10 More Times Board Games Got In Your Video Games

Age of Empires II – Chess

The opening intro to Age of Empires II makes the ultimate chess metaphor. Two medieval kings play chess,  and we’re treated to shot for shot transitions as each move in the chess game corresponds to the actual movements of real units.

Age of Empires touted itself as a heavily strategic game, so they relied heavily on the game was like chess come to life.

Firewatch – Wizards and Wyverns

Firewatch is a deeply narrative game that evokes some truly emotional reactions. From the start, we’re immersed in the isolation of wilderness as a fire lookout in Wyoming. Our only contact is Deliah, another lookout, on the radio. We learn little stories from her, like about Brian, the son of the previous lookout at your post.

D: “Well, if forced I can make conversation with anyone. Plus it was sorta fun to hear about all of his nerdy hobbies. . . Like, comics. Model rockets. Wizards & Wyverns. You know.”
H: “Oof.”
D: “Hey, thanks to Brian, I can almost recall, by memory, the armor classes of most dragons.”
H: “The what? No you can’t.”
D: “Hey! Planar Dragons armor class, let’s see—”

Brian and Ned disappeared mysteriously, but this piece of dialogue really helps characterize the relationship of the characters.Delilah isn’t just the type of person who’ll hear you, she’s the type who will really listen. Brian isn’t just the type of nerd who knows about W&W, he’s the type who will talk about it at length. Makes you wonder what would convince a nerd like that to come out to the wilderness with his dad.

Witcher 3 – Gwent

Witcher 3 takes to the tradition of Final Fantasy VIII (which we discussed in our last Board Games in Video Games article) by integrating a sprawling card game into it’s fantasy setting. The denizens of The Continent are so obsessed with Gwent that it’s almost a bit of a joke.

Penny Arcade wrote a great description of the game here: Link

While a seasoned demon hunter being obsessed with a collectible card game is silly, Gwent itself is well ingrained within the world. Powerful cards are treated as valuable artifacts, often being used as leverage to convince the player to undertake dangerous quests. The designers also use the game to create some humorous moments and truly enrich the game world.

Last of Us – Chess

It’s a can be a surprise to come across a chess player in a post-apocalyptic zombie wasteland, but it’s super meaningful when you do. When Joel and Ellie find themselves in Lincoln, the lone survivor, Bill, has a chess board. Ellie remarks how she always wanted to learn, which reinforces her childlike curiosity while reminding us of the grim realities of this world.

Ellie doesn’t get a chance, because Bill shouts at her not to touch anything. Which begs a question: why does Bill, a solitary recluse, have a two player game set up? We find out that Bill had a partner who isn’t around anymore, and though he constantly remarks that other people will just get you killed we’re given hints that he’s hiding an internal pain.

While playing chess by yourself can pass time, it’s easy to imagine Bill keeps it set up to remember the good times.

Overwatch – Hearthstone

Blizzard’s Universe is already dense with crossovers between it’s properties (as we’ve touched on before), but Overwatch is literally littered with Hearthstone references. Several maps have the game open on computer screens, and a couple have physical versions of hearthstone cards.

The ultimate reference is in the original cinematic trailer, where a museum guard doesn’t realize that 4 supers have crashed into the exhibit and are wrecking stuff because he’s playing hearthstone. I think that really speaks to how addictive Hearthstone is.

Dragon Age: Inquisition – Wicked Grace

Dragon Age Inquisition offers remarkable player choice and a deeply thematic open world, but it’s strength lies in it’s compelling characters. You cultivate relationships with a ragtag group of adventurers with their own goals and motivations in an attempt to, ultimately, save the world. Make the right choices, and between adventuring you’ll be invited to a game of Wicked Grace.

We already discussed how Wicked Grace became a clever puzzle in Dragon Age: Origins (See our last article on Board Games in Video Games), but Dragon Age: Inquisition sits your entire party around a table for a bit of fun and chance.

Taking the characters out of the main narrative for a moment lets us dig deeper into each of them, as they laugh, play, and tell stories. In playing a card game, the characters become more real and relatable in a way that few games accomplish. We can all empathize with losing one’s shirt in a game with good friends.


Like Varrick remarks afterwards, it’s too easy to get so wrapped up in a mission that you forget to be a real person.

Undertale – Poker at Grillbys

Grillby’s is where the Royal Guard hangs out when they’re on their break, and, being entirely made up of dogs, they play poker. Like a lot of elements in Undertale, these poker playing dogs is a brief humanizing moment the combines a bit of humor and weirdness. It helps cement the idea that the royal guard is more than just a job title, they’re family.

This is especially true because if any of the royal guard aren’t at Grillby’s for “reasons”, each member’s dialogue changes to reflect their “missing” companions. When you expect someone at a Poker Night and they don’t show up, their absence is very apparent.

Unless they are Lesser Dog, and they just play poker by themselves in the corner.

Fall Out: New Vegas – Caravan

Out in the wastelands the game of choice is Caravan. Set in a post-apocalyptic Vegas setting, players can make a deck out of whatever playing cards they can scrounge or steal. While the casinos host more traditional gambling games, the guards that guard caravans prefer to play the game of Caravan.

The wealth of games in Fall Out: New Vegas gives depth to the game. The establishment, through the casinos, offers games designed to dehumanize and defraud, while the folks on the outskirts of society play a game where your ability to win is directly proportional to your ability to survive and collect cards among a nightmarish hellscape.

Devil May Cry 4 – Dice Game


Devil May Cry 4 has a ridiculous Chutes and Ladders level. The player attacks a giant die to roll it, and when the player’s giant piece lands on a space, some horrible trap is sprung. “Roll and move” at its worst. Maybe the game devs were going for a Gyan Chauper philosophy vibe.

