quickly fill with subtext about the game of thrones.
“Lori was fairly confused, but she agreed to go ahead and play. Jim played very casually in order to give her a chance, and they frequently stopped to discuss the finer points of the rules. He had a hard time getting her to understand which pieces could be removed during over-icing, and also what it meant to be in the Icehouse. But by the time their food arrived, she had a pretty good understanding of the game, and was also enjoying it very much.”
I’ll admit to not reading The Empty City. I enjoy Icehouse, and think that Andrew Looney is a great game designer, but this quote does not fill me with confidence in his abilities as a fiction writer.
This reads like every board game nerd’s power fantasy. Nothing says magnanimous white knight syndrome than “discussing the finer points of the rules” and “she was enjoying it very much”. Then again, Looney may have been characterizing Jim this way on purpose. Where Rothfuss and Martin can use a few words to integrate the nature of the game into the narrative, Looney presents a character that cares a lot more about explaining the board game than interacting with the plot.
“Knowing how stories work is almost all the battle.
For example, when an obvious innocent sits down with three experienced card sharpers and says ‘How do you play this game, then?’, someone is about to be shaken down until their teeth fall out.
‘She’ll get into terrible trouble if she uses magic to win,’ said Magrat. ‘And you know how she hates losing,’ she added.Granny Weatherwax was not a good loser. From her point of view, losing was something that happened to other people.”
Pratchett’s writing style is absolutely delightful as he describes Granny setting up a con. Watching an old lady outwit a bunch of cardsharks by playing the fool is glorious. Granny is shown to be powerful, but this scene gives Pratchett the opportunity to show that power is more than the simple application of magic.
“Michael and Francis share a secret passion for Evgard, the fantasy role playing setting they have created together. But then Michael finds a note in his locker, revealing the boys’ secret. Convinced Francis has been making fun of him all along; Michael gets revenge. But did Francis really betray his friend? Or is Michael the real traitor?”
Role playing is the ultimate form of escapism. When the real world beats you down and leaves you open to the winds of fate, RPG’s can give you a sense of control, stability, and catharsis. Sharing those worlds with other people creates a powerful bond, so using a game as a contrast to betrayals is immediately compelling.
“Bitra has a reputation among those who like to gamble for having the highest concentration of card manipulators and sharpers of Hold or Weyr on Pern. If anybody is looking for a cutthroat game of dragon poker or poly-dice, Bitra is the best place to look. With one another Bitrans play mah-jongg and other games at which it is difficult or impossible to cheat, but outsiders are far game to all Bitra’s skills.”
Pern has mixed reactions among readers, but it certainly paints an interesting setting. Pern is a world of the far flung future, where earthling settlers instigated a new off-world colony thousands of years ago, and the technology of the past became the magic of the future. The culture pulls in eclectic mixes of old and new, so we get “poly-dice” next to something like mah-jongg. I’d say it’s an odd choice to say that mah-jongg, which is only hundreds of years old, would survive more than Go, which is thousands of years old.
Gambling is a trend in Pern, partly to show the rough and dangerous lifestyle of the people, and the games MCCaffrey illustrate here, do give a sense of that kind of culture.
“It would not be a good game, Ender knew it was not a question of winning. When kids played in the corridors, whole troops of them, the buggers never won, and sometimes the games got mean. But here in their flat, the game would start mean, and the bugger couldn’t just go empty and quit the way buggers did in the real wars. The bugger was in it until the astronaut decided it was over.”
Kids are cruel, and few are so cruel as Peter Wiggin when seen through Ender’s eyes. It is one thing for a child to be violent, but it takes a special kind of psychopath to construct an elaborate system of rules to enact that violence. Throughout the book, Ender is perpetually wary of Peter and his rise to power, and this early scene gives him good reason to be.
“Pedron Niall grunted as Morgase placed a white stone on the board with a smile of triumph. Lesser players might set two dozen more stones each yet, but he could see the inevitable course now, and so could she.
