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”.
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.
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.
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?
Mouse Trap: Good Luck Setting it Up Right
Life: A Depressing reflection on Reality
Chutes and Ladders: Nothing you do matters
Splat: Literally Crush your little sister’s Dreams
Forbidden Bridge: Weird Architectural decisions
Don’t Wake Daddy: You Wouldn’t Like Him When He’s Woken
Candyland: A Game Where you don’t need counting or reading
Connect 4: Fill it up just for fun
Fireball Island: Because the INDIANA Jones License Is Expensive
13 Dead End Drive: Get Really Excited about Murder
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.
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.
“-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.
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
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.
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 . . .
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
2. Up to Four Players
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.
3. Dork Tower
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.
4. Order of the Stick
Order of the Stickis 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.
6. Rusty and Co
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.
7. Semi Coop
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.
8. d20 Monkey
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.
9. Tiny Wooden Pieces
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.
10. Going OverBoard
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.
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
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
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.
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