For the longest time, licensed board games were mostly shovelware. These were games that were reskinned versions of mass-market titles made purely to capture dollars from fans of the IP. It was pretty hard to get excited for Star Wars Monopoly or Dr. Who Risk when you were playing an old game with a skin-deep coat of paint. Sure, there were a few hidden gems out there if you looked hard enough. Games like Star Wars: The Queen’s Gambit or the Lord of the Rings board game from Reiner Knizia were pretty great. But these were the exceptions rather than the rule.
Today though, we are pretty spoiled with choices as there is no shortage of board games that embrace existing intellectual property. And that’s what we are looking at today. The BGQ team has gathered to list off our favorite licensed board games. And just to keep things interested, we’ve tossed out any licensed board game that appears in the Top 50 rankings of BGG. Those were the obvious choices that you didn’t need us to tell you about. They are amazing games and you should play them all. These included War of the Ring, Star Wars Rebellion, and Star Wars Imperial Assault. So, don’t look for those here.
Best Licensed Board Games
Batman: Gotham City Chronicles (review)
Chosen by Tony:
One of my favorite games from 2019 was Batman: Gotham City Chronicles. I’ve long been a huge Batman fan and this game really hit the sweet spot for me of diverse missions, thematic gameplay, and interesting asymmetrical mechanics. Sure, the game wasn’t without its problems, the rulebook was really obtuse, and it was more of a 2 player game masquerading as a 1 vs Many game. But once you get past all that, you have a game that has some really solid gameplay, excellent components, and tons of content to keep you throwing punches and securing objectives in Gotham City for a very long time. I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve gotten this one to the table, but it’s the game I reach for when I want to embrace my inner Dark Knight.
Tyrants of the Underdark (review)
Chosen by Tahsin:
If you know me, this selection should be the least surprising pick of any of these lists we do. I am a fully committed Tyrants of the Underdark fanboy, but surprisingly enough, it wasn’t love at first sight. It took me a couple of games to really get the feel of what the Dungeons & Dragons license reveals when applied to some basic deck building. Not only that, but publisher Gale Force 9, presumably with agreement with Wizards of the Coast, went for the dark underbelly of D&D, conflict in the caverns of the Underdark for a theme. This is a phenomenal game of aggressive area control and sublime deck building. It’s unfortunate that it’s no longer in print.
Firefly: The Game (review)
Chosen by Brian W:
I’m typically leery of most games based on an IP because most are nothing more than terrible money grabs which damage my calm. Luckily, that was not the case back in 2013 with Firefly: The Game. It’s a great pick up and deliver, sandbox game that’s highly thematic and immerses players directly into the Firefly universe. Player’s take the role of a cargo ship captain who will be bouncing from system to system looking to add crew, improving their ships, and all the while taking on jobs (legal and illegal ones) to get paid and keep flying. There are also many expansions to add different ship types and add Rim and Alliance space if you want to increase the variety of the base game. I should note that there is low player interaction (the Pirates and Bounty Hunters expansion adds a bit more) and luck can be a factor at times. But to me these are minor issues that do not deter me; I’m always willing to bring Firefly: The Game back to the table and try to be the best Browncoat captain in the Verse.
Kung Fu Panda: The Board Game (review)
Chosen by Michelle:
I will preface my entry with the fact that I very rarely play licensed games simply because I’ve been disappointed in the past by the Harry Potter games. Now that that’s out of the way, it was such a pleasant surprise to have played a co-op game with real-time frantic dice rolling that I actually liked. As someone that normally gravitates towards multiplayer solitaire and lots of control over the state of the board, I was fairly suspicious of how the game would play after reading through the rulebook. It wasn’t until I sat down with my partner and carried out the actions in the game that it made a believer out of me; not only do I really enjoy Kung Fu Panda but also this was near-to-impossible to alpha game. I’m very much looking forward to completing all the scenarios and just writing this entry has rekindled the urgency to get this back on the table again.
Battle for Rokugan (review)
Chosen by Spencer:
Battle for Rokugan takes place in the Legend of the 5 Rings universe. I honestly can’t say I have any connection to the lore. However, the mechanics in the game are right up my alley. We’re talking about a quick area control game with lots of bluffing built right into it. The main mechanism in this game is secret unit deployment. Players expand their control by taking turns playing tokens face down on the different territories. Each token has a combat strength and/or a special ability. Everyone can see where you’ve placed your tokens, but no one knows what you’ve placed until they’re all revealed. Some cards allow you to mess with other players’ tokens, but it’s worth noting that everyone has a bluff token that can be played as a distraction. Everybody also has a nuke token that can be played to wipe out an entire territory if not defended against. Overall, it’s a fast-playing, mean direct conflict game with very pleasant artwork and a beautiful board.