‘You did not realise I saw the trap you were laying from your thirty-first stone, Lord Niall, and you took my feint from the forty-third stone to be my real attack.’ “
The Wheel of Time series is one of the worst offenders when it comes to epic fantasy pitfalls. Where George R.R. Martin uses a feast to set up the personality of a noble house that will come into play later, Jordan and Sanderson meander through their settings out of pure indulgence.
To take their own advice, lesser authors set out two dozen more subplots, they should see the inevitable course of their plot and keep to it.
“In 2258 A.D., Kelric, a fighter pilot, crashes on Coba, an off-limits planet. He discovers a thriving civilization headed by women managers of 12 estates. Choosing to spare his life, they detain Kelric as both honored concubine and prisoner for 20 years. As he is traded or sold to different estates, his knowledge of the physics-based quis dice game that governs Coba increases his value and power.”
Again, full disclosure, I haven’t read this book, but what a nerd power fantasy. A dashing space captain lands on a planet where his skills at a dice game allow him to become famous and wealthy. According to the Wikipedia page, Kelric has two children from two of his wives. That implies more than two wives. Normally, being a huge nerd about board games gets you no wives. I can’t tell if this is just hacky schlock, or if maybe it’s so bad it becomes good again.
“Ron also started teaching Harry wizard chess. This was exactly like Muggle chess except that the figures were alive, which made it a lot like directing troops in battle. Ron’s set was very old and battered. Like everything else he owned, it had once belonged to someone else in his family — in this case, his grandfather. However, old chessmen weren’t a drawback at all. Ron knew them so well he never had trouble getting them to do what he wanted.”
Poor dumb Ron, not terribly ambitious or gifted he bungles his way through wizard school. J.K. Rowling did see fit to give him a knack for board games, which allows him to lend that particular skill to the big climax at the end of the book. Rowling does a good job at showing that Ron isn’t a total waste of space, but he also doesn’t put in a lot of effort either. It’s actually a nifty bit of characterization.
“The game under the tree looked like a hundred others Peters and Judy had at home. But they were bored and restless and, looking for something interesting to do, thought they’d give Jumanji a try. Little did they know when they unfolded its ordinary-looking playing board that they were about to be plunged into the most exciting and bizare adventure of their lives.”
I actually didn’t know that Jumanji was a childrens book before Robin Williams started screaming “What Year IS IT?!”. It’s actually a pretty simple book about kids opening a portal to “jungle universe” or whatever. It’s actually delightful even for young children, as opposed to the film . . .
“Ralph would not concede that the work of the detectives was likely to be in vain, for he thought that the prize offered would greatly stimulate their zeal and activity. But Stuart was far from sharing this confidence; and, as they placed themselves at the whist-table, they continued to argue the matter. Stuart and Flanagan played together, while Phileas Fogg had Fallentin for his partner. As the game proceeded the conversation ceased, excepting between the rubbers, when it revived again.”
In doing research for this article, I was actually surprised that Jules Verne made it to the list. It makes perfect sense that a Victorian gentleman like Phileas Fogg would embark on his titular voyage after getting into a pissing match over cards. It’s nice to know that a board game is the inciting incident in one of literature’s classic novels.
I’m not the only poor fool on the internet obsessed with board games. Youtube is rife with board games and board gamers. Here are some of my favorite youtube vids featuring board games.
The Wire has an incredibly iconic scene where D’Angelo catches Bodie and Wallace playing checkers with a chess set. D’Angelo uses examples from their lives to explain the intricacies of chess. The King is the King so he moves anyway he wants, but he has no hustle, which is alright because he’s got everybody else to back him up. It’s a clever metaphor, but it goes deeper, because Bodie and Wallace focus on the pawns and the king.
“How do you get to be the king”
“It aint like that. See the King, stay the King. Everyone stay who he is. Except the pawns. If the pawn gets all the way to the other dude’s side he get to be queen.”
“Alright, so if I get to the other side I win?”
It’s clever and subtle, since Bodie and Wallace immediately use “I” when referring to the pawns, and are focused on the “pawns” becoming “top dog”. Which, we’ll learn, is a pretty accurate description of their position and aspirations.
