My love of RPGs began after happening upon an old copy of Milton Bradley’s Hero Quest. Granted, the game contains some TTRPG elements, but it’s a boardgame. There’s spells, dungeons, and goblins and you either take the role of one of four heroic archetypes or the DM-like Zargon. But there’s no roleplaying, prescribed actions on your turn, and it’s pretty much all combat. Even still, it got me more interested in the hobby and had me playing D&D within a few months.
However, let’s look backwards rather than forward. I loved board games for as long as I can remember. In fact, I was playing Agricola, Settlers of Catan, and Puerto Rico long before D&D. This was back when the only place to buy games like this was a weird store in the mall that primarily sold cigars and swords. I don’t know if that’s a universal experience for nerds in the mid-2000s, but I thought it was worth mentioning regardless.
Anyway, I’m pretty far in the weeds. Back to board games.
What if it wasn’t a high fantasy game with swords and treasure that spurred me into TTRPGs? Let’s imagine a world where there was an RPG for every classic board game. I’ve decided to come up with five classic games and what their RPGs would be like.
Some board games don’t deserve their lofty status in the canon of great games. For example, Monopoly sucks. It takes forever, is crazy swingy, and turns everyone into a money hungry asshole. The Game of Life similarly sucks. The choices are all basically cosmetic, and those stupid little life tiles decide if you win or lose. I don’t want to be a professional athlete who makes $20,000 a year and lives in an uninsured trailer park.
But Clue on the other hand, is actually a great game. The core mechanic basically boils down to diligently removing options until you can figure out the likely combo or murderer, location, and weapon. It’s one of the few games on nearly everyone’s shelves I’d be down to play almost always.
But what would the RPG verison look like?
This would require quite a bit of prep from the game master, but ho boy, would this be fun. The players would come up with their characters and work with the GM on why they’re showing up to the fancy dinner at the Clue mansion. During this extended period, they’d also decide who committed the murder and why. This will allow the players and DM to figure out what each character was doing at the time of the murder. Who actually committed the heinous act would be a closely held secret. Players would interrogate each other and search around the mansion for evidence. Maybe you’d want a Call of Cthulhu style investigative skill system, but I’m not even sure you’d need any dice for this game. There certainly shouldn’t be any combat. Just the players and their reasoning trying to solve a murder with the GM detailing the world around them.
I don’t know the last time you played Candyland, but have you ever taken a second to look at this god-damned board? You’ve got a motherload of weird places and perverts to interact with! Right out of the gate you’ve got a path flanked by the kindly Gingerbread Tree and dastardly Lord Licorice in the Licorice Forest. I mean c’mon, the Chocolate Swamp is a dream location for an RPG session. You’ve gotta figure out what the hell Gloppy is, if it’s friend or foe, and if he can help you get an audience with the equally enigmatic King Candy.
Granted, this would be a game that leaned way more on setting than mechanics, but you could definitely use those color cards in place of dice for this system. Maybe you have a rock, paper, scissors style conflict resolution. You need to peppermint pole-vault over a frosting wall? You gotta throw down at least two blue squares to pull that off my friend.
According to Wikipedia, the player tokens are now a marshmallow, an ice cream cone, a gumdrop, and a gingerbread girl. Those would be your classes. The marshmallow would naturally be your tank/defensive class absorbing damage. The ice cream cone can dish out punishment, but melts under pressure. The gumdrop… casts spells? Yes, the gumdrop casts spells. Gingerbread girl would be the social encounter/skillful class. Don’t ask a lot of questions.
You would, of course, play as the mice. Every session the GM or “Inventor” role would rotate. The inventor comes up bat-shit series of traps to catch the mice. If I’m being honest, I’m kinda struggling to think of how you’d make this game fair. Maybe that’s the fun. The players see a seemingly easy to obtain piece of cheese and the challenge for the inventor to come up with increasingly byzantine methods to ensnare and ultimately kill the players.
I’d make the classes Smart Mouse, Quick Mouse, and Lucky Mouse. I don’t know what they’d do, but that’s how it’d be. In the expansion, you’d be able to play as a very confused hamster.
The engine of the game would be that your character actions would all require food to perform. While the players can sneak little morsels here and there on sidequests, the real prize is the bait the inventor users to lure the mice to their potential doom. When you think about it, that’s no so far off from how D&D works.
Herd Your Horses
Full disclosure: I’ve never played this gam. I’d actually never even heard of it until my wife brought it up. But I’ve been looking into it, and it’s only a few tweaks away from being an RPG in its own right.
Here’s how the back of the box describes the game:
“You were born in the wild to generations of mustangs. Ranchers captured you once… But they never tamed you. Soon, you broke free to form your own herd. A herd that multiplied and swelled until the sounds of punding hooves thundered through the Green River Valley!”
The main gameplay is pretty much just rolling dice to get from point A to point B. If you land on the same spot as one of your opponents, you steal a horse from their herd and add it to your own. The game includes three different scenarios, but it pretty much boils down to get to the end with the right combination of horses in your herd. Sometimes you need more mares and foals. Others need you to have different colors or breeds etc.
Curiously, the game came with detailed cards describing each horse’s breed traits and personality even though only the type of horse ultimately mattered. We’re basically starting halfway to character sheets. The different breeds could be your race/class and there you go. You can start adventuring around the great plains getting up to horse stuff. You might have to leap over a fence to spring free some mistreated livestock at an industrial farm. Maybe you need to find the last wild buffalo and seek it’s wisdom.
This game probably wouldn’t be for me, but I’d play it at least once.
I don’t have to tell you about Chicken Limbo. I’ve played it, and I don’t know anyone who hasn’t.
However, just for added context, I’ll break down the rules really quickly (which again, I’m sure you already know). The chicken clucks a song. You must get under the chicken using one of the six canonical styles such as: forwards, backwards, crab, and the rest. If you touch the chicken you die. The chicken is lowered every round making this more difficult.
I think you’re probably starting to see how this is the perfect candidate to become a tabletop roleplaying game.
The players are plunged into a dark and mysterious world where the chicken reigns supreme. Although it is worshipped, it is also feared. Those who feel the presence of the chicken in their life to closely, are inevitably consumed by unholy chicken-fire. Despite this, the society of chicken-world demands that everyone seek increasing closeness with the demiurgic fowl regardless.
The players live on the fringes of civilizations as members of a small network of those that seek so live their lives in peace away from the chicken. Every session they must go to ever greater lengths to avoid their impending doom. Every party begins the game knowing their characters will eventually succumb to the will of the chicken. The campaign is simply the story of how long they can seek their own destiny before forces outside their control eventually destroy them.