String theory comes included in the box.
Multiverses, metaverses -- you can hardly look under the couch these days without discovering some new kind of shared universe. But rather than risk unearthing the cinematic conjunction of missing bank notes and long-forgotten fries, let’s look somewhere (hopefully) a lot cleaner. Here are the shared board game universes you didn’t know were hiding on your shelves.
Board games you didn’t know shared a universe
Yes, all board games that we know of already share and exist in our universe. Don’t be pedantic. Here, we mean something different. We’re after games that aren’t necessarily direct sequels yet sneakily include details linking to a larger world that the designers or publishers have concocted. A boardiverse, if you will. No? Fair enough. Perhaps these games can sell you on the concept….
Tasty Minstrel’s Gullsbottom
Games included:Harbour, Harvest, Aristocracy
Publisher Tasty Minstrel Games (TMG) released more than 140 board games over its years of operation. Of them, only three link together in a shared novel universe. And given the size, you wouldn’t be blamed for missing it entirely. It all centers around the bustling fantasy port town of Gullsbottom.
In 2015’s Harbour, players send workers scurrying around the village, stopping to trade wares at butchers, warehouses, fishmongers, and -- improbably -- a sushi store run by a giant octopus. Released in 2017, Harvest spreads the scope a little further. Players till the local fields, employing magical elixirs in an effort to feed the folk of Gullsbottom over winter.
Finally, 2019’s Aristocracy takes the next logical step, asking what would happen if the noble elite of Gullsbottom suddenly just upped and vanished. The answer? Every peasant in sight scrambling to take their place. We’re not sure why these three games in particular share a universe, so we can only assume that someone at Tasty Minstrel was hoping to slowly infiltrate our collections before the Gullsbottom boom kicked off. Sadly, with TMG now out of business, Gullsbottom may have been lost at sea for good. Unless, that is, another publisher decides to offer the license and world a welcoming new berth.
Sirlin Games’s cast of combatants
Games included:Flash Duel, Yomi, Puzzle Strike, Puzzle Strike 2, Pandante, Codex
Having worked on the Street Fighter video games, designer David Sirlin is no stranger to consistent character rosters. His time spent training with Ryu and Chun-Li clearly didn’t go to waste, either. His board game company has taken plenty of lessons on board. The Sirlin Games collection features a core cast of 20 characters. They crop up consistently across the company’s catalog, dueling it out in asymmetrical, character-led brawls.
The best part of Sirlin’s combat-centric universe is getting to see the same characters approached in a new art style each time. Flash Duel and Puzzle Strike feature cutesy chibi standups of the cast, while Yomi’s decks take a more grown up, graphic-novel-inspired approach. Even Pandante’s seemingly unrelated gambling features the winking face of furry fighter Lum on its Golden Panda Coin.
Mechs ’n’ disgruntled farmers
Board games included:Scythe
Hold on, that’s only one board game! You’ve got us there, but technically we never said the universe needed to be shared just board games. Scythe’s success owes no small thanks to the gorgeous artwork of Jakub Różalski, and it wasn’t the only game to be inspired by his work.
Over in the land of our digital brethren, Iron Harvest takes the dieselpunk, alternate-universe dressing and crams it into the real-time strategy format. It’s a blend Scythe fans should absolutely take note of. The shared universe means strategy board gamers will immediately recognize the Rusviet, Polania, and Saxony factions waging war over muddy Europe. The main difference is that Iron Harvest isn’t likely to have you drawing cards that explain how you spent a day petting reindeer instead of planning a conquest. A huge loss, if you ask us.
Red Raven’s Lands of Arzium
Board games included: Above and Below, Near and Far, Now or Never, Islebound, Roam, City of Iron
Publisher Red Raven clearly didn’t want its universe to be an afterthought. More than just a collection of characters or ambiguous mulch of fantasy concepts, Arzium is a realm of stories. And in the board games set there? You’ll be telling them. Above and Below’s city-building sees you establishing a new home after fleeing barbarian raids -- raids that could well have been organized by your past life as one of Islebound’s pirate conquerors!
Each game doesn’t just bring new mechanics; it adds to the encompassing narrative. A mysterious sleeping sickness plagues the land in Roam. In Now or Never, the collapse of a decades-long infestation begins an era of dangerous land grabs. Red Raven wasn’t even content with just one level of universe. Arzium even has its own storybook sub-collection comprising Above and Below, Near and Far, and Now or Never.
Level 99’s World of Indines
Board games included: BattleCon, Disc Duelers, Seven Card Slugfest, Empyreal: Spells & Steam, Argent: The Consortium, Pixel Tactics
Usually, you only have to worry about one kind of meta in card games. Publisher Level 99, however, seems comfortable smashing through any number of metaphorical walls to place their boxes on your table. Card-dueling? Basic. How about a game about people playing a card-dueling game? That’s more Level 99’s style.
The publisher’s forays into a shared universe have been no less ambitious, all starting with the one-on-one duels of BattleCon: War of the Indines. The adversarial fantasy universe of the Indines is a grand one; it even has enough nations to earn its own wiki page.
Along with a direct sequel to BattleCon, the Indines series features a retro-themed spin-off (Pixel Tactics), dexterity showdowns (Disc Duelers), bar-room brawls (Seven Card Slugfest), magic-lev rail laying (Empyreal: Spells & Steam), and university antics complete with -- we kid you not -- an anime-style beach episode expansion (Argent: The Consortium). And that’s without counting expansions. If you’re looking to catch up, you’d better start soon -- two more Indines games are expected to launch in 2022.
Know of any other board game universes forging connections across your shelves? Share them with us on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook! And if you’re interested in the work that goes into creating a board game universe, we had Puzzle Strike designer David Sirlin on the Going Analog Podcast to discuss his world’s creation. Finally, you can also see how well you link up with our scoreboard by watching The Board Game Quiz Show!
Author bio: When he’s not losing himself as a mercenary in Gloomhaven, Henry Stenhouse can be found gobbling up all the latest and greatest party games, then wondering why he can never find the time to actually play them with friends. Share your love of deck builders with him on Twitter @Fernoface, or drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.