Five New Digital Board Game Adaptations You Need to Play in 2020

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Playing video games with friends online has never been easier. Yet it still doesn’t compare to gathering around a table to throw dice, move miniatures, and build empires of cards.

Though part of the rise of tabletop gaming is a desire for physical gaming, that hasn’t stopped us from enjoying digital versions of our favorite board games. And if anything has created a need for digital board games, it’s the global pandemic of 2020.

The last several years has seen successful adaptations of nearly every major board game on PC, mobile devices, and increasingly the Nintendo Switch. This year alone has seen the release of several high-profile digital board games, which we’ve highlighted below.

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Escape the Room: The Cursed Dollhouse Review

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Publisher: ThinkFun
Age: 13+
Players: 1-4
Game Length: 2-4 hours
MSRP: $42.99

Escape Room board games have been around for years, emulating the unique Escape Room experience of solving riddles and puzzles with friends in a heavily thematic setting.

While other Escape Room board games are filled with envelopes, lock boxes, and pages of cryptic clues, the newest Escape the Room game from ThinkFun, The Cursed Dollhouse, transforms the entire game box into a 3D Dollhouse for an immersive and horror-themed puzzle-solving experience – perfect for a Halloween get-together!

Come Play With Us

Some assembly is required to create the evil, haunted dollhouse, as the two halves of the box form the four rooms of the house, along with an attic on top. Each room contains some tantalizing objects to investigate: a bookshelf in pieces, a foldable shower curtain, a locked chest, and several different kinds of dolls.

After assembly we begin the Escape Room by reading from the manual, which drops us into the supernatural dollhouse like an episode of The Twilight Zone. The writing is richly evocative and doesn’t wear out its welcome – we only read from the manual after completing a room and moving to the next one, as the story grows more desperate.

The goal is to escape the house by solving puzzles in each room one by one, beginning in the living room. Each room holds several puzzles that we’ll need to solve in order to plug in the correct symbols into the code wheel and unlock the next room.

The room-by-room approach helps keep the story focused while providing several puzzles to work through simultaneously. What makes The Cursed Dollhouse special is the tactile joy from physically searching the rooms for clues and objects, not unlike a classic Point and Click adventure video game.

Like an Adventure game, it’s entirely possible to get completely stumped. I’m no Escape Room veteran but I have played a number of puzzle games, and The Cursed Dollhouse doesn’t pull any punches. The Kitchen alone had my wife and me scratching our heads for nearly an hour.

Thankfully ThinkFun includes an intuitive digital hint system on their website, as well as mood music,  and reassembly instructions. By clicking on a room, then an object, you can easily pull up only the specific hint you need, beginning with a slight nudge all the way to the full solution. It’s a smart approach that gives us the satisfying Ah-Ha moment without spoiling the whole puzzle.

The Rating

The recommended age rating for Escape the Room: The Cursed Dollhouse is 13+. Puzzles can be quite complex, but more importantly the theming is classic Horror (though never R-rated) as you work to escape an evil haunted house.

The Takeaway

After playing The Cursed Dollhouse, I can’t imagine returning to the mundane 2D picture cards of other Escape Room games. The 3D puzzle box expertly captures foreboding tension while focusing on diabolical puzzles, making Escape the Room: The Cursed Dollhouse the best escape room experience you can have without leaving your home.

Find Escape the Room: The Cursed Dollhouse at Amazon.

Marvel Villainous: Infinite Power Review

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Publisher: Ravensburger
Age: 12+
Players: 2-4
Game Length: 40-80 minutes
MSRP: $34.99

After the big success of Disney Villainous and its many expansions, Ravensburger has released a new entry in the Villainous universe: Marvel Villainous.

Marvel Villainous: Infinite Power is much more than a re-theme, however, adding new gameplay elements that reflect the shared universe of the comics and films.

Super Villainous

If you’re familiar with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you can probably guess the five villains included in Marvel Villainous: Thanos, Ultron, Hela, Killmonger, and Taskmaster (who appears in the delayed Black Widow film).

Like Disney Villainous, each Marvel villain has their own game board, token, deck of cards, and their own unique win condition. Hela needs to defeat enemies and acquire souls, Killmonger must plants bombs around Wakanda, while Thanos is after a bunch of colorful stones, you may have heard of them.

Each turn villains move their token to different regions in their domain and perform the listed actions, such as gaining power, playing cards, and drawing a fate card for their opponent.

The shared fate deck is one of the biggest changes from Disney Villainous. Instead of each villain having their own fate deck, everyone’s fate decks are shuffled together, along with a generic fate deck, to create one big fate deck that everyone draws from.