Chosen by Jason:
Classic Universal Studio monsters such as the Wolf Man, Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Dracula try to overcome players in one of my favorite cooperative games, Horrified. Pick a character, villains to fight, and off you go. This is a very accessible co-op with low complexity of rules, so it’s easy to recommend it to people of all experience levels. Players will have actions they can take, including one that’s unique to them, which helps players feel special in what they can do to help the team. Since each villain is defeated differently, the game offers a variety of challenges that will continue to keep your games interesting and you coming back for another try.
Chosen by Dylan:
To be honest, I didn’t have a huge attachment to the Dune universe prior to 2020. I hadn’t played the game. I hadn’t read any of Frank Herbert’s novels. I also hadn’t watched any of the movies (I’m glad I dodged that bullet). That changed after playing Dune online in the fall. Every mechanic felt attached to the theme, from faction abilities to the cards used in combat and events. It was to the point where I picked up the original book and the mechanics of the game helped me better understand the purposes and motives of the universe’s factions. While it’s not a smooth game compared to modern designs (tell someone who’s only played Dominion that there are nine phases in a single round of Dune and they’re likely to faint), the dedication to the theme and punishing decisions make it a memorable experience that leans in on the Dune universe. We all know how true this is (see Rex).
Chosen by Andrew:
My tastes tend to skew heavily euro where, needless to say, licensed games are a lot less prevalent. But Marvel Champions takes one of the best licenses in the world today and has developed the only LCG that I’ve really enjoyed enough to dig into. The every-card-is-a-resource approach is simple but effective. I am a somewhat recovering MTG player, so Marvel Champions scratches a bit of the deckbuilding itch that I loved about Magic and as the card pool expands there are new heroes that open up more interesting deck-building options.
Funkoverse Strategy Game: The Golden Girls
Chosen by Chris:
The Funkoverse Strategy Game is a solid tactical system that allows players to mix and match a whole bunch of intellectual properties in grid-based, dice-chucking combat. The standard IPs you’d expect to see in a game like this are all well-represented —superheroes, Jurassic Park, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter —but it was the odd inclusion of The Golden Girls characters as one of the launch sets that initially put this game on my radar. I could write a few thousand words on how fantastic the show itself is, but it might surprise you to learn that using these characters in the game is also a blast because of their thematic (if overpowered) abilities. Blanche, the free-spirited widower, can lure opponents closer with her flirtatious nature, while Rose can help her team by telling a soothing story from her days in St. Olaf. I don’t play many IP games these days (IPs rarely get the full euro treatment), but Funkoverse is a fine game with unique action selection and cooldown mechanics. The ability to add in characters like the four Golden Girls, however, is what keeps it coming back to the table.
Star Wars Legion
Chosen by George:
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a massive miniature table-top wargamer. A while ago Fantasy Flight games came out with Star Wars Legion. It stuck to traditional wargaming norms with assembly and painting required for the Empire and Rebel armies, eventually expanding out to the prequel timelines to include the Galactic Republic and the Separatist (CIS). The gameplay is great and pretty fast-paced for a wargame. Select and build your army from whatever models you’ve bought and deploy them to battle in a table with multiple conditions and objectives. Star Wars Legion shines in three main places for me. Heavily reliant on ranged combat, the cover rules are simple and work well. You can tailor your command hand of 7 cards to include character-specific powers that are used once a turn and help determine play order. The last is the unique fun of controlling Jedi and Sith units on the field of battle. One place where this game struggles is the number of tokens and keywords (who would have guessed with it being an FFG game). With each army having its own strengths, weaknesses, and play styles Star Wars Legion is definitely worth checking out if you love the franchise and want to dip your toes into wargaming.
Star Wars: Outer Rim
Chosen by Alex:
A game set in the Star Wars universe where I can decide to pursue a career as a smuggler running illicit cargo, or hunting down bounties and collecting rewards? 100% in. Star Wars: Outer Rim puts you in the pilot seat of your chosen ship, giving you missions, encounters, and all the flavor of life in the rough-and-tumble regions of the galaxy. Really digging deep into the theme and setting, it’s an absolute must-play for any fan of the Star Wars properties. While we certainly think bounty hunting is a better choice if your goal is to win the game, you can have just as much fun hauling cargo and ducking unfriendly patrols. Our only wish for this game is that Asmodee/FFG decide that it is time for an expansion, which would rocket to the top of our must-buy list. Trust your feelings and give Star Wars: Outer Rim a try.