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Hollywood Board Games

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Homsar: Oh no! You shanked my Jengaship!
Strong Sad: I shanked your Jengaship? We're playing Connect Four!

In real life, Board Games are a multi-billion dollar global industry, with thousands of titles released by hundreds of publishers each year. In Hollywood, thanks to Small Reference Pools and the fact that most tabletop gaming is still viewed as a niche pastime in North America, the board gaming industry stopped several decades ago, which is not coincidentally around the time most current Hollywood writers and producers were children. However, as with the Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley games which were brand new decades ago, more recent games will likely begin appearing in popular media once newer writers and producers who played those games as children enter the profession. That said, most of the board game industry's global growth in size occurred starting in the mid-1990s, so it will likely be a while before games like Settlers of Catan or Ticket to Ride appear regularly in television or film, let alone as a prominent character interest in fiction.


Many board games in media are featured as a means to demonstrate a character's intellect, state of mind, or general disposition, and in these cases it isn't necessarily important what game is being played. Showing a novel game unfamiliar to the audience would distract from the purpose of the scene, so a game with wide recognition allows for a quick way to demonstrate a character is engaged in some competition of skill and/or mind.

This is one consequence of Small Reference Pools. Compare Fictional Board Game, which is when writers decide to make up an original game instead.

Games most frequently given recognition in popular media include:

  • Battleship, a guessing game originally created for scrap paper "boards" (akin to Tic Tac Toe), but successfully adapted into a commercial form by Milton Bradley. If characters are seen playing this, it usually indicates they've had way too much idle time to kill. Due to the deeply embedded memories of MB's marketing campaigns, nobody ever is depicted destroying a cruiser or carrier, but within 3 turns one player will finally announce "You sank my battleship!" (Particularly suspect, considering a battleship must be hit 4 times before it will sink.) This is more often than not done ironically, or with a lampshade on it, at least recently.
  • Chess, the supreme Western test of intellect. Expect to see two characters staring at the board for long periods, looking like The Thinker statue. The Spock, The Professor, the riddling villain, and The Chessmaster will all play this superbly. Show them a game in progress, and they will confidently announce, "Mate in three/five/seventeen." In practice, even the world's best professional chess players would not be able to consistently do this well. Spock, of course, has the excuse that he's an alien. Sometimes, as in House and Robert Heinlein's Sixth Column, it's just a bluff.
    • Three-Dimensional Chess. Several varieties of this exist, including one based on the complicated boards seen in Star Trek.
    • Frequently seen in movies is a brilliant player who, despite being obviously behind in the game, is able to pull off a masterful combination and win. If he's so good, it makes one wonder how he got behind in the first place.
    • And of course, sometimes a character plays Chess with Death.
  • Go, the supreme Eastern test of intellect. Several orders of magnitude more complex than chess (which is not quite the same as "more complicated than chess"). Knowing how to play well typically signals a character has likewise intellectually surpassed "mere chess". The aura of inscrutable Asian wisdom doesn't hurt either, though in reality playing either game at world championship level is equally difficult. And then, in the other direction, there's...
  • Checkers (or draughts), the archetypical game of casual minds; e.g., young children and leisurely seniors. While definitely a simpler game than chess, checkers may be treated as if it were barely above the level of tic tac toe (noughts and crosses). Extra bathos points for a character using a chess set and board to play checkers. One player can be demonstrated to be far more perceptive or intelligent than the other, possibly even above this game, through them noticing and exploiting a move that allows a triple-jump that ends in the declaration, "King me." Alternately, if it's for humor, they may use their king and just jump EVERYTHING!
    • In anime or eastern settings, Mahjong may fulfill the same role as the “less mentally taxing game for leisurely seniors" despite the fact that the game is utterly fiendish. Dominos may also fulfill this role, and if a non Latino creator depicts a Latino area, there will of course be people sitting outside cafés playing Dominos, despite the fact that doing so is more of a Cuban than a universally Latino thing.
      • In American works, Mahjong is often depicted as being the domain of middle-aged and elderly Jewish women.
  • Shōgi, finally, lies somewhere in between: a Japanese variant of chess, it is typically used in anime as an excuse for old men to sit on porches of rice-paper houses, above the stone lanterns and The Thing That Goes "Doink", and discuss in slow grunts the vagaries of life.
  • Monopoly, a game for the whole family (so long as the whole family understands real estate, mortgages, land development, and math at at least the fifth grade level). Expect lots of squabbling, convenient luck and complicated trades, often extending outside the game. Also, except someone to flip the table and say Screw This, I'm Outta Here! if the game goes on long enough.
  • Scrabble, a game for people with big vocabularies. The Magic Poker Equation applies here. The winner always has just the right letters for a long, high-scoring, but recognisable word, and there's somewhere on the board that it'll fit. They rarely resort to kind of obscure words common in professional Scrabble: aa, cwm, etui. (Although one can occasionally expect Calvin and Hobbes-esque arguments over the legitimacy of such words as "zarf", "kwyjibo," "jozxyqk" or "zqfmgb.")
  • Trivial Pursuit, a combination of luck and knowledge. Entire books have detailed not only strategies for both asking and answering questions, but also the game's inaccuracies and ambiguities.
  • Pictionary, where teams try to guess what the person has drawn. Scenes featuring this will usually have two teams: a) the psychic team, where they're able to guess what their partner is drawing right off the bat, and b) the terrible team, where the encyclopedia-quality drawings of a team member will draw nothing but blank stares.
  • Dungeons & Dragons, While technically a roleplaying game, it is always portrayed using maps and minis. Shorthand for NERRRRRRRRRRDS!!!

Note: In Hollywood Board Games, it is important to let the Wookiee win.


  • Hikaru no Go:
    • The series is based on Hikaru Shindo, an (initially) eleven-year-old Japanese schoolboy who becomes obsessed with learning and playing Go after awakening the ghost of a Heian-era Go master named Fujiwara no Sai.
    • Tetsuo Kaga prefers to play Shogi, but is pretty good at playing Go, too.