The shared deck is a nice reflection of the shared Marvel universe. Iron Man is just as big a headache for Thanos as Ultron, after all. Fate cards also include new events, which act as additional locations that impose a nasty penalty on one or more villains, until they divert some of their allies to defeat it.

The downside of the shared Fate deck is that players are only drawing one card from the relatively large deck, and only a portion of the deck truly hampers any one villain; whereas in Disney Villainous, every draw of the villains’ fate deck is specifically tailored to set them back in different ways.

The Mad Titan

Marvel Villainous attempts to fix one of the biggest problems with Disney Villainous: needing to find a particular card in your deck to move forward with your objective. To alleviate the desperate card search, it introduces new Specialty tokens and a new Specialty slot on each villain’s game board. These tokens, such as the Infinity Stones or Ultron’s upgrades, exist outside of the villains’ decks, allowing for more flexibility.

In the case of Ultron and Killmonger, the specialty tokens are used to keep track of their progress, as well as granting advantages and disadvantages throughout the game. Thanos, as befitting one of the biggest villains in the Marvel Universe, is in a league of his own when it comes to this new specialty system.

All six of Thanos’ Infinity Stones are specialty tokens. Through certain cards, the stones are placed in an enemy villain’s territory, where Thanos must send over troops, defeat that villain’s allies, then return with the stone. The stones grant powers to enemies and to Thanos once he acquires them, giving him more and more power as he collects them. Thematically it’s a bit strange – you would think Thanos would need to defeat pesky heroes with stones, not other villains.

Having Thanos in a game completely shakes up the normal pace, where direct player interaction was mostly limited to drawing Fate cards on each other. It’s not an entirely welcome change – Thanos can move his troops into your territory and really wreck things up, much to that players’s annoyance. For someone like Taskmaster, whose whole goal is to power up his troops, it can be absolutely devastating.

The Rating

The recommended age for Marvel Villainous is 12+, a slight bump up from the 10+ Disney Villainous. With its added fate locations, specialty tokens, and multi-step win conditions, Marvel Villainous is a bit more advanced than its older sibling.

Despite his popularity, we would recommend not playing Thanos in your first game due to his added complexity and interaction.

The Takeaway

Marvel Villainous: Infinite Power mostly delivers as a solid comic version of Disney Villainous and will undoubtedly be just as welcoming to future expansions with more villains. Marvel fans will love the colorful artwork, striking tokens, and thematic objectives. The few big gameplay changes are enough to make the game feel different, though not necessarily a straight improvement.

Find Marvel Villainous: Infinite Power at Amazon and Target.

back to the future

Back to the Future: Dice Through Time Review

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Publisher: Ravensburger
Age: 10+
Players: 2-4
Game Length: 45-60 minutes
MSRP: $29.99

As far as classic 80s franchises go, none may be as sacred and universally beloved as the Back to the Future trilogy. The adventurous time-traveling series remains mercifully untouched by modern adaptations, but that doesn’t mean we don’t deserve a proper modern board game – or two!

Back to the Future: Dice Through Time (not to be confused with Back to the Future: Back in Time, another cooperative BTTF board game that released this year), continues Ravensburger’s trend of turning popular film franchises into satisfying, family-friendly tabletop experiences.

88 Miles Per Hour

In Dice Through Time, that pesky villain Biff has run amok in the time-stream, causing major events, timelines, and items from all three films to become mixed up. It’s up to the players to travel through four different time periods, fixing events and returning items, to restore the space-time continuum.

Up to four players play as different versions of the Doc and Marty time-traveling crew, with their own color-coordinated DeLorean mover, player mat, and action dice. The game board resembles a calendar with four time periods (1885, 1855, 1985, and 2015), each with five familiar locations, such as Marty’s House and Hill Valley High School.

Players take turns drawing event cards that represent scenes from all three films, such as Doc inventing the flux capacitor in 1955, Marty skateboarding to school in 1985, and the showdown with Mad Dog Tannen in 1885. Events are placed in their appropriate location, with each requiring certain dice actions to complete.

Players then roll their dice to move around the board and complete events. An arrow can be used to move anywhere along a time line, whereas you’ll need to roll a flux capacitor to time-travel to any time period, arriving at the same location. Leave too many lingering events uncompleted and they’ll add to the “OUTATIME” meter, eventually leading to a game over.

Completing events awards a lost item, such as Marty’s Guitar. Items will need to be returned to different locations and time periods. Players will need to return all the lost items from each time period to win.

We Don’t Need Roads

Dice Through time includes multiple difficulty levels by scaling the number of lost items that need to be returned. A standard game includes three items from each time period, whereas things get harder, and significantly longer, when all five are used.

Likewise more players equals more event cards, and the increasing possibility that players will run into each other and advance the game over meter – a fun nod to the danger of running into yourself from Back to the Future 2.