In The Handmaid’s Tale, when fertility rates drop and a radical religious order takes control of the continental United States, the few woman who can still carry children are forced into brutal servitude, and all women are subjugated to harsh social rules. It only takes a few years for social code to become so absolute that those with power don’t fear reprisal.
This becomes totally apparent to our protagonist, who realizes that though her masters don’t lock her door, she is no less a prisoner.
The metaphor is reiterated when her master encourages her to play a game of scrabble with her. Women are prohibited from many things for the sake of the system, including reading. Her master is happy to let her break this rule for his amusement; the system is so complete that he doesn’t fear reprisal or uprising.
Bartlett has a lot on his plate, simultaneously balancing the start of primary elections and a situation brewing between China and Taiwan. As a gift, Bartlett passes a chess set to Sam and another chess set to Toby. He plays a game simultaneously with each of the while he discuss the election and international relations.
President Bartlett struggles with his intellectualism throughout the show. Nobody likes the smartest kid in the class, so he feels a need to come across as a “common” man. In contrast, he plays two simultaneous chess games while handling an international incident. “Common man” might be a little disingenuous.
“We found scrabble pieces lodged in his esophagus.”
“I guess someone made him swallow his words.”
(•_•) ( •_•)>⌐■-■ (⌐■_■) ~yeeeaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhh
That’s actually a CSI plot. There’s a
scrabble logos tournament in town, and the champion was found dead with a belly full of scrabble logos tiles.
I can’t imagine why Hasbro wasn’t keen on having a crime drama using one of their games as a murder weapon, though maybe you’ll think twice before you cross Grandma during game night at the home.
In an episode entitled “The Jerk” , House’s team gets a child patient who collapsed after flying into a rage and beating up another child after a chess match. To disprove a diagnosis, House trash talks the kid into a chess game to see how he reacts to stress (hint: he has a seizure).
Basically, House’s sets out to prove that the uncontrollable rage isn’t a symptom, the kid is just a huge asshole. If Primetime television is trying to teach us anything, it’s that playing board games put’s you at risk of being a violent sociopath. (Diplomacy, anyone?)
The Governor, Phillip Blake, lost everything when he lost Woodbury, and wanders the streets a broken man. When he’s ready to give up, he’s taken in by a family: a crippled old man, his two daughters, and his mute granddaughter, Meghan. The family does alright, but Meghan stopped speaking and they can’t seem to comfort her.
The old man doesn’t trust Phillip, but confides that there are games upstairs among a few zombies, and maybe the games could cheer up Meghan. They need Phillip in order to get them, and the old man would do anything to see his granddaughter happy.
Phillip’s whole personality revolved around his daughter whom he lost, and as he builds a relationship with Meghan, we can see him start to regain some of his humanity. Though as he teaches Meghan a little about chess, we see a glimpse of his dark side.
In season 3 of Breaking Bad, we meet Gale, a new assistant who reminds Walt about the pure joy of chemistry. Gale is a nerd and academic, and brings a sense of normalcy to meth-making that appeals to Walt’s suburban sensibilities. Gale has a side project to produce the perfect cup of coffee, he recites a bit of poetic verse, and, of course, he plays a bit of chess.
A chess board set up in a meth lab, is a clever prop to show how Gustavo’s ‘Superlab’ is someplace that Walter White could be comfortable and halfway normal. A quick glance at the chess board looks like things are quickly deteriorating for Walter White’s side of the board, it seems unlikely that he’ll be comfortable for long.
People have been getting stranded on “the island” throughout history. In flashbacks we see two young Roman brothers, shipwrecked, and find an Egyptian Senet board on the beach. The games becomes a central metaphor for the conflict between them.
Senet provides an atmosphere of age and mysticism. The Egyptians were as old to the Romans as the Romans feel to us. The children don’t know the rules to Senet, so they just make them up on the fly; just like the writers did with the plot.
