January has 5 weeks in it, so this week I’m giving a little extra. In no particular order, here are 5 of my favorite board game references.
1. Stranger Things | S1E1 – D&D
Taking a page from E.T., Stranger Things opens on a group of kids playing Dungeons and Dragon. Beyond the 80’s set dressing, D&D becomes the lens through which our protagonists understand the supernatural happenings around them.
A monster on the loose? It’s obviously the “demi-gorgon” from the monster manual. A alternate reality of darkness and terror? Oh, you mean like the Vale of Shadows. It’s an incredibly well used narrative device that kickstarts the characters into action. The relationships they formed over the course of the game define their sense of teamwork and motivations as they deal with the supernatural.
2. RWBY | S2E2 – Remnant the Board Game
I’ve already talked a lot about RWBY (see Why I’m Doing Board Game References), the way the characters play the game says a lot about their personality; however, the attributes of the game itself say a lot about the world that created it.
The Remnant board game merges the territory control of Risk, with the unpredictable nature of Yugioh. In a world with monsters and super powers, it becomes realistic that a simple military simulation game would have erratic cards with the strength to turn the course of battles and wars.
Interestingly, the game pits the different nations of Remnant against each other, nations that are currently at peace. We’re given some hints of great wars in the past, but not a lot of information. For a board game about war to be considered light-hearted fun it must have been some time ago, but, like our own version of Risk, it puts a thin facade over a history of violence.
3. Buffy | S7E22 – D&D
Team Slayer is up late, the fate of the world will be decided the next day and they are planning an attack on a group of demons. Demons on a tabletop, because they are actually playing D&D. It’s a clever gag with a dark tilt to it.
The stress of the situation has everyone on edge, so they put that restless energy into roleplaying. The actor’s haggard dialogue and exasperation shows the game has done little to assuage their anxiety.
Interestingly, this puts the major male characters in strong positions within a game, but aren’t main players in the actual plan to defeat the big bad. Having Xander, Andrew, and Giles dejectedly play a game reinforces how they’ve been pushed out of the real planning, while Willow and Buffy do the heavy lifting. This hopeless moment of role playing serves both the thematic atmosphere and the message of female empowerment.
4. Don vs Raph Short Animation | Jenga
Jhonen Vasquez wrote a short animation for TMNT, where Raphael (the violent one) and Donatello (the nerdy one) get into a fight over who’s better. They’re equally matched fighters so they seek out competition in Vasquez’s particularly bizarre aesthetic.
Of the many many competitions, Jenga is the only tabletop entry, which is a nice throwback to the late 80’s when both the game and turtles reached their height of popularity. Despite Jenga being a physical challenge, Raph loses, which makes sense because it’s also a game about patience and precision.
5. Video Game High School | S2E3 – Pokermon
Ki Swan–1360 points, Fighter–loves her life at Video Game Highschool, she’s been swept up in the high stakes drama of a boarding school for video games. When her grades slip, her game developer father swoops in to take her away from the negative influence he sees in VGHS. Ki objects, and challenges her father to a card game for the right to decide her own fate.
Ki has never beaten her father, and as she plays the game, she realizes that she cannot win by following the formal rules of their family. Her father is stern, but loving, and Ki forfeits the game to call his bluff. Addressing their emotions head on, Mr. Swan reveals that he does trust his daughter to make the right decisions, but was unprepared for how quickly she was becoming a young woman. Though Ki still can’t beat her father at Pokermon, she shows her maturity by understanding their relationships beyond the game.
These are just a few of my favorite board game references. Have some of your own? Let us know!