The hobby board game world has seen even more of a push into movie- and TV-licensed games recently, with games from properties like Ghostbusters, Conan, Alien, The Godfather, Back To The Future and others getting lots of buzz, as well as new games in already-heavily-licensed universes such as Star Wars, Star Trek and Game Of Thrones. The latest along these lines is the forthcoming Everything Epic game based on John Carpenter’s 1986 film Big Trouble In Little China, and it’s getting plenty of attention thanks to a trailer they just released:
There are a few interesting choices here. For one, this kind of a trailer is pretty rare in the board game world. Most gaming videos tend to be longer game run-throughs or reviews, while this seems much closer to the game’s cinematic roots. It’s about the length of a normal movie trailer, and it includes plenty of tributes to and touches from the movie, including the art and many of the lines. And that could be a very good choice for a project like this with potential crossover appeal; it’s easy to watch even if you’re not already a hardcore board gamer, it’s short enough to get attention from film/geek culture sites (many of which have already covered this) as well as gaming sites, and it provides just enough tidbits of gameplay for the hardcore crowd without dwelling on them too much for those who aren’t familiar with that scene.
It’s also worth mentioning Everything Epic didn’t go to crowdfunding platform Kickstarter on this one, but instead decided to run a pre-order just through their website. Kickstarter has been huge in the development of a lot of boardgames in recent years, and something like this (with both extensive miniatures and an already built-in fanbase thanks to the movie IP) would seem to be a natural fit with what’s found success there. But avoiding Kickstarter means that they don’t have to worry about stretch goals or about changing the game thanks to backer concerns; straight pre-orders means they can just create what they want and have people choose to buy it or not based on if they like it or not, and the deluxe version they’re creating feels like something that will play well with many enthusiastic Kickstarter backers anyway, even if it isn’t on that platform.
It seems like this may well be a hit for fans of Big Trouble In Little China, at least those with some interest in playing a board game based on the movie. This feels very thematic, and very well-considered on that front, especially with the choice of two specific locations (Chinatown and then Lo-Pan’s Lair) on either sides of the board. That should give this game a narrative arc, a climatic ending, and a boss-battle feel, and it should be something that works for fans of the movie.
Another smart choice in reaching out to an audience beyond the regular boardgaming crowd is the decision to make this a co-operative game, and one where the role of opposition from the game is handled by cards rather than one player. Yes, there’s still the barrier of having at least one person have to read the rules (or watch full gameplay videos) to make it run properly, but this is a game where someone could easily buy it, learn it, and teach friends who don’t normally play board games but are fans of the movie. And having it be cooperative removes some potential pitfalls there; if you’re all working together, it’s not like novices are going to be at an unfair disadvantage or get crushed.
It sounds like there are some cool gameplay elements here, too. For one thing, the website says “Players will have meaningful story choices to make within the quests which result in taking different paths each time a quest is played, discovering a new part of the story, and adding to the replayability.” That makes it seem like they’re working in some storytelling game elements, which have been a big success for everything from Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective to Tales of the Arabian Nights to Above and Below to Near and Far to Pandemic Legacy and SeaFall. And if those are used well, that could definitely promote some replayability.
While this might well be a hit for fans of Big Trouble In Little China, though (as long as they can deal with the complexity; this doesn’t sound like a particularly easy game to get into), there are a few potential warning flags here, especially for experienced board gamers who want to be discerning with their purchases. For one thing, Everything Epic isn’t the most widely-known publisher, and they don’t have a ton of credits to their name so far. The main thing they’ve done is 2015’s Secrets of the Lost Tomb, and while that’s been pretty well-received (a 7.5 average rating on BoardGameGeek), it isn’t all that widespread throughout the hobby. Those who only buy from publishers with a strong track record may not be impressed there. And with thousands of new games coming out every year, it can be hard to stand out in the crowd.
For another, there aren’t a ton of gameplay details out so far, and there isn’t a ton of information on how this will differ from the many other popular dungeon-crawlers out there, including Descent, Star Wars: Imperial Assault, and Gloomhaven. There are plenty of dungeon-crawler fans, but there are also plenty of existing titles that have large fanbases, so a key question is if this will appeal to more than just die-hard fans of the movie. The suggestions of narrative moments and changing story arcs may help there, but a lot depends on the execution.
And it should also be noted that not everything with a license winds up being good, or well-received. Yes, plenty of board games based on prominent IPs have done well both critically and commercially, but there have also been lots of flops. And it’s worth mentioning that there’s already been a game based on Big Trouble In Little China, Upper Deck Entertainment’s 2016 Legendary: Big Trouble In Little China. Yes, that was rather different; it’s a deck-building card game at a significantly lower price point, and one based on the Cerberus engine Upper Deck’s already used for everything from Alien to Lord of the Rings to Firefly, so this is much different in terms of both gameplay (deck-building card games and dungeon crawlers are a long ways apart) and uniqueness. But if fans of the movie already did buy that one, will they still be interested in this?
In the end, though, it looks like Everything Epic is handling this pretty well so far. They’ve definitely managed to get a solid amount of publicity for this title, and they’re promoting it well. It looks like they’ve built up an interesting game as well, something that potentially could work for both non-gamers who like the movie and experienced gamers who either enjoy the film or are otherwise intrigued by what’s going on here. And if this works out, it might be just the start for them; they recently signed a licensing deal to create Rambo: The Board Game, which they’re planning to bring to Kickstarter in 2018. If their take on Big Trouble In Little China goes over well, their Rambo game may have a massive audience ready and waiting for it.