Without spoiling too much, Senet is the start of an extended metaphor that stretches throughout the history of the island, the thoughtful methodical struggle between good and evil.
So God want’s Joan to read about chess, taking her $12 and passing her a book. Joan, however, is too busy trying to fit into the “in” crowd to read the book, instead doing some detective work for the popular girls to see if Grace Polk is gay.
It would have been easier if she had read the chess book, as Joan suddenly has to defend her actions and struggles with her classmates. It all starts to unravel until Joan plays chess with God in the school basement. She learns three things about chess: once you take an action it has a consequence, you win by not playing your opponent’s game, and that God is using chess as a metaphor.
It doesn’t really sink in for Joan until her brother repeats the advice when Joan is at wits end. The next time Joan is confronted with drama, we see her make a clear choice to play by her own rules, and things start to improve as a result.
Whatever, Kilgrave says, you do. Which doesn’t make him a great opponent in poker. He seats himself at a high-stakes poker game, tells his opponents to go all in, and then tells them all to fold.
Kilgrave has a penchant for complex machinations; he could just force them to hand over the cash, but he’d prefer to make them dance.
I won’t spoil the plot, but, as the series progresses, something very specific is motivating Kilgrave to jump through hoops. Despite his incredible power, he the reason why he practices “playing by the rules” is incredibly clever.
Enjoy this article? Notice any board game references we missed out? Tell us in the comments below! If you want to be notified when the latest articles come out, you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
We certainly see a lot of board games show up in pop culture, but in the world of webcomics there are series totally devoted to them. Below, in no particular order, are some of my favorites.
Table Titans chronicles the adventures of Alan, Andrew, Val, Darby, & Darius (the Table Titans themselves), as they embark on many adventures both at and away from the gaming table.
A group of friends are playing a tabletop role playing game, with all the cool, sometimes frustrating, sometimes surprising things that happen to you when you’re involved in such an activity.
DORK TOWER is the award-winning fan-favorite comic strip and comic book about five gamers, and the real world. It’s also about the worlds they create, the games they play, the technologies they abuse and misuse and the conventions they road-trip to.
Order of the Stick is a webcomic set in a world that follows Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 Edition rules created by Rich Burlew about six adventurers on their journey to slay the lich Xykon and prevent him from taking over or destroying the world through the use of the gates holding back the creature known as the Snarl.
NPC Comic is a series about the gaming lives of 30-somethings and their cats. It’s part situational comedy, part geeky goodness, and a lot of bizarre feline fantasy. The comic is now over and ran from Feb 2009 until Sep 2016.
Rusty & Co. is a webcomic about a party of monsters that band together to prove that they, too, can be fearless heroes. Just like all those elves and humans and other “pretty” races.
Semi Co-op is a webcomic mostly about board games started by a couple that became two board game enthousiasts with absolutely no history in comic-making. The definition semi co-op does of course directly reflect to games with a ‘maybe’ coorperative element in them, but it also reflects our relationship in real life – with a wink. With Semi Co-op we like to share our experiences, opinions and hopefully bring a smile on your face or even better: spark your interest in a game that was mentioned.
d20Monkey focuses on the lives of gamers and longtime friends, Sam and Brett. Throughout the comics contained within you will experience gamer habits and culture, game sessions based on unlkely holidays, witness fist fights with Santa Claus, and the wrath of a heartbroken DM.
Tiny Wooden Pieces is a webcomic about board games and other pop culture fun. But mostly board games. We update every Friday with a comic, and some words from the author and the artist. Tiny Wooden Pieces comes from our love of comics and, of course, board games. We have both always loved comics, and have come to board-gaming more recently.
Going Overboard was my own personal foray into the webcomic space. The site is a bit in shambles and a big chunk of the last comics were a lead in for a kickstarter attempt, but it was very much a learning experience for me. I think there are a few solid comics in there, and I am constantly pestered by ideas for it. Sadly it lays dormant for a long while to come.
Have some of your own favorites that you think I missed? Interested in starting up your own board game webcomic and want advice? Start a discussion on our Reddit Forum.