When you hear Intellectual Property or IP, games what’s the first thing through your head? Is it one of the many soulless mass-market re-skins or do you think of some of the Marvel, Harry Potter, and Star Wars games?
We’re living in a golden age of board games and there’s no shortage of great games based on popular IPs. But a great theme on an underwhelming game doesn’t mean much so the mechanics or the production really have to bring that IP to life. Below are 10 of what I consider the best IP-based games around with a few caveats. I limited IPs to a single entry so as not to dominate with a few well-known and widely licensed brands. I also ignored IPs developed from games so you won’t be seeing Magic: the Gathering or anything from the universes of Everdell or Warhammer as well as IP adjacent games like Nemesis (which we all know is Aliens). Lastly, I could easily fill another Top 10 with great games so let me know in the comments if I missed your favorite.
Top 10 Board Games Based on a Licensed IP
10. Firefly: The Game (review)
I’d be shocked if fans of the show playing this game don’t start talking about the gorram Reavers or Alliance approaching as they fly through the ‘verse or calling a desirable card they draw shiny after 30 minutes in this space western pick up and deliver game. Sure there’s minimal interaction in the base game of Firefly: The Game but the theme comes through as you manage your fuel and parts resources, figure out how to pay your crew, complete jobs, and aim to misbehave.
9. A Game of Thrones
What happens when a war game gets mixed with a social deduction game? You get A Game of Thrones, based on the Song of Fire and Ice novels by George R.R. Martin, where stabbing other players in the back is expected. Plan your actions and then play them out with the meat of the game coming in the form of diplomacy with other players and knowing when to turn on your fellows to win the Iron Throne. Luckily the game isn’t you win or you die because that would put a serious damper on replay value but the game does capture the backstab-happy world of the books and show.
8. Lord of the Ring: Journeys in Middle Earth
For fans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, there are several great games to choose from between War of the Ring, the LCG, and this pick. This app-assisted dungeon crawler has you playing as various characters in Middle Earth on adventures between The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. Placing adventures outside of canon gives FFG a lot of leeway to keep creating content (and if you want to re-live the books and don’t have enough time to watch the movies check out War of the Ring). But overall, if you like dungeon crawling adventures, app-enhanced games, and Lord of the Rings—Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle Earth is the game for you.
7. Legendary Encounters: Alien
If you like deck builders more than dungeon crawlers (Aliens: Another Glorious Day in the Corps) this is the Aliens game you’re looking for. This game from Upper Deck might be the best of the Legendary games in terms of thematic integration. The coordinate mechanic encourages players to work together to conquer challenges. Players can be turned by becoming an alien or having a secret objective. Do you spend more attack power to reveal an enemy earlier or try to wait until later in the complex? It’s easy to start feeling overwhelmed as the game progresses and the enemy decks get tougher which really leans into that feeling of impending doom. Can you pull out a win or is it “game over man”?
6. Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective
The Sherlock Holmes stories were often fascinating with how Holmes could solve cases with what looked to be negligible evidence. Can you do better? This game has you solving various crimes and then comparing your answer to that of Sherlock Holmes (or you can just be happy you solved it and forgo scoring). You’ll meet allies, read newspaper clippings, take notes, and travel all over London trying to solve these cases. Also great for non-gamers who love crime dramas.
5. X-Wing Miniatures Game (review)
Like some other IPs, there are several good games using the Star Wars license. If you want a war game (Rebellion), a dungeon crawl (Imperial Assault), a replacement for Firefly the Game (Outer Rim), or a miniatures game (Legion); there’s something for everyone (and there’s a quiz to help you find your game). X-Wing uses beautifully pre-painted ships and movement templates that will have you dogfighting all over your table (pew pew noises are user provided). And the fun doesn’t start in combat, but before the battle with building your team out of ships and upgrades while looking for combinations that work together (once you have a few sets). And with that, I should caution those dipping their toes into this pool that X-Wing can go from casual to a lifestyle game in a few purchases.
4. Batman: Gotham City Chronicles / Conan (review)
This is a bit of a cheat to use both, but these two games share the same river system for activating enemies. They also both use the same system of stamina cubes/crystals, acting as both your energy for actions and your health. Now you can pick your IP to suit your tastes. Batman: Gotham City Chronicles is more methodical while Conan embraces a more destructive approach to problem-solving. The miniatures covering the beautifully illustrated maps bring the theme to life as you jump, climb, and fight your way through evocative scenery. The variety of characters, enemies, and scenarios keeps the game experience fresh for both games. The games are naturally a one vs. many but Conan has rules for solo/co-op and the same is coming in the third season of Batman coming to crowdfunding in May 2022. Batman also has a 1v1 skirmish mode utilizing two overlord dashboards.
3. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood of Venice (review)
Stealthier than Clash of Cultures this game brings Ubisoft’s video game franchise to life using the same mechanics as V-Commandos. You’ll play as a group of assassins in Venice completing objectives over multiple scenarios, called memories. Each game has you sneaking through Venice, parkouring through the rooftops, and synchronizing to see hidden objectives and treasure chests in this sprawling miniatures-based game (a standee version is coming to retail).
2. Cthulhu: Death May Die
While most of this list has been dedicated to things that bring the IP life, Cthulhu: Death May Die kind of does the opposite. You probably know that many of the Arkham files games (Arkham Horror, Eldritch Horror, and Arkham Horror the LCG) deviate from HP Lovecraft’s existential horror and hopelessness to become adventure games about fighting monsters and cultists, Death May Die takes that trope and runs with it in a cinematic even more high adventure style. It’s off the wall nuts with an underlying sense of humor as your characters get more powerful as they go insane in this dungeon crawl-esque game. The mix and match between the two Great Old Ones and the six scenarios provide tons of content in the core box.
1. Marvel Champions
It would’ve been easy to fill this Top 10 with several Marvel games such as Marvel United (lightweight co-op), Crisis Protocol (miniature hobby gamers), and some sets of Unmatched (Skirmish or dueling game depending on which side of the argument you wish to be on). There’s also a quiz for which Marvel game is right for you. Marvel Champions is the best of these games, in this gamer’s opinion, in both its ever-growing expansiveness as well as its ability to let the players decide what content they want to get as it’s all stand-alone once you have the core box. The focus of swapping between heroes and their alter-egos embraces what makes Marvel characters work. It’s the people behind the mask that we fall in love with as much as the hero themselves. This game also delivers a theme across every card between the art, the thematic abilities, and the quotes on many of the cards.