Gyan Chauper is the ancestor of Chutes and Laddes and was used a meditative device in ancient India. The game teaches that though we feel like we have agency over our own lives, we are really chained to the fickle winds of fate. Of course, in Devil May Cry you can cheat, because screw chance and fate.


Persona 5 – Shogi

In Persona 5, you lead a team of magical teenagers who “steal” the darkness out of adults hearts to change the world for the better. Between “heists”, though, there are a huge number of side quests to explore.

You meet Hifumi playing shogi in a church, and strike up a conversation. She offers to teach you the basics if you’ll let her try out her “advanced shogi” tactics against you. Each time you play, you increase your knowledge skill and improve your relationship with Hifume.

It quickly becomes apparent that Shogi is Hifume’s life. She’s moving forward in becoming a professional shogi player, but is struggling with the notoriety that success brings. Her mom is pushing her to become a shogi “idol”, using her looks rather than her wits. Conversely, shogi is the game she shared with her father before he became too sick to play.

For a side quest, it runs remarkably like an anime series arc ( see Nouri no Shogi in our Board Games in Anime Article). Shogi’s relationship with Japanese culture and competitive professional league make Hifumi’s narrative especially compelling.

10 Times Board Games Got Into Your Anime

Where most modern American and Euro Games trace their lineage back to Prussian Kriegsspiel influenced heavily by WWII, Japan’s board gaming history pulls from  Weiqi (Go), Hanafuda (card game), and Shogi (a variant of Chaturanga, the common ancestor of all chess variants). All of which are games that were invented elsewhere and integrated into Japanese culture, how does that affect Japan’s portrayal of game in pop culture? Let’s look at 10 board game references in Anime.

Naruto – Shogi


Ubiquitous with Anime in the United States, Naruto spiraled totally out of control. But early seasons introduced a pessimist named Shikamaru. Considered apathetic and lazy, Shikamaru attempts to live life with minimum effort. To contrast his personality, he is an expert Shogi player. Spoilers.

When Shikamaru plays with his mentor, he gets dragged into a debate about who the king represents. If not their leader, then who? Later in the series when Shikamaru’s mentor dies, he utters on his dying breath that the king represents the unborn children of the future, whom must be protected even unto death.

Black Butler – Chess


Black Butler follows Ciel, a child bent on avenging his parents who sells his soul to a demon butler. The series follows a ton of Sherlockian tropes as the boy and his butler solve macabre mysteries in Victorian England.

The show is rife with Chess motifs, throughout, and is often used as a parallel metaphor to Ciel matching wits with whatever villain of the week they happen to encounter. The show builds on the metaphor as the story progresses, with Ciel making sacrifice after sacrifice in pursuit of revenge.

Yu Yu Hakusho – Taboo


Our ragtag protagonists enter a mansion to fight a bunch of nerds with access to unnatural dark energy. Each nerd has a realm where they can impose their own rules and if anyone fails to obey those rules the nerds get to harvest their soles.

We never see the face that killed this man.

So the linguistic nerd sets up his realm as a game of taboo, where people can’t speak certain words or letters. Kurama, one of our protagonists, makes a wager to beat the nerd at his own game. Each minute they add the next letter of the alphabet to the list of taboos.

The twist comes at the end. After the episode builds intense tension of the villain is undone by Kurama making him laugh with a funny face.

Full Metal Alchemist – Chess


Full Metal Alchemist is very much a story of chess; characters become the unknowing pawns in the grand machinations of a battle they don’t understand. As a result, Chess comes up more than a few time.

Colonel Mustang makes a habit of communicating through secret messages, including by way of a chess game. Mustang has his hands tied by a nefarious government, and treads the delicate line of trying to bring the government down from the inside.

When dealing in political intrigue, you have to play the game.

Hikaru no Go – Go


A young boy, Hikaru, finds an old Go Board possessed by the ghost of a Heian Era Go master who loved Go so much that he cannot rest until he has played the perfect game of Go. Hikaru is totally chill with just being straight up haunted by a board game ghost, who helps him become a Go master.

Otherwise, the show follows a pretty standard “sports anime” formula. Spunky kid with supernatural help rises through the ranks of the Go world. He makes a powerful rival, and develops an unhealthy obsession with minutia surrounding the game.

Sailor Moon – Chess


Sailor Mercury joins a chess tournament at the local “chess tower”. She works her way up the tournament ladder to fight Bertie the “evil” “negamoon sister” at chess. They reveal their secret identities, and Bertie traps the Sailor Scouts in an ice bubble, forcing Mercury to play.

Pictured: Local Chess Tower

Also, lets be clear, the villain just straight up cheats. She freely manipulates the board, and freezes Mercury each time she captures a piece. How do the Sailor Scouts escape this mess? Tuxedo Mask just randomly drops in and throws a rose at the chessboard to break the ice spell. That’s how I solve all my problems.

Shion no Ō – Shogi


Shion’s parents were killed when she was very young, and the only clue was a Shogi piece the killer left behind. The trauma rendered her mute, but she became fascinated by Shogi in trying to solve the mystery surrounding her parents. Shogi becomes how Shion comes to terms with her trauma and the world around her.

The mystery and Shogi take a back seat to the interactions between characters, and the personal growth that Shion achieves as a young girl coming of age. It is a weird concept for an anime, but the writing is surprisingly good.

Hunter x Hunter – Gungi


A monster slowly takes over a region, and decides to put the humans in the region to death. To show his superiority to humans, he challenges the top players of a local game called “gungi”, and plans to beat them all before he has them all killed.

