10 Times Board Games Got Into Your Emmy Award Winning Dramas

The Wire – Chess – S1E3

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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

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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

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“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.

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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

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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

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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.

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“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

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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

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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

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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.

 

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How do you find a Board Game Reference?

Have you seen Pulp Fiction? You know the scene where John Travolta stabs Uma Thurman in the chest with adrenaline because she’s OD’d from accidentally snorting heroine?

Did you pay close attention to that scene? Did you catch what was in the foreground on an end table?

A copy of Operation.

Could’ve been anything, could’ve been Scrabble, could’ve been Guess Who, but clever narratives are built out of little details.

So many Board Game References are a surprise. Not because they are hidden or obscure, but because they’re hiding in plain view. You’re probably already thinking about it, and I can confirm: there was a board Game episode in your Saturday morning cartoons, in your Primetime dramas, and in your 80’s sitcoms.

Not just chess, either, all kinds of board games, everywhere, all the time. I’ve sifted through enough pop culture at this point that I’m more surprised when I find out a series doesn’t have a board game reference (like how those bastards at HBO cut Cyvasse from Game of Thrones, not that I’m bitter).

My initial research into finding board game references was simply being vigilant. I’m excited to say I’ve uncovered hundreds of Board Game References that I’ll be sharing starting this coming January.

Think you have a board game reference I’ve not already found? I’d love to see if you can stump me. Post your favorite shows and movies on our Reddit Forum, I’ll let you know whether or not they have a board game reference in them.