As a cooperative game, players are encouraged to work together to travel around the board and complete as many events as possible. Players can also help each other by rippling dice – storing dice actions in one location so they can be used on other players in the same spot, or in future time periods – another neat element that emphasizes the time-traveling theme.

Unfortunately Dice Through Time lacks any kind of asymmetry for the players. There are no unique player powers; everyone rolls their version of the same four dice. While it does use the source material well, the board game doesn’t feature any actual still shots from the film, instead relying on comic-like illustrations for the 70+ event cards.

Dice Through Time is also one of the easier co-op games I’ve played, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We never lost a single game on standard difficulty, for example. Harder difficulties focus more on making the game longer rather than adding any new complications or depth.

The Rating

Dice Through Time has a recommended age rating of 10+. Reading is minimal (or even optional) as players draw cards, match the location, and roll dice. Light strategy is required to plan a turn that can involve moving, completing actions, turning in items, and storing dice for future turns or other players.

The Takeaway

Back to the Future: Dice Through Time is easy to teach, easy to play, and fairly easy to win. The game doesn’t try to re-create any of the original movies. Instead it crafts a competent co-op experience from the time-traveling theme and iconic locations, creating a cooperative tabletop experience worthy of the classic movies.

Find Back to the Future: Dice Through Time exclusively at Target.

jungle cruise board game

Disney Jungle Cruise Adventure Game Review

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Publisher: Ravensburger
Age: 8+
Players: 2-4
Game Length: 45-60 minutes
MSRP: $29.99

While the upcoming Jungle Cruise feature film has been delayed due to the pandemic, Ravensburger has produced a kid-friendly board game inspired by the endearingly cheesy Disneyland attraction. The Disney Jungle Cruise Adventure Game features easy gameplay and low interactivity, making it a great family game.

Welcome to the Jungle

In the Jungle Cruise Adventure Game, each player captains their own riverboat down a perilous river filled with hazards. Players start with a unique skipper specialty and 12 passenger tokens they can place on their personal, oversize boat.

Throughout the game, players roll a dice to move along the river path on the game board, drawing cards as they encounter various jungle events. These hazards and scenes are lifted directly from the park attraction, with monkeys ransacking a campsite, a rhino chasing an explorer up a pole, and the passengers witnessing the mystical backside of a waterfall.

You don’t need to have been on the actual ride to appreciate the context, but the extremely corny jokes on the cards capture the tone of the original ride perfectly.

jungle cruise board game cards

Each navigation card has a danger rating from one to three, and a section of the boat that’s being targeted. Players roll dice to see how many (if any) of their passengers or cargo they lose, while getting a chance to pick up additional passengers or cargo along the way. At the end of the game, players score points based on cargo sets and passenger families that remain on the boat.

Backside of Water

Gameplay mostly boils down to rolling dice to move your boat, and rolling dice to try and avoid losing passengers. Thankfully there is some light strategy in how each player organizes their boat, and which card hazards they choose to encounter.

At the beginning of each turn, players can freely organize the passengers and cargo on their boat. The middle area is generally safe from danger, and a great place to hold full cargo sets or more valuable passengers. I found it worked well to leave one end of the boat completely empty, thereby avoiding any hazards that targeted that side of the boat.

There’s also an interesting scoring system when it comes to the passengers. Each passenger belongs to four different families, though some passengers can belong to two families due to marriage. Each game, one of the families is secretly chosen as the winners of the cruise line, and worth more points at the end.

Throughout the river journey, players can choose to take longer paths to gradually reveal which families aren’t the bonus winners, making it fun to pay attention to the players’ who learn that information, and which passengers they value.

The only form of real player interaction comes from racing down the river. The first player to reach the end of the river collects bonus points, and so on until all players reach the end (or the bonus point tokens are depleted). Otherwise players don’t directly interact with each other at all during the game, though you can end up with another boat’s passengers by finding any who were previously lost in the jungle.

jungle cruise board game pic

The Rating

Despite the theme of a dangerous jungle cruise, this is a very kid-friendly experience – just like the park ride. Passengers become lost in the jungle, and can be rescued again by anyone. The level of strategy is very light, and gameplay mostly comes down to rolling dice, making it easy for kids.

The Takeaway

Disney Jungle Cruise Adventure Game sits comfortably between a mind-numbing younger kids’ game and a full-on beginner strategy game. The components are extremely high quality, with colorful boat markers, fun character art for the passengers, and punny jokes on all the cards. There are far more engaging games for adults, but for families with kids ready to graduate to something a bit meatier, it’s time for a riverboat adventure.

Find Disney Jungle Cruise Adventure Game at Amazon and other retailers.