Things look grim for mankind, until he comes across a blind girl who is incredibly meek, but also can’t be beaten at “gungi”. The monster is intrigued by the girl, which grows into a fondness, and we start to see mercy grow within him. This becomes a problem as the regions are thrown into conflict and the monster’s advisors see his mercy as weakness.

Tonari no Seki-kun – Shogi


In grade school did you ever have that kid sitting next to you who was super distracting? Like, constantly distracting you with ridiculous drawings, peeling glue off their hands, or eating paper? Well they made an anime about that.

In the second episode “Seki” sets up a game of shogi for himself, while “Rumi” is innocently trying to pay attention. The solo game of Shogi goes hilariously off the rails. There’s a betrayal, a lower piece becomes the new king, pieces are “killed” when the new king activates trap doors in Seki’s desk.

For reference, that Shogi piece is wearing the severed head of the “old king”

Durarara!!! – “Checkers”


Durarara follows a handful of unsavory characters in an area of Tokyo, and weaves an interesting web of crime, intrigue, and more than a little magic. One character, Izaya Orihara, is an information broker with a bit of a wildcard streak. Often playing the trickster archetype, he manipulates information and people, mostly for a laugh.

As a manipulative puppet master, he invented a totally indecipherable board game that roughly represents the characters and events that surround the plot.

Of course, being an agent of chaos means that sometimes your plans go up in flames.

. . .


. . .


. . .


So that’s all the board game anime out there. Yep, no other game based anime out there. . . But WAIT!


Yu Gi Oh – Yu Gi Oh


I don’t think there is much that needs to be said about Yu Gi Oh. Ancient Egyptian artifacts . Children’s card game. Dark Magic. Eccentric Billionaires. Throw a bunch of children onto an island in the card game version of Battle Royale. Honestly I could do whole article just about Yu Gi Oh and the ridiculous permutations and spin offs.



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.

10 Board Game References in the Simpsons


S9E24 -Chess


Nothing says “Good Game. How about another?” like flipping the chess board and yelling loudly. As long as you yell it in Russian.


S1E2 – Scrabble


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.


S3E6 – Chess


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.


S13E13 – Scrabbleship


“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.


S4E10 / S8E17 – The Good Samaritan


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!


S6E21 – Chess


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.


S24E11 – Emissaries to Byzantium


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”.

I mean, just look at the box.


S7E8 – Operation


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.

S17E14 – Christian Clue


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.


S13E7 – Monopoly


There have been a ton of monopolies as a running gag on the Simpsons. Everything from Rasta-Mon-Opoly to Edna Krabappoly.

Related image
Ay Caramba

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.


S22E4 -Satan’s Path


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.

IMG_9131 IMG_9133 IMG_9135 IMG_9139 IMG_9140 IMG_9142 IMG_9106 IMG_9110 IMG_9111 IMG_9113 IMG_9114 IMG_9115 IMG_9116 IMG_9119 IMG_9122 IMG_9124 IMG_9125 IMG_9127 IMG_9128IMG_9159



10 Times Board Games Got Into Your Books

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.

The Wise Man’s Fear
by Patrick Rothfuss

“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.

A Dance with Dragons
by George R.R. Martin

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.
“My dragon-“
“-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.

The Empty City
by Andrew Looney

“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.

Cripple Mr. Onion
by Terry Pratchett

“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.

Evgard RPG
The Traitor Game
by B.R. Collins

“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.

Dragon Riders of Pern
by Anne McCaffrey

“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.

Buggers and Astronauts
Ender’s Game
by Orson Scott Card

“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.

A Crown of Swords
by Robert Jordan

“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.

The Last Hawk
by Catherine Asaro

“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.

Wizards Chess
Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone
by J.K. Rowling

“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.

by Chris Van Allsburg

“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 . . .

Image result for jumanji hands
This scared me way more than the Nazi face melting in Indiana Jones.

Around the World in 80 Days
by Jules Verne

“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.


10 Times Board Games Got Into Your Emmy Award Winning Dramas

The Wire – Chess – S1E3


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.


Handmaids Tale – Scrabble – S1E2

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.

The West Wing – Chess – S3E14


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.

CSI – Logos


“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.

House MD – Chess – S3e23


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?)

Walking Dead – Backgammon – S4E6


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.

“You can lose a lot of soldiers but still win the game”.

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.


Breaking Bad – Chess – S3E6


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.


Lost – Senet – S6E15


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.

Joan of Arcadia – Chess – S1E3

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.

Jessica Jones – Poker – S1E5


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.


10 More Times Board Games Got Into Your Favorite Cartoons

I published my first board game references article 6 months ago about board game references in cartoons, and I have since found way more references in some of my favorite cartoons. I’m starting to come to the conclusion that any cartoon that runs long enough will invariably feature a board game at some point. With that in mind take a look at these 10 more times board games got into your favorite cartoons.

1. Rugrats- Neurosis -S3E6

Rugrats has an ever present contrast between the whimsical adventures of the babies and the incredibly mundane lives of the grown-ups: paying taxes, grocery shopping, and playing flavorless board games.

The adults play a game called Neurosis, which is like “Life” but with twice the rules and none of the bright colors. They desperately cling to finishing the game despite the junior terrorism of Angelica’s “scheme of the week”. Grown-ups will do anything that promises to deliver them from the soul crushing futility of their day to day suburban lives.

Unfortunately, their board game will give them no satisfaction, they really ought to be playing something like Ticket to Ride for that.

