Ahh, board games. These playtime diversions gave families hours of fun back in a simpler age before new-fangled technological doodads came along and shifted the focus from a shared gaming experience to an individualized one. While current offerings like Apples to Apples and The Settlers of Catan are excellent and have dedicated fanbases of their own, the argument can easily be made that the golden age of board games as a communal pastime has passed. Bummer.
Most board game these days are just variations of pre-existing games with the image of a popular character slapped onto them. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a nice game of Spider-Man Monopoly or Don’t Wake Hulk as much as the next guy. But sometimes these tie-in products just seem crass and wrongheaded. (Spider-Man Yahtzee, anyone?) It wasn’t always this way. Which brings us to today’s Daily List. Here we have ten terrific – and original – games based on popular superheroes. Some of these are weird/wonderful, while others are just a fitting tribute to their source material. However, they all possess a certain charm that will give you the warm fuzzies…or send you racing to eBay.
A quick word before we begin: Today’s list would not be possible without the assistance of the Board Game Geek and Ken Eriksen’s Comic Book Collection websites. These are the definitive online resource for collectible games, and most of the pictures herein come from their in-depth archives. That said, let’s roll to see who goes first and get this list started already…
10) The Incredible Hulk: Smash
Despite a fine performance from Edward Norton, The Incredible Hulk remains the red-headed stepchild of the Marvel cinematic universe. (Hey, at least it didn’t have Hulk Dogs). Perhaps the best thing to come from the film’s release is this 3-D board game. To be clear, there have been several games based on the character over the years — including one from Ideal that featured a motorized Hulk playing piece which appeared to be stricken with scoliosis.
This one is the best, though, because it gave players the opportunity to smash the crap out of Play-Doh cars and planes with a ridiculous Hulk fist! Even though the core concept was borrowed from previous board games based on Godzilla and, um, Hawaiian Punch, there is something oddly cathartic about playing The Incredible Hulk: Smash. So much so that you have to wonder if Norton ever played this after he learned of the public’s fondness for Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk.
9) Marvel Super Heroes Strategy Game
Milton Bradley unleashed this chess-like gem upon the public in 1980. Terrific gameplay mechanics aside, the real draw of this game is the playing pieces, which recreate various heroes and villains of the Marvel Universe in three inches of sturdy cardboard. If you got tired of the actual game, you could just use these to start your own Secret War. A win/win situation to be sure.
8) Captain America Game (Featuring Falcon and the Avengers)
Another Milton Bradley classic, the Captain America game features Ol’ Winghead joined by the Falcon as they try to reach an orbital satellite before all hell breaks loose. As you can see in the photo above, to achieve their goal they must make their way across a fever dream of a board game that is the perfect representation of what the Marvel Universe would be like if it were spearheaded by Timothy Leary instead of Stan Lee. And is it just me, or is Modok absolutely adorable here?
7) Superman/Superboy Board Game
The Woodward and Bernstein of the board game world, this release blew the lid off the fact that toy companies could be giving us twice the fun if only they would shell out for double-sided printing. Sigh. On the first side, Superboy deals with such obstacles as monsters and volcanoes. The flip side has Superman punching, flying and posing his way towards rescuing the world from oblivion. Surprisingly, the two-sided board game trend didn’t take off after this hit stores. I guess Superman is no match for all-powerful board game lobby groups.
6) The Amazing Spider-Man Game
In 1967, Milton Bradley released the first of what would be many Spider-Man board games that the company would offer. It came complete with artwork from Steve Ditko and a game board that featured images of Namor, Thor, Iron Man and The Hulk. (Because synergy). Pleasing the hardcore Spidey fans was one thing, but where this game really succeeded was in enjoyable gameplay which had participants racing around the board to capture Webhead’s various foes. The concept was so successful that Milton Bradley released a revised version of this game a decade later as The Amazing Spider-Man Game with the Fantastic Four. After all, toy companies never met an idea that they couldn’t recycle repeatedly.
5) Mighty Comics Super Heroes Game
With the recent announcement that Mark Waid and Dean Haspiel would be relaunching The Fox, Archie Comics’ superheroes are once again in the news. Originated in the 1940s and revived several times across the decades, the “Mighty Crusaders” characters like The Shield, Mr. Justice and The Web have never been able to embed themselves in the consciousness of the general public like their peers at Marvel and DC. So it’s especially interesting that they once merited a board game of their own. Unlike with most of the other entries on this list, I can’t personally vouch for whether or not the gameplay on this one is entertaining. But as a piece of comic history detritus? It’s priceless.
4) Justice League of America: Aquaman Game
I think the cover to this game – in which Aquaman awesomely beats the shit out of an innocent octopus – should put an end to any debates about the character’s merit once and for all.
3) Batman Swoops Down
When Robin goes and gets himself captured again, Batman has to step in and rescue the Boy Wonder, in this 1960s release from obscure outfit Spear’s Games. The Dark Knight is then “flipped” through the air towards one of several cells featuring an opponent. Once one of the four players achieves this goal in three consecutive villain areas, Robin is free and the game is over. With its unique action feature that allows users to send Batman soaring through the air, this is easily the most inventive Batman-centric game available. Because so many pieces were featured in Batman Swoops Down, you’ll have an easier time making sense of DC’s movie plans than finding a complete version of the game. Unless your name happens to be Bruce Wayne, you probably can’t afford this on the secondary market.
2) Superman Electronic Question and Answer Quizz Machine
My apologies for featuring yet another game showcasing the Man of Steel, but this list could have easily been made up entirely of Superman items. Which brings us nicely to this early electronic trivia game, an oddity from 1966 that appears to be equal parts lie detector and DC Comics quizzo night. No word on if you get an electric shock from the surly-looking Cold Warrior featured on the front cover if you get an answer wrong.
1) Super Powers Skyscraper Caper
I’ve declared my love for three-dimensional board games on Topless Robot several times in the past, even more so when said games come complete with little plastic villains from the DC universe. Playing as Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman or Robin, participants must move across the game board before confronting evildoers like The Joker, Lex Luthor and The Penguin on the roof of a skyscraper. The mission of the game? FOR THE HEROES TO PUSH THE VILLIANS OFF OF THE SKYSCRAPER. Fuck and yes. Better still, you earn “hero medals” for killing the bad guys. I’m not sure if the designers over at Kenner just wanted to traumatize kids by teaching them lessons of mortality in the most seemingly innocuous manner possible, but this is one seriously screwed-up toy. (A more accurate title for the game would be Super Powers Skyscraper Vigilante Murder Fun Time). So, um, anyone have one for sale?