Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

5 board games to bring a little extra life to your Oscars party

Illustration for article titled 5 board games to bring a little extra life to your Oscars party
Photo: GP/Star Max (Getty Images)

Despite being one of the entertainment industry’s biggest events, the Academy Awards are not immune to the occasional bummer or lull. For every bitingly political speech likely to get Trump tweeting on Monday, there are always a few categories that are little more than someone reading out a list of names. While you might be holding your breath to see who the winning actors are, you’re likely just viewing the technical categories as a chance to earn some points on your Oscars ballot. And unlike the Super Bowl, no one’s excited about these commercial breaks.

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If you’re hosting an Oscars viewing party, you can fill the downtime with more than just trips to refill drinks and grab some snacks. These five games provide extra entertainment—with options for guests based on how passionate they are about movies, how experienced they are with board games, and how interested they are in keeping an eye on the actual Oscar ceremony.


Cinelinx

Type Of Game: Trivia tile placement

Complexity Of Game: Low

Time To Play: 30-60 minutes

What kind of Oscar fans would it be perfect for? Hardcore fans who can tell you what film an actor or director really deserves an Oscar for

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Players who are particularly good at Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacon will enjoy Cinelinx, where you compete by forming links between cards representing actors, directors, films, genres and famous quotes or scenes. Players draw an initial hand of cards and take turns trying to connect one of their cards to something already on the table. For instance, Jeff Bridges could be connected to The Big Lebowski, which could in turn be connected to the comedy genre card.

Cards can be placed to connect little film reel icons, either vertically or horizontally, depending on how challenging you want to make things for the other players. Like in any tile-placement game, easy spots like the genre cards fill up quick, while ones that require connecting something in your hand to two different cards can leave you stumped. If you don’t have a play, you draw a card. You can immediately play it if it gives you a valid move, or pass your turn. The first player to empty their hand wins.

The rules say that twice per game, each player can take their turn to discard three cards from their hand and draw three new ones to get rid of cards they know nothing about. With a less film savvy crew, it might be advisable to let players take this action as often as they want, so no one’s stuck unable to win because they don’t know anything about Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. You can also tailor the game a bit to your crowd by adding in expansions that pad the deck with more blockbusters or ’80s films. Cinelinx follows the tradition of many party games by having a “mature” expansion, but this one’s pretty tame, incorporating mostly crude comedies and expletive-laden quotes.

If you think you know a connection, but aren’t sure, you can play it and hope no one challenges you to consult IMDB. If you’re challenged and were wrong, you have to take an extra card while the challenger is penalized if you were right. Playing a director card is meant to be harder than the other categories, rewarding you with a draw from a director’s cut deck with effects that hurt other players by making them skip their turn or draw additional cards. Considering that most of the directors included, like Christopher Nolan and Rian Johnson, are behind huge films, this doesn’t seem particularly necessary, but it is the one way to slow down a player who’s about to win.

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Horrified: Universal Monsters

Type Of Game: Cooperative horror

Complexity Of Game: Moderate

Time To Play: One hour

What kind of Oscar fans would it be perfect for? Movie history buffs, and everyone outraged when the Academy ignores a great horror flick like Us

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The Universal Classic Monsters were the movie industry’s first shared universe, connecting films through now-iconic creatures like Frankenstein’s monster and Dracula. Soak in that movie history with Ravensberger’s Horrified: Universal Monsters, a fully cooperative game where players work together to stop the monsters from attacking their village. The gameplay is light enough that it actually serves as perfect intro for people curious about board gaming, incorporating simplified versions of some mechanics found in classic cooperative games like Arkham Horror, Ghost Stories, and Pandemic in a way that keeps turns moving fast, and has everything wrapped up in less than an hour.

Each game sees you and your friends face off against two of the classic creatures, who have unique threats and must be defeated in their own way. For instance, fighting Dracula requires traveling around the board and gathering up both weapons and items that are anathema to him, like garlic and a stake, and then smashing a series of his coffins before finally driving him back into the night. But Dracula’s seductive ways will draw players to him, putting them in danger of being attacked and taking them away from their objectives.

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Each of the characters has a number of actions they can take each turn, along with a special ability, like the Courier being able to immediately join up with another player—particularly useful when they need to swap items to achieve an objective. Like most cooperative games, turns alternate between the monsters acting and players trying to forward their agendas while dealing with immediate threat. During the monster turns, villagers will periodically show up and must be protected or guided to their specific safe location. If the monsters kill them, a terror track increases. If it ever maxes out, or if the monsters run out of cards in their deck because the players have been taking too long, the players lose.

Once you’ve tried all the combinations of Horrified’s six monsters, it doesn’t seem like the game would have much replay value. But the easy, quick gameplay makes it perfect for taking a few turns during a commercial break, or trying it out while keeping one eye on the red carpet.