2. Doug -BarnYard Chess -S3E1

“Barnyard Chess” comes up in more than a couple episodes, how it differs from normal chess is never totally clear. Doug and Skeeter often play to pass the time, but in the episode Doug’s Fat Cat he plays it with his sister Judy. The show plays to a lot of typical archetypes–the best friend, the school bully, the haughty-er than thou sister, etc–and it would be easy to think the characters are two dimensional.


But we routinely see depth in Judy and Doug’s relationship. She may be dramatic and focused on her “art”, but she still has time for her brother, whether that means getting him out of a jam or just sitting down and playing a board game.

3. Dexter’s Lab – Chess – S4E17


Smart people play chess, apparently that’s a whole . . . cultural stereotype. Chess was designed before people thought board games could be fun, so the goal of chess is to show how much smarter your are than your opponent. So you can bet that boy geniuses line up to play the game.

Dexter’s Lab uses chess as a stand in for soccer to play the usual “soccer mom” trope. Just because a boy genius doesn’t play soccer doesn’t mean that his mom won’t be on the sidelines in face paint making everyone feel uncomfortable.

4. Spongebob – P & P – S5E55B

“Art though feeling it now Mr. Crabbs?” When you need to feel young and hip, nothing compares to playing a pen and paper RPG with a Sponge and Starfish.

Mr. Crabbs just isn’t “feeling it”. In a mid-life funk, he turns to Spongebob to rediscover his inner child. P&P, a nautical role playing game, pops up in a quick sequence of nonsensical activities and delivers a low hanging punchline.

Interestingly, the episode nestles a tabletop RPG between a coin-op hobby horse and a kiddie pool. Each activity is it’s own kind of make believe, so while it’s easy to dismiss Spongebob as a drug-induced fever dream, he’s making an interesting point. The key to connecting with your inner child is through imagination.

5. Jackie Chan Adventures – Mahjong -S2E30

While Jackie Chan oversees a valuable relic being transported in the secret safe aboard a cruise ship, he brings along Uncle, Jade, and Tohru.While Jackie works to keep the artifact safe, his family can take a bit of a vacation.

Tohru also brings along his mother, who is constantly at odds with Uncle. Uncle is actually prepared to swim back to shore rather than spend the trip with Mama Tohru. . . until she mentions mah-jongg. Rivalry sparks and the two elders spend the cruise trying to outdo each other in a variety of games.

Jackie Chan Adventures, at times, gave us a reasonably authentic look at Chinese-American culture, so it felt natural to have mah-jongg featured strongly in an episode. Not only do both Uncle and Mama Tohru claim to be experts, but they back up their claims with awards won in competitive circuits.

6. Angry Beavers – El Grapadura and Ladders – S3E30

When Dag and Norb are paid a visit from their backwoods cousin, they’re tasked with treating him with extra consideration. While Dag isnt particularly hospitable, he does treat his photorealistic cousin to the “best board game ever”: The Limited Gold Edition of El Grapadura and Ladders.

Dag’s more the type to obsesss over video games, as the episode starts with him playing a lumberjack simulator instead of helping clean house. Still, when extended family comes to stay, board games are the activity of choice, even for beavers.

7. My Life as a Teenage Robot- ‘Monopoly’ – s3E8

Tensions run high when Jenny and her friends play some form of Monopoly. Brad and Tuck cheat, but Jenny wins because she’s an insufferable rules lawyer and takes advantage of a technicality. Everyone’s a jerk, everyone is angry, and Jenny has to go rescue someone from a garbage planet beyond Jupiter. Brad and Tuck aren’t done being petty, though, and tag along.

The gang has to put aside there pettiness to fight a tri-villain team up. You’d think the lesson would be how our heroes are heroes because the don’t let pettiness get in the way of saving the day. Not true. They only put aside their petty complaints at the last critical moment, and, even then, only briefly.

What Jenny wants more than anything else is to live life like a normal teenager. The episode paints the protagonists as petty to the point of self harm, so I think the message is pretty accurate.

8. MY LIttle Pony – Ogres & Oubliettes -S6e17

Image result for mlp dungeons and discord
Given a free evening, Discord finds his usual companions occupied and decides to grace the “sidekicks” with his presence. Big Mac and Spike bring Discord in on their plans for an evening of “Ogres and Oubliettes”, Equestria’s off-brand D&D. Discord dismisses them and their game out of hand, but a few moments into the game, he earns ridicule for making poor game choices.

Here’s a tip, maybe don’t poke fun at a god of chaos during an RPG session. Discord pulls a Jumanji, and sucks Spike and Big Mac into a world where the game has come to life, and is ready to kill them.

I feel My Little Pony really captured the emotions and dynamics of some RPG group’s I’ve encountered. Snide comments can cut deep, and emotions can overflow. Eventually, Discord comes to realize that he’s not “too cool” for the sidekicks, while Big Mac and Spike realize they were a little too hard on Discord. Reconciling their frustrations and hurt feelings, all of them are able to enjoy the game more together than they could without each other.

That’s an important lesson in escapism. Games let us rewrite our social contracts, but that doesn’t give us a free pass to be jerks. I think that’s a great takeaway message, and something that many RPG groups struggle with.

9. Gravity Falls – Chess – S2E15

Image result for bill and ford
Bill Cipher is the big bad of Gravity Falls. A nigh omnipotent deity of pure chaos, Cipher is bound by an inscrutable system of rules and limitations. Mostly though, Bill needs to make deals with humankind to gain access to reality.

Cipher befriends Stanford, a lonely intellectual, by offering knowledge and stoking his ego. Over time, their partnership grows, and we see them engage in a round of chess.

