The Federalist recently shared three films that supposedly make the wait for “Stranger Things” Season Two bearable. But the three films on that list are movies everyone has already seen, and they provide a whopping six hours of entertainment. This all-too-brief list isn’t the one we deserve, and it isn’t the list anyone needed.
So here is a real list that will help all you nerdy 80s nostalgia hounds survive till “Stephenkingberg” Things Season Two arrives. These amazing board games will make the time fly, and will serve as a source of entertainment and comfort after the new season does not live up to your insanely high expectations.
Each entry on this list was chosen to hit an aspect of “Stranger Things.” Defenders of the Realm covers multiple aspects: it’s covers both the heavy 80s nostalgia factor and the Dungeon and Dragons elements of “Stranger Things.” If you really want straight Dungeons and Dragons, then you probably already have a copy of one manual or attend a regular dungeon session; if not, you could always acquire one of the D&D coop adventure board games, like The Temple of Elemental Evil.
But the truth is, while those games are very fun, Defenders of the Realm is just a better game overall. You work together as a team of wizards, paladins, dwarfs, and clerics to defeat the four monstrous warlords trying to conquer Monarch City. The game supports one to four players and average play length is about two and a half to three hours. That may seem daunting, but this game is very hard to beat, so in all likelihood you won’t last two hours. Fully cooperative board games like this are won or lost as a group. You either all win or all lose. Most of the time, you will lose. But you’ll have a lot of epic fun going down in flames against warlords like Varkalak or Balazarg.
This game is out of print and can be quite pricey, but last year a re-themed version was released (which is also quite pricey), introducing new and exciting elements. The new theme is dystopic future, similar to Mad Max, and it’s called Defenders of the Last Stand. Obviously that version has virtually no connection to “Stranger Things,” but if you can’t get your hands on Defenders of the Realm, then at least Defenders of the Last Stand is a second, if less desirable, possibility. You could also get a copy of Pandemic and replace the virus cubes with little monsters… oh wait, that’s in the next entry on this list.
This is cheating a bit, but the point of this entry is essentially gateway Lovecraft games. If you are a non-geek/nerd, this entry is mostly for you.
A gateway game is a game that facilitates entry into the board gaming hobby. Monopoly would probably be the classic example, except that the board game community generally despises it. Catan or Ticket to Ride are usually put forward as the best examples of the modern gateway game. They are typically low-level in complexity, have very light theming, and balance German vs. American mechanics. All three of these games fit that description, except that Elder Sign is a purely American design. It is essentially a coop Dice game where you and your companions are running around a museum trying to prevent a Cthulhu Mythos monster from entering our world. “Stranger Things” is clearly influenced by the Cthulhu Mythos, and the excellent trailer for the new season indicates that more cosmic horror is on its way.
This Mythos is a horror/sci-fi setting created by HP Lovecraft in the early 20th century, and has been added to by numerous authors over the decades since. It deals with relentless evil monstrosities from other dimensions and planets. The only real difference between CM and ST is optimism: CM is nihilistic par excellence. Thankfully, none of these games takes part in that nihilism. Their theming is relatively light. Tides of Madness is a re-theme of the excellent two-player card drafting game Tides of Time, and Reign of Cthulhu is obviously a re-theme of the seminal Pandemic. I’m not suggesting you need all three, these are just fun accessible Cthulhu games.
Also, Elder Sign has an excellent iOS and android app version that is far cheaper and more accessible than the physical version. And if you aren’t sure about Pandemic in general, there’s also an excellent iOS and android app version you may want to try.
This is a very unique game. It is austere and relatively simple, but creates a highly thematic gaming experience. There are two groups: the aliens and the humans. The aliens are sort of a cross between the “Alien” franchise and “The Thing,” both of which were influential on “Stranger Things.”
The poster for “The Thing” is actually featured in show’s first season, and both IPs are deeply Lovecraftian. Nihilism and all. But in this game, you are essentially just marking your hidden position on a private game card. The humans are trying to escape, and the aliens are trying to kill them. It’s a bit like the classic Spiel des Jahres-winning Scotland Yard, but no one knows where anyone is positioned for sure. So the aliens may end up killing each other!
But it’s hard to get your hands on an official copy. The easiest and cheapest way is print and play. PnP is the DIY of the board game hobby. Thankfully, this game is simple enough in terms of components, and the company that makes it is smart enough to have an official PnP medium. You can find that here.
This is a strange little game that is best played solitaire. It supports two players cooperatively and has loads of expansions included from the get go. The base game is a straightforward, addictive solitaire card game. Adding the expansions adds much more replay ability and depth to your decisions.
The main reason I included this game is that it basically represents the Dark universe in “Stranger Things”: the player is trying to escape a nightmare labyrinth by unlocking door cards. You do this by laying down sequences of colored cards or by having a key card in your hand at just the right moment. But if a nightmare card is drawn, the consequences can be dire. Often, your entire hand must be discarded. Shadi Torbey is an amazing game designer who has created an entire line of these one to two player games called The Oniverse. All the games are excellent, but this was the first and best one.
The parallels here to “Stranger Things” characters getting stuck on the other side should be obvious. But most importantly, it’s a very fun game that will give you hours of entertainment for years to come. And if the physical copy seems too expensive, there is an excellent iOS version that I highly recommend.
This is the second Richard Launius design on this list, but it’s markedly different from Defenders of the Realm. It’s far shorter and simpler. It also has more of a sense of humor. And of all the games on this list, it has the most tenuous link to “Stranger Things.”
This is a zombie game. “Stranger Things” is about monsters and horror, but not zombies. That’s a very specific subgenre of horror, one that isn’t really even associated with the 80s in any nostalgic sense. But I chose to include it because I think this game is underrated, and deserves a wider audience. It also feels like “Stranger Things” in a very unspecific way. It is just pure fun. It makes you feel like a kid again.
In the game, you must choose whether to run away from or fight a horde of zombies that are chasing you, based on what you roll in a turn. There’s an unbelievably good time to be had with some plastic zombies, a board, and some large beautiful thematic dice. The base game supports one to four players competitive. It can be expanded for cooperative play.
The board gaming hobby is in resurgence. It has been for the last 20 years. This is just a tiny dip in the vast ocean of amazing games available to us today. If “Stranger Things” is anything, it is a clarion call back to real fun—not that video games are evil or anything, but great board games represent and do something special that nothing else can. They activate the imagination, and create amazing experiences with family and friends.
One of the best days of my entire life was spent smoking cigars while playing Defenders of the Realm with four good friends for six hours. We only played two full games, and lost both times. But that’s what “Stranger Things” is about: the light of friendship that pushes back the darkness.