If you’re a fan of tabletop games, you can’t help but pay attention to what it is your favorite fictional characters are sitting down to play in their TV shows or movies. Sometimes we get giddy when we see them playing a favorite game of ours; one that we have on our own game shelves at home. But other times we see them playing a game that only exists in their world, and our curiosity and envy is aroused!
Here are 7 games that I’m labeling as formerly fictional – games that only existed in fictional settings but have been brought to life in the real world by fans or developers. All of them can be played today!
7 Tabletop Games That Transitioned from Fiction to Reality
Tak – The Kingkiller Chronicles
Tak comes to us by way of the excellent Kingkiller Chronicles series by Patrick Rothfuss. It was introduced in the pages of the second novel in the series, The Wise Man’s Fear, though no rules for play were included in the text.
Rothfuss collaborated with James Earnest of Cheapass Games to bring the game to life. Tak is a two player game whose object is to create a road that connects two opposite sides of the board with pieces of your color. There are relatively simple rules for how to play the pieces, how the pieces interact, and how to go about moving pieces to achieve victory.
Tak also has a really neat accessories market that offers various choices for board design and size as well as component material. Check that out here!
You can snag a copy of Tak from Amazon here.
Jumanji – Jumanji
Jumanji is not a direct adaptation from that which we see in the movie, but that is kind of a good thing, right? I mean, I don’t want monkeys and rhinos and gators and monsoons and whatnot in my home!
Players take turns rolling a d8 to determine their movement. There are four types of spaces on the board:
- Blank Spaces that require you to draw a Jungle Card which your opponents must attempt to resolve by rescuing you, advancing them a space.
- Wait for 5 or 8 Spaces that has your neighbor rolling the d8 – and every result that isn’t a 5 or 8 moves you backwards!
- Jungle Spaces that require all players to resolve a Jungle Card. Failure results in more Jungle Card attempts until a success is made.
- Rhino Spaces that allow a player to move a rhino token and block a player’s progress on the board until they roll an even number.
Failed Jungle Cards fill up what is called the Doomsday Track. A full track means that all players lose. Otherwise, the first player to reach the center of the board and yell “Jumaji!” wins.
Capture a copy here.
Sabacc – Star Wars
While you’re unlikely to win yourself a Millennium Falcon off Lando, you can still give the high-stakes Sabacc card game a try!
Sabacc is a kind of mix between Poker and Blackjack, challenging players to have cards in their hand totaling 23 or -23 for a Pure Sabacc hand or get as close to either number as possible without busting. You can also win with what’s called an Idiot’s Array: A 2 and a 3 of any suit, plus the Idiot face card. That’s the hand that won Lando the Falcon from Garazeb Orrelios!
Unfortunately, there’s been some litigation surrounding Sabacc lately. A company named Ren Ventures developed a game using that name ahead of Disney/Lucasfilm just before The Force Awakens hit theaters. A judge ruled in late 2018 that the game was a copyright infringement, but we still haven’t seen an official release from the rightful copyright owners. For now, you can snag a copy of Star Wars Han Solo Card Game, whose rules are very different from what is showcased in the movies.
Grab the currently available game here.
Tri-Dimensional Chess – Star Trek
This variant on the classic game of Chess has been in the TV-viewers eyes since the very first season of Star Trek. It borrows a ton from the 2d version, but has movable board sections and allows for pieces to traverse between the levels following their normal move rules.
A handful of rules were included in the Star Trek Star Fleet Technical Manual by Franz Joseph before being more fully developed by Andrew Bartmess in a booklet entitled The Federation Standard Tri-D Chess Rules. Barring your ownership of either of those titles, you can find rulesets here and here – each of which seems to offer some differences with regards to piece movements. If it seems confusing, try catching a video tutorial on Youtube. The creators tend to link to their preferred ruleset in the description.
Most folks seem to be making their own Tri-D chess sets, but there was at least one officially licensed and released set made commercially available in honor of the show’s 50th anniversary in collaboration with The Franklin Mint. The set featured sterling silver and 24k gold and as a result is stunningly beautiful, but extremely pricey.
Pyramid / Triad – Battlestar Galactica
Depending on whether you’re watching the original Battlestar Galactica series or the more recent iteration, the name of this game will vary. Confusingly, the names of the card game and the basketball style sport got swapped in the newest series!
But we’re not here to talk about sportsball stuff! The tabletop game featured in the shows plays similarly to Poker. You get a hand of six cards, can discard up to four in the hopes of drawing a better hand, and then arrange your cards in a pyramid with no fewer than two levels consisting of three cards and no more than three levels of six total cards.
A pyramid of all one color (read: suit) is a Perfect Pyramid, which is higher than non-perfect pyramids. Ties are broken using a pretty impressively long set of rules revolving around suits, numbers, and sometimes even requiring tied players to play a second hand by themselves to determine the ultimate winner of the hand.
Sets of these cards were sold alongside the original series’ release in the 70s and can be found for sale occasionally on the internet. Or you can download the font used to generate the cards for a free print-and-play version. A solid set of rules can be found here.
Tall Card – Firefly
Another game that bleeds heavily over into Poker territory is Tall Card, which made its debut in the “Shindig” episode of Firefly. Much like Poker, there are bets, draws, suits, and numbers, but the titular Tall Card heavily influences who may win or lose.
After all players have paid into the initial pot and received their hand of six cards, a Tall Card is revealed. Starting with the player to the left of the dealer, each person has a chance to claim the Tall Card. If no one claims it, the dealer must.
The Tall Card will be that of one of the game’s suits (bamboo, plum, and diamond) or dragons (white, green, and red). If a player claims the Tall Card, any Rank (read: hand) they make that utilizes a card of that suit or dragon type will be the highest Rank of its kind for that hand.
For instance: If I have three 3s in my hand, one of them is plum, and I pick up the plum Tall Card, my set of 3s (called Pretty Sisters) would beat your trip 8s.
Similarly, if you pass on the Tall Card but your Rank includes a card of that suit or dragon, your hand is demoted to the lowest value for that Rank. In that case, a hand of three 3s that included a plum (the Tall Card in this example) would lose to a hand of three 1s that didn’t include a plum.
You can read a bit more about the rules and Ranks here, and grab a copy of the game from Amazon.
Pai Sho – Avatar: The Last Airbender
Pai Sho is a game featured only a handful of times in the hit cartoon Avatar: The Last Airbender. Not much is shown besides the board, its pieces, and the spoken goal of creating harmonies with the tiles in order to take them.
Avatar fans then took it upon themselves to produce the board and tiles and concoct varied sets of rules. If you snoop around the internet for those rules, you’ll find they do have some variety among them as there has yet to be an official release for the game. But that doesn’t mean you can’t play it!
The most popular version I’ve come across is one called Skud Pai Sho. You can catch the rules for play here and even participate in online matches!