Chess is a great tool to express their relationship. Ford, looking for companionship enjoys what, to him, would be intellectual stimulation shared by equals. From Cipher’s point of view, chess  mirrors his life; to get what he wants he needs to navigate complex rituals and, more importantly, he needs to get an opponent to sit down with him.

10. Adventure Time- S7E37

Adventure Time revisits Card Wars after Jake has become a father. Spending time with his daughter Charlie, he begs her to play doubles Card Wars with him at an upcoming tournament. She prefers Tarot cards, but, after Jake begs, she agrees to play one game in exchange for one of his bones.


We’re given a glimpse into Jake’s history of being violent and vindictive when losing a card game. He’s a father now and he’s lost track of how old he is, maybe he’s almost 40. According to Jake, 20’s are for regretting, 30’s are for being dignified, and 40’s are older than he ever wants to be. He want’s to unpack and bury his last decade before embarking on the next one.

Which means coming to terms with himself in a card game.

Charlie plays a single game, and then leaves. No amount of bones will entice her to stay, and Jake attempts to continue the tournament alone. Without the influence of his daughter, he quickly succumbs to the impulse to win at all costs (including at the cost of his dignity).

We watch him struggle, while Charlie uses the bone to peer into the future and gain mysterious wisdom. Afterwards, she realizes that she was a total “wan” to her dad, and return to help him. Jake is barely able to hold it together until Charlie helps him to be content. They don’t win the match, but Jake is able to bury his 20’s.


Enjoy this article? If you want to be notified when the latest articles come out, you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Notice any board game references we missed out? Let us know on our Reddit Forum!

10 Times Board Games into your Myth and Legend

Board Games have been with humans longer than art and longer than language. Board Games have woven themselves into tales of Greek Demigods, Japanese Samurai, and Arthurian Knights. Let’s look at 10 times that board games got into myth and legend.

Amphora by Exekias

Amphora is a vase painted sometime in the 300’s BC, depicting Achilles and Ajax playing a board game in full war regalia. It’s understood that the scene is meant to portray the pair during the Iliad, though there aren’t any known board game scenes in Homer’s classical piece. It’s likely to portray the moment when Ajax speaks earnestly to Achilles in an attempt to overcome Achilles’s feud with Agamemnon and return him to the war.

Ancient Pop Culture

I like that this is a piece of historic fan art, where the artist decided to add his own flair to the course of events. It shows how generally popular board games were in Greece at the time. Unfortunately, Ajax was unsuccessful in his argument, probably because they were playing a game and Ajax is a notoriously bad loser. (When Ajax lost claim to Achilles armor to Odysseus, Ajax went a little crazy killed a bunch of cattle and then was so ashamed that he killed himself).

Oware To Marry

Oware is a game from the mancala family that originated from the Ashanti culture in Africa. There is a common story of a man and a woman who were obsessed with playing this game. The more they played it, the more people complained that they were neglecting their responsibilities.

Fed up with others’ nagging, the pair decided to get married so that they could play the game in peace. Henceforth, the game was called Oware, which literally translates into “to marry”. There are a lot of two person activities that marriage allows you to do without social pressure, and I’m glad at least one culture decided that board gaming was the most important one.

Thoth Gaming For Moonlight

By many accounts, Ra—the falcon headed sun-god—was a strong, paranoid leader. Like many gods and kings, he feared the existence of those who would overthrow him. So when Nut—the goddess of the sky who is also sometimes a cow—became pregnant, he was furious. Ra declared that Nut would not give birth on any day of the year.

Nut went to Thoth—the crane-headed god of wisdom—for help and they devised a plan. Thoth went to play Senet with Khonsu—the very green god of the moon—and wagered on the game to win a bit of moonlight. The more they played, the more moonlight Thoth won. Eventually, Thoth won enough moonlight to fashion five additional days that were not a part of the year that Nut could give birth in.

So, according to the myth, not only is a board game responsible for the leap days in a year, it’s also responsible for the five gods Nut birthed during them, namely: Osirus, Isis, Set, Nephytus, and Horus.

Sato Tadanobu with a Goban

Sato Tadanobu was a samurai of legend, with a long list of daring deeds. Once, he was ambushed while playing a game of Go, and, rather than grab his weapon, he grabbed the Go Board (goban) and beat his enemies to death with it.

More than just a historical quirk, this scene has been portrayed in countless kabuki plays and pieces of artwork.

Something to think about if you’re on the fence about buying deluxe Catan.

Despite killing many enemies with a large blunt piece of wood, eventually Sato is completely surrounded, and commits ritual suicide. In Go, pieces that are completely surrounded are removed, making Sato’s death feel appropriately poetic.

The Dead Man’s Hand

Like most parts of the old West, Wild Bill Hickok’s life was filled with superstition and high adventure . . .only after he died. He was a pretty regular gunslinger, soldier, and lawman; he was just good enough at shootin’ and playin’ cards that Buffalo Bill Cody deemed it appropriate to add him to the Wild West Pantheon.

As Hickok aged, his eyesight started to go, and he spiraled into vagrancy and spent less time at shootin’ and more time at cards. He beat a drunk Jack McCall at cards, and suggested the man quit until he could cover his losses. Hickok even offered him some money for breakfast the next day. Jack took that as an insult and returned the next day to kill Hickok with a revolver point blank to the back of the head while Hickok was playing cards in 1876.

It wasn’t until decades after his death that people began to bestow a superstitious quality to the cards Hickok was holding when he died. Aces and Eights, became a portend as ominous as Piracy’s black dot. It goes to show how ubiquitous poker has become to the experience of the old west that it has so captured the public’s imagination.