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Pass The Popcorn

Illustration for article titled 5 board games to bring a little extra life to your Oscars party
Photo: Mattel
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Type Of Game: Trivia party game

Complexity Of Game: Very low

Time To Play: 30 minutes

What kind of Oscar fans would it be perfect for? Casual watchers most excited about the movies they’ve definitely seen.

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If Cinelinx felt too advanced, Mattel’s Pass The Popcorn will prove more accessible. The fast-paced game has players try to identify a movie based on its cast, characters, story and famous quote or tagline. Between two to eight players start by drawing a pair of tiles representing those categories. One player reads out the film’s genre and year, and then the next player chooses one of their clues they have a matching tile for. So, if you ask for a quote on “1975 Thriller” you and anyone else with a quote tile can yell Jaws when the reader says “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” While some films will be obvious with almost any clue, others are helped much more by their category—and some titles, like 2013’s Warm Bodies, are fairly obscure and might not be gotten at all.

When you guess correctly, you flip the tile you were using over. If you flip all of your tiles, a new round starts with you drawing an extra tile. The first person to flip over four tiles during a single round wins the game. Adding extra tiles, which might be duplicates, to the winner lets other players start catching up. The random distribution that restricts what clues you can guess on also keeps one particularly savvy player from running the table, though it does result in a lot of players smugly waiting for their turn to come around, naming a category they can actually guess on and then shouting out the answer before someone else can name the movie based on the new information. Considering how short rounds are, the game is also perfect for playing in bite-sized pieces during breaks in the action.

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The Dark Crystal

Illustration for article titled 5 board games to bring a little extra life to your Oscars party
Photo: River Horse
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Type Of Game: Asymmetrical adventure

Complexity Of Game: Moderate

Time To Play: One to two hours

What kind of Oscar fans would it be perfect for? The ones who get really invested in the animation and special effects categories 

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Based on Jim Henson’s classic puppet fantasy film, River Horse’s The Dark Crystal game is best for board game fans looking to hang out before the awards show starts. It’s a beautiful game, with detailed figures representing the Gelflings and Skeksis, and a really clever turn tracker that takes the form of Aughra’s Orrery, slowly moving toward the convergence of stars that will seal the world’s fate. However it’s also the most fiddly, best for players who are already comfortable with asymmetrical board games and the basics of d20 games.

Between two to four players face off, with the Gelflings working together to save the world, while the Skeksis try to secure their rule by both defeating the Gelflings—and ensuring that they hold the title of Emperor at the end of the game. That extra mechanical twist, plus the fact that each Gelfling has world events they’re uniquely well-suited to dealing with, means that the game is really best played with its full four players.

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Like Die Hard: The Nakatomi Heist, The Dark Crystal works hard to replicate all the story beats from the film it’s based on. Gelfling players take turns moving around the board and flipping event cards representing incidents in the movie that can be neutral, negative, or positive. Their goal is to eventually reach Aughra, get the missing crystal shard, infiltrate the Crystal Castle, and save the day. Meanwhile the Skeksis use their minions to attack, dispirit, capture, and separate the Gelflings while also periodically sniping at each other in a bid for power. Each character has their own set of attributes represented by rolling four- to 12-sided dice, with special limited cards allowing them to sub their normal dice for the almighty d20. It’s nostalgic fun with replayability gained from being able to swap between the roles, but it also takes focus, and requires looking up errata due to a poorly written rulebook—not necessarily a perfect fit when you’re also trying to keep track of whether Best Cinematography has already been handed out.


Cinephile

Type Of Game: Trivia party game

Complexity Of Game: Very low to low

Time To Play: Varies based on number of players and rules being used, but rounds can take as little as one minute

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What kind of Oscar fans would it be perfect for? Fans who tune in for the red carpet, but wind up soaking in the trivia anyways

Cinephile is actually five games in one, so it’s easy to find a way to fit it into whatever kind of party you’re throwing. The deck comes with a series of 150 cute illustrated cards showing actors in various iconic (and also more obscure performances) like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill: Volume 1 or Harrison Ford in Working Girl. A rulebook then empowers you to do pretty much whatever you want with this basic template of cards.

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Conveniently organized into games based on how much movie knowledge you’ll need to play them well, the rules include ideas for multiple version of Six Degrees, a speed game where players try to figure out the movie or actor on a card based on clues from other players, and elimination games based on knowing an actor’s filmography. It’s both simple and hugely flexible, with timed games for when you just want to get in a round during a short break, and longer ones where players who have been struck out can be “punished” by getting a drink. There are games that can be played head to head or as part of teams to help less-knowledgeable players participate. If you exhaust all the variants in the box, you can also find more versions at cinephilegame.com.

Samantha Nelson is an A.V. Club contributor, freelance food and drinks writer, hardcore gamer and member of the Critical Hit podcast.

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