Creativity is Alive and Well – Board Games with Original Settings

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When you look at movies, TV, and other popular sources of entertainment, you often see favorite IPs. Whether it’s a TV show that draws from a comic, or a movie from the pages of a book, it’s great to see some of your favorite creations being recast in new forms. But it’s also nice to see some originality from time to time. And while board games are no strangers to IPs, they also include some of the most interesting and original settings out there. Here are three of the best.

Dead Men Tell No Tales

OK, so a pirate theme has been done before. But Dead Men Tell No Tales takes it that much further. It’s not just pirates, but a burning pirate ship filled with undead buccaneers. In this cooperative title, the players have just attacked the Skelit’s Revenge and set fire to the ship. But their goal is not to sink it.  Instead, they want to board the flaming vessel and loot it of treasure before it becomes fully engulfed.

In Dead Men, the setting is very prominent and makes the experience come alive. Each player gets a pirate with a special ability and a randomly given weapon. From there, they get a certain number of actions and start running through the ship, encountering undead deckhands and even skeletal crew until the treasure can be found and carried back. Every single room is on fire and the fire level is determined by a die which ticks up as it the room heats. And when rooms get too hot, the explode. Any room can go boom at level six, and others may do so at lower numbers if they happen to store powder kegs.

The original setting is very much a part of what makes this game so fun. You really get the feeling of boarding the skeleton ship and looting it for treasure. And Dead Men does a great job of ramping up the pressure as more and more rooms get unreasonably hot and the players have to get in and get out before everything explodes around them.

Dungeon Petz

In the world of Dungeon Petz, the players control families of hard-working imps. Imps, of course, were first introduced in Dungeon Lords. But rather than work for a Lord, your imp family has set off on its own to engage in entrepreneurship and establish its own pet shop. You’ll feed your pets, take care of their needs, sell them off to aspiring dungeon lords.  You’ll even clean up their poop.

Dungeon Petz is a sort of hybrid, worker/auction game. There’s a central board where you can pick up food, grab new pets, or “volunteer” to help judge the pet contest each round. But players don’t simply go in order picking spots. Instead, they secretly group their workers and, when revealed, the largest group goes first. In that way, you can try to take a few of the best actions by having large groups, or spread your imps out so that you can take many actions, but perhaps not the best.

But the most awesome aspect of the game is undeniably its enjoyable and original theme. A whole world is set up where imps take care of all kinds of business. You’ll have relatives coming from out of town, imps that need to play with your pets, and even special artifacts that can be acquired to sometimes comical effect.

And the rules reinforce the theme throughout. For instance, if no one buys a pet, it goes to live on a farm. Coincidentally, you also add an extra meat token to the market for players to grab. Totally unrelated. Also, the rules explicitly state that if your pet dies, you not only lose points, but must feel bad. The humorous theme, along with the wonderful artwork, does a great job of adding levity to what is otherwise a fairly deep and involved title.

Shadow Hunters

There are things that go bump in the night. They are savage and frightening.  And they look like any one of us. Even so, there are Hunters who track those same things in an effort to destroy them. And, of course, there are non-combatants just trying to live their lives. In Shadow Hunters, each player is secretly given the role of a Shadow, a Hunger, or a Neutral. Shadows want to kill Hunters and vice versa, while Neutrals each have a unique win condition.

Each turn, a player can visit one of six locations and take an associated action. Then, they can attack any player in the same area by rolling two dice – a d4 and a d6. The difference between the dice is the damage dealt. So anything between 0 and 5 is possible, with lower amounts being more likely. But the players don’t know each other’s secret roles. While cards and abilities can give subtle hints, you mostly need to rely on the actions and statements of the players.

Eventually, players will reveal themselves in exchange for a special power and the game begins to shift from cautious deduction to outright warfare. And the whole thing takes place in an interesting world of heroes and nightmares. While it is certainly influenced by its Japanese origin, the setting is all its own and an interesting take on the hidden-team style of game.

What original board game settings are your favorite?  Tell us about it in the comments.

Image Credits: Minion Games, Czech Games Edition, and Z-Man Games

Featured Image Credit: Minion Games

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