The Persian Chessboard

The myth of the Persian Chessboard is told and retold by mathematicians everywhere. A beggar is given an audience with a king, and the beggar asks the king for rice upon a chessboard; one grain on the first square, two grains on the second square, four grains on the third grain, and so on. The king agrees, happily until he does the math and it turns out he has offered more rice than exists in his kingdom.

Doesn’t work out as well for everybody.

Carl Sagan called the story the Persian Chessboard in a book outlining exponential growth in bacteria, and the math involved in the story has interesting properties for applied mathematics. It’s likely the story originated in India, where chess and high level maths were common in early history.


The Völuspá is the first and best known poem of the Poetic Edda, which summarizes in prophecy the whole of Norse Mythology. It begins with the prophetic völva (seer/shaman) describing the Norse creation myth, with the gods going about their duties to make the world. In stanza 8, the gods retire from their labors to “play at tables”.

While the rules aren’t explicit, scholars believe this is a reference to Tafl, an early Scandinavian chess-like game. The game doesn’t play much into the plot of the myth, but it shows how the Norse humanized their gods. Norse Gods ate, drank, and played board games, just like the rest of us.

Peredur son of Efrawg

Peredur is a welsh knight with legends adjacent to the Arthurian Mythos. His story follows the similar grail-seeking story as Percival, but takes place primarily in Wales.

His search takes him to the Castle of Wonders where he encounters a magic gwyddbywll, a welsh board game in the tafl family of games. The gwyddbywll plays itself and the little men cheer as though they’re real.

Image result for welsh is a silly language
Wales, where a word like “gwyddbywll” isn’t even all that weird.

Peredur does the only sensible thing when encountering a mysterious board game that plays itself; he picked it up, went outside, and threw it into a lake. Turns out the board game belonged to a quasi-magical “empress”, who then sends Peredur on a series of quests to atone.

If a friend wrecked my one of a kind board game, you can bet I’ll send them on quests of atonement. To be fair, my quest probably wouldn’t include murdering a unicorn and some dude out of spite.

The Pope’s Chess Game

According to a Jewish legend, there was once a Jewish boy who learned chess from his father and became incredibly skilled at a young age. He was so good that a Catholic servant thought that it would be a great service to kidnap the boy and give him to the Church to raise as a Christian.

The Jewish boy was so smart and good at chess that he rose quickly in the Church, though, secretly, he never forgot his father or his roots.The boy grew up and became Pope. Now at the top of the Catholic Church, the boy wished to find his father and help the Jewish people.

So the Pope declared heavy taxes on Jews from his hometown. Sure enough, a representative was sent from that region to contest the Pope’s new rules. The Pope met with the man, but before he would talk he demanded that they play a game of chess.

The Jewish leader agreed, and was soon surprised at how well the Pope played chess. The Pope used maneuvers and techniques that the Jewish leader had taught his son. Soon, the Pope revealed himself as the lost son, and quickly rescinded the harsh new rules. He sent his father back with a secret message to his hometown, letting them know what had happened.

Moral of the story? If you get really good at chess, you too can become Pope, even if you’re not Catholic.

BUDDHA Hates Board Games

According to the Brahmajāla Sutta, Gautama Buddha had a list of games he would not play: Games on boards with 8 or 10 rows, Games of throwing dice, and more. While it’s easy to imagine that board games are frivolous activities that the Buddha would deem distracting from the path to enlightenment, board games had an interesting role in ancient India.

Related image

India has a history associated with lots of rules; it enforced a complex caste system, it advanced mathematics quite a bit, and it was the birthplace of a lot of board games. A common board game that is likely to have been excluded by the Buddha would have been Gyan Chauper, a game we know today as Snakes and Ladders.

While we think of Snakes and Ladders as a children’s game, it has a history in ancient India as a religious tool. Roll a die, and land on spaces that either send you upwards towards enlightenment or downward into vice.

Looking at ancient india as a society heavy with rules, it makes sense that Buddha would caution against games that encourage mindless adherence to those rules. You can’t expect to find enlightenment by following a prescribed set of rules, enlightenment must come about through mindfulness and rigorous self reflection. 

King Atys and the Kingdom of Lydia

Recorded in the histories of Herodotus, the Ancient Kingdom of Lydia faced a famine. To survive this hardship King Atys declared they would only eat eat every other day. To cope with the hunger, the Lydians would play games on days without food. Nothing distracts quite like getting wrapped up in complex gaming minutia. Try to imagine a culture of hangry MTG players, it’s a surprise they made it as long as they did.

It’s a testament to the power of games that their culture was able to persist through a famine, but I have to imagine it was remarkably unpleasant. Think about playing cards with your family on Thanksgiving once you found out there wasn’t going to be any food.


There’s certainly more to the Lydian’s story, that I’ve gone into before. Take a look, here.

Enjoy this article? If you want to be notified when the latest articles come out, you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Notice any board game references we missed? Let us know on our Reddit Forum!

10 Times Board Games Got Into Your Favorite SciFi

The future is a foreign country; they play games differently there. Whether it’s the alien games of distant worlds, or familiar games PLAYED. IN. SPAAAAACE, science fiction loves bringing board games into the plot. Regardless of the ships you pilot or creatures you encounter, someone is willing to set up a board of some kind. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Star Trek Original Series – Tri D Chess

The third episode of Star Trek opens with Spock and Kirk playing a little Tri-D Chess. While we’re given bits and pieces of Spock’s cold Vulcan logic in previous episodes, this game really sets up the core of Spock and Kirk’s relationship. Spock’s calculated strategies give him the upper hand, while Kirk’s irrational playstyle is often surprising. Kirk finds Spock’s emotionless play irritating, because, for him, humanity is ruled by emotion. To be human is to embrace our flaws, struggles, and passions.

