While it’s been 30 years or so since I ventured to the theaters to see The Rocketeer, I recently showed the movie to my kids and was pleasantly surprised that it still holds up. Since I’m Board Game Quest’s official movie person, I typically get handed every game based on a movie, and The Rocketeer: Fate of the Future was no exception. (Clarification: My movie person moniker isn’t technically official. In fact, I’m the only one who uses it around headquarters without adding a not-so-discreet eye roll.)
Does Prospero Hall’s new design effectively recreate the family-friendly excitement from the film? Well strap on your jet pack and join me on a board game style, airborne tour of 1930s Hollywood.
The Rocketeer: Fate of the Future is a two-player, tug of war style card battle game with some area control elements thrown in. Players will either take on the role of three of the heroes from the 90s film or three of its villains. (Well, three of the villains plus an army. It’s a little confusing and I’ll explain more about that later.)
The playing area is divided into six sections, each representing a location from the film. During each round, the two sides will activate their characters one at a time and play as many cards as they want for each character so long as the cards played match the active character’s symbol. This means that each round, some characters will have several actions while others might not have any.
Actions on the cards are relatively simple and mostly involve moving to other locations along the board and gaining clout (the game’s currency) or grit (the game’s attack and defense multiplier). The cards all have two available options, and each card can only be used for one of them on a turn.
The goal of all this movement and resource collecting is to position one’s characters at locations to get end-of-round bonuses. The bonuses are typically very similar to the types of things the cards themselves will grant players throughout the game. Area control is handled simply: the player with more standing characters at a location will have control over that location at the end of the round.
One of the main tricks of the game is a hidden shell mechanic in which the heroes start the game with three facedown Rocket Blueprint cards. Only one of these cards shows the actual blueprints for The Rocketeer’s jet pack and the villains will be trying to flip these cards faceup to take control of the plans themselves. Possessing the blueprints won’t win either side the game, but it will grant additional Finale cards (points) at the end of every round.
I mentioned in passing that the game is also a battle game and while there is combat involved, it’s only a minor portion of the game itself. Basically, players can use attack cards on opponents at their location. These attacks (called “Tussling” in the game, which is cute) can be blocked, but it’s rare that it makes more sense to spend precious cards from one’s hand to repel an attack. Tussling does serve a purpose since it’s the primary way characters can take possession of the blueprints, but mechanically it’s not very interesting.
There’s also a point in the game where the villains can convert one of their characters into the lower-powered, but more abundant Secret Army. These characters are very limited in what they can do, but they spread out more easily and can help the baddies control areas. The heroes main differentiating feature is that Cliff “The Rocketeer” Secord can fuel up his jet pack throughout the game thereby making his default movement much faster as the game progresses.
(The game refers to its titular character as Cliff on most of the cards and this was a real problem for my wife. She refused to call him anything other than The Rocketeer and was often left wondering who this “Cliff” was that the cards spoke of. She also consistently called the Peevy character “Pervy,” which was funny, but not intentionally so.)
The timer of the game is an event card deck that will highlight a specific location each round and also move a Zeppelin miniature along a track. (Yes: The game has a Zeppelin miniature on an entirely separate board. Both things look cool and are absolutely unnecessary.) When the Zeppelin reaches the final space on the track, the last round is triggered and whomever has the most points across all their hidden Finale cards is the winner.
The design team at Prospero Hall have an excellent track record of taking intellectual properties and transporting their theme nicely into accessible games. The look of The Rocketeer: Fate of the Future is outstanding, but the theme integration falls a little short of the mark. It’s there, but the game is essentially a back-and-forth struggle for positioning and the movie doesn’t really have that vibe.
The main structure of the game—play as many cards as possible for a single character and try to control the most important locations—is straightforward and that helps keep the game moving pretty quickly. The rewards players receive are easy to understand and it all makes sense as they position their teams each round.
A few of the design choices, on the other hand, seem almost completely unnecessary and tacked on. The villain side’s Secret Army concept does tie into the events of the film, but it’s also such a departure from the rest of the game that it feels unnecessary. I think that the army should have been used by the villains from the start of the game and not need to be triggered in the later rounds.
Similarly, the main difference when playing as the heroes is The Rocketeer’s movement speed. It makes sense, of course, but it’s underwhelming and also a little strange that the title character’s main ability is simply moving more spaces than everyone else. The board is only six locations long, so it’s not as though zipping all over the place is even that difficult.
One thing that I thought could be pretty fun was the hidden blueprint element of the game because it seemed like a neat layer of deception that would also tie nicely into the movie. And it’s… okay. It’s fine. It didn’t hurt my feelings, but I also won’t be upset if I never think about it again. There are some minor benefits from having the Rocket Blueprints, but it isn’t an end game trigger and ultimately was a bit fiddly given that they are represented by cards and not thicker, double-sided tokens.
Without question, the biggest miss for me was the actual way players achieve victory. You don’t wipe out your opponents or steal the plans and bring them to Germany or even blow up the Zeppelin like in the climactic scene of the movie. Instead, you add up a pile of cards you’ve accumulated throughout the game and declare a score. These cards are obtained randomly and can have swingy values. Some simply grant the player 3 points, while others require specific end-game positioning that might either be impossible to achieve or not worth the effort in the last round.
In my plays, I had multiple games end with both players avoiding all final-round tussling just so they could be standing on a certain location. It felt very anti-climactic, which I must believe is the opposite experience the designers were going for.
There are issues here to be sure, but I don’t want to give the impression that the game is a total loss. It’s a fun little game and the concept of playing a whole bunch of cards on a single character consecutively is pretty neat. The area control aspect, while relatively light, does help drive the tension from round to round, and the hidden plans mechanism is interesting, if not entirely successful.
That being said, The Rocketeer: Fate of the Future’s combat is very one-note and the randomness in the end-game scoring can be really frustrating. Another concern is that, for the most part, the two sides play almost identically. The heroes have an uninspired movement gimmick, and the villains can add a Secret Army that comes into play at a cost and often doesn’t seem to even be a good strategic choice.
All in all, The Rocketeer: Fate of the Future is a mixed bag that has its bright spots, but still lands somewhere in the middle tier of the Prospero Hall catalog.
Final Score: 3 Stars – A beautifully produced, if slightly uninspired adaptation of The Rocketeer that has a few intriguing concepts and more than a few curious design choices.
• End game scoring is incredibly swingy
• Both sides play too similarly
• Feels a bit long for what it is
• Combat is uninteresting