Seeing the pair interact during leisure helps solidify the closeness of their friendship.

Having Kirk’s humanity laid bare in a game becomes relevant as the episode progresses. A crewman is imbued with psychic abilities that continue to become more and more powerful. Greater power strips the crewman of his flaws and, consequently, his humanity. This crewman becomes convinced that his power is absolute, and that a new race of superior psychics should replace mankind. Unpredictably, Kirk kills him with some rocks.

Star Wars – Holochess (Dejarik)

What do you know about Wookiees? These days, we know a lot about their mannerisms, their home planet, and their Life Day traditions.

Maybe too much about their life Day traditions.

But in 1977, we knew very little about Wookiees. In fact, the word Wookiee only appears once in A New Hope.

“Let the Wookie win”

Aboard Han Solo’s ship, there’s a Holochess terminal that Chewbacca and R2D2 take to playing. It’s not surprising that an interstellar starship would have some form of entertainment, but the scene allows for some interesting world building.

Comic by iharthdarth

Han comments about the Wookiee propensity to rip the arms off of players who beat them at holochess; that gives us two pieces of information: Chewbacca is a Wookiee and Wookiees are violently sore losers.

This brief scene is a great introduction to one of the most iconic characters from the Star Wars universe, and the presence of a game allows Lucas to playfully instill the notion that Star Wars is much larger than what we’re just seeing on the screen.

Battlestar Galactica – Triad

Triad is a pretty funny example of different for the sake of different. The show runners looked at the script and saw the characters playing poker and said, “Nuh uh, this is SPACE, we gotta have ’em playing SPACE POKER, and they play with hexagons or something.”

In the original BSG, Triad was the name for the space-equivalent of basketball and space poker was called Pyramid. Apparently, when they rebooted the series, they got the names mixed up, and noone on the team thought to double check.

Obama close enough meme with cylon head

Back to the Future 3 – Chess


This chess reference is a clever bit of set dressing. Doc Brown’s dog, Copernicus, sits at a chess board with all the pieces wired up in a ridiculous mad scientist rig. At first glance, it’s easy to write it off as a goofy prop, but Doc Brown’s brainwave reader is used in a couple bits in the series.

Upon careful examination of the board, chess nerds agree that Marty’s move has given Copernicus a significant advantage with board position, because Copernicus is a good boy.

Tron: Legacy – Go


When Tron Legacy was released, computer AI’s were only just starting to consistently beat the best human players at Go. It’s no accident that Finn would have a Go set, since it represents a battleground where humanity is engaged in a losing struggle against artificial intelligence.

Finn is engaged in a losing struggle against Clu, a rogue program made in Finn’s image. Finn has always been defined by games, transitioning from the twitchy games of 80’s arcade cabinets to the patient strategy of board games. Clu has an equal but opposite love of games, creating violent blood sports for his own amusement.

Finn’s fondness for Go becomes a visual representation of his philosophy and disposition. Quorra, his protege, describes her own strategy as rash and impulsive compared to his more measured approach.

The game also describes Finn’s relationship with Quorra. Despite a life of danger, Finn spends time to teach her Go. Sharing the game allowed him to be the father figure for Quorra that he couldn’t be for his actual son.

Firefly | S1E2 – Chinese Checkers


Firefly is a joy, and it’s filled to the brim with personality. It never misses a moment to playfully expand the relationships between characters. Watching our smugglers enjoy a quiet moment of leisure gives us a chance to laugh and get closer to them. I just wish they weren’t playing Chinese Checkers.

Firefly has a problem. The setting is a mix of Western and Eastern influences. Character’s swear in mandarin, Asian text is commonly seen, many spaceports have a decidedly eastern feel. However, all of those elements are surface level. There are almost no Asian actors, and no meaningful interactions with how Eastern traditions would translate into a space opera. It’s guilty of cultural appropriation.

Cultural appropriation is trying to sell someone’s heritage as exotic without actually exploring what that heritage means. Chinese Checkers is actually a perfect example of cultural appropriation. Developed in Germany in the late 1800’s, Chinese Checkers is based on purely western games, but salesmen thought it would sell better as a exotic game from “the Orient”. This is both disingenuous and stands in the way of pop culture with actual eastern heritage getting wider adoption.

So to see this game come up in Firefly feels particularly tone deaf.

Dr. Who | S6E13 – Live Chess


“The crowd is getting restless. They know the queen is your only legal move. Except you’ve already moved it 12 times, which means there are now over 4 million volts running through it. That’s why they call it live chess.”

Leave it to a British TV show to make chess into a bloodsport. It’s a brilliant device in this episode. The Doctor corners his opponent into a chess game and, using only his intellect, strips his opponent of any options except to divulge some very critical information.

“Even with the gauntlet, you’ll never make it to Bishop 4 alive.”

The chess game is both incredibly descriptive of the Doctor as a character, but it also acts as a metaphor for the plot of this particular episode. The Doctor is searching for information, meticulously beating up pawns, and working a plan to corner the leader who pulls the string.

In Chess, the goal isn’t to kill the king; checkmate is when the king cannot move. Likewise, the Doctor’s plan is one of decidedly nonviolent entrapment.


X Files | S5E20 – Stratego

After the first season of X-Files, the department is shut down and Mulder finds himself struck in a web of intrigue. He wants to pursue the truth, but he can’t risk any information getting found out. After a discrete talk with Skully, he begins to question his perspective.

Later, he dreams of the night his sister was abducted by aliens, the core reason for Mulder’s search for the truth. Before she was taken, the two of them were playing Stratego.

Stratego represents Mulder’s struggles moving forward in the series. Secrets are the core of Stratego’s gameplay, both keeping them and uncovering them. While a game like Clue is about solving a mystery, Stratego is about surviving in a web of intrigue. If Mulder wants to find his sister, his survival will hinge on his ability to play a game of secrets.

Stargate SG1 – Poker


Lieutenant Colonel Cameron Mitchell spent a big chunk of the later seasons of Stargate trying to get the SG-1 team back together, which proves a difficult feat both physically and emotionally (for both him and the casting directors).

To call the team members that do manage to return dysfunctional, is somewhat of an understatement. To improve performance, Major General Hank Landry forces the team on a “relaxing” log cabin vacation. It has all the fun of a mandatory work picnic, and Mitchell and Landry spend several awkward moments over a chess board. Neither are fond of chess, but they also don’t know how to interact with each other outside of work and need something to fill the time.

Eventually the team bonds over solving a mystery and killing a monster. They’re reminded of their bonds as a team, and they finish the episode playing poker. The transition from chess (a game where you could ignore your opponents and just look at the board) to poker (a game that relies on reading your opponents) certainly shows the team warming up to one another off-duty.



X Men: Days of Future Past – Chess


Comic books really get off on the whole good-verses-evil motif. I mean “super-hero” and “super-villain” pretty much scream moral absolutes. Chess is a pretty common trope, because it immediately invokes the concept of “us vs them”.

The recent string of X-men movies revolve around Professor X and Magneto hurling their figurative pawns at one another, so it’s no surprise we get to see them do so in a literal sense as well.

The movies also revolve around how Captain Picard and Gandalf are the bestest of best friends.


Enjoy this article? If you want to be notified when the latest articles come out, you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Notice any board game references we missed? Let us know on our Reddit Forum!

Another Fave Five Board Game References

Met some great folks at PAX East this year and they gave me some great suggestions. Since April has 5 weeks, I figured I would share another fave five board game references.

Anime Crimes Division | S1E2 – Yugioh

When someone commits a crime against Anime in Neo Otaku City, they don’t call the police; they call the anime crimes division. The second episode follows an art heist plot. Valuable art goes missing, and investigators Diesel and Joe have to go undercover to find it. The missing art is a special Promo Yugioh Card that’s made its way into an underground Yugioh dueling circuit.

While there is some strategy in Yugioh, the game is notorious for having rare and powerful cards that totally unbalance the game. Theft of valuable cards is something that is common both in the anime and in real life. While a criminal organization based around a card game seems far fetched, Yugioh seems designed to encourage this kind of behavior. Anime Crimes Division bridges that concept into the crime drama formula, giving us all the over the top shonen tropes in a setting built like NCIS.

West World | S1E6 – Dominoes

The first time we see Ford encounter the maze in Westworld, it’s branded on a table where two hosts are playing dominoes, instead of poker. There are two things that dominoes are generally known for.

The first is setting up long sets of chain events. Like dominoes, we come to know that events have been put into motion that will inevitably lead to their inscrutible conclusions; these violent delights have violent ends. The maze marks the mystery of Arnold, and the pieces he left behind, waiting as part of a chain reaction.

Secondly, dominoes are known for making connections. You look at hand of dominoes and you try to see where the pieces fit together best. Maieve is trying to connect a forgotten past with an ambitious future, Bernard is trying to connect what he thinks he knows with what he is learning, and Dolores is trying to connect so many many broken parts of herself.

The dominoes are a small element, but they portend the greater things to come.

Royal Pains Commercial | Operation

Hank is a surgeon and his brother is the get-rich-quick-nathan-lane-style accountant slash business guy. It’s a low hanging gag, you’d expect the surgeon to be great, but it’s the comedic relief brother showing the skill. However, it’s also a pretty solid metaphor for their relationship.

Hank’s brother is good at ‘playing the game’ of socializing in the Hamptons, while Hank finds that his skills as a surgeon can only take him so far by himself.

Also, yes, I will reference a board game in a commercial for a pretty mediocre television drama. It’s pretty well done reference and I like it. What are you gonna do about it?

Yu Yu Hakusho – Taboo

Our ragtag protagonists enter a mansion to fight a bunch of nerds with access to unnatural dark energy. Each nerd has a realm where they can impose their own rules and if anyone fails to obey those rules the nerds get to harvest their souls.

Kaito, a linguistic nerd, sets up his realm as a game of taboo, where people can’t speak certain words or letters. He has a longstanding feud with Kurama, who routinely one ups Kaito in highschool.

Playing a party game for one’s soul is an unorthodox choice, but it paints Kurama as a genius in a way that would be otherwise difficult to convey in a show mostly about punching monsters.

Betrayal at House on the Hill | Haunt 37 – Chess

Betrayal at House on the Hill is one of my all time favorite board games, where you investigate an old house to find out what sort of horrible thing is haunting it. You explore the house tile by tile, and each room adds a ton of personality, including a game room complete with a chess board.

If you come across the skull omen, you’re likely to encounter Haunt 37 and you’ll have to play chess with Death for your very life. While chess against death is a common trope, you actually don’t see it much in the kinds of horror films Betrayal references in its haunts.

Which is weird because early artwork depicting death playing chess is creepy AF.

To turn chess with death into true horror movie fair, the designers added a roving murderer for players to simultaneously contend with; in case chess wasn’t exciting enough for you.

Enjoy this article? If you want to be notified when the latest articles come out, you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Have a board game reference that’s one of your favorites? Let us know on our Reddit Forum!