We're sure you're just imagining the similarities.
The police probably have better things to do than lock up board game designers. Perhaps that’s why the shady underbelly of the industry has gotten away with board-erline criminal acts for so long. Well it’s time to take the law into our own hands.
We’re not talking about counterfeit games, though that is a serious problem. No, we’re here to leverage our full lack of authority to highlight cheeky releases that thought they could get away with pretending to be something they aren’t. Probably because they couldn’t afford outrageous licensing fees.
Quality releases they may be, but that won’t stop us from bringing these board games to justice! Meeple misdemeanors are a serious offense, so grab some cuffs and prepare your baton as we work our way through this lineup of cardboard copyright infringers below.
You and your friends are the beleaguered crew of an infested spaceship. Chitinous aliens lurk around every corner, eager to sink their claws, talons, and other unmentionably pointy parts into your far-less durable skin. You’ll need to work together to stand any chance of repairing your derelict ship enough to hop in an escape pod, but the companions you signed up with might not be as trustworthy as you think.
What’s it ripping off?
Need we really say it? Ridley Scott’s Alien movies.
Scrub the name off the box and practically anyone would assume that Nemesis is an official Alien board game. Both the ship and the sinister monsters clogging its corridors are clearly intended to mimic the tense atmosphere of the original film, though the sheer number of nasties harks closer to the movie’s action-heavy sequel.
Alien designs blend Giger-esque smooth skin and gills with the stabby blade arms of Warhammer 40K’s Tyranids, sprinkling a healthy dose of Dead Space’s Nercomorphs on top just for fun. Somehow, it steers just clear enough of them all to continue its pretense of an original theme.
Nemesis reclaims a few points for giving fallen players the chance to play as the aliens -- an option the movies certainly never offered. Then again, we were definitely rooting for the xenomorphs in Alien: Covenant, if only in the hopes of ending the movie sooner. Hold up, we’ve just been informed that Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Building Game already let us take command of our xeno pals, so we’ll be having those points back, Nemesis. Here, you can have this friendly facehugger instead since you’re such an Alien fan.
Infringe-o-meter: 8/10 (an interstellar lawsuit is inbound)
A War of Whispers
Shadowy advisers to the great houses of the land, you compete with your friends to exert influence as you guide mighty empires to glorious victory or devastating ruin. Where does your true allegiance lie? Only you know for sure, and there’s no guarantee it’ll stay fixed throughout the length of the game.
What’s it ripping off?
Game of Thrones
Remember Varys? Before the Game of Thrones TV series tripped over a dragon’s tail and accidently stabbed its own plot in the back, the mysterious Master of Whisperers was a fan-favorite character. If you were going to be anyone in the ruthless world George R. R. Martin conjured up, the secretive spymaster is a hard role to beat. Especially if you’re looking to survive for more than a day.
A War of Whispers lets everyone play their own version of the Spider, forming and crushing allegiances each turn, and casting wide their little birdies to instigate revolutions or disasters within the empires you collectively control. Impressively, it captures the purest essence of Game of Thrones’s political machinations without ever feeling like a cheap knockoff.
To no one’s surprise, A War of Whispers is far from the only GoT-inspired release out there. Fans looking for an equally conniving and copyright-safe alternative might also consider The King’s Dilemma.
Infringe-o-meter: 2/10 (no need to pay the iron price)
Man your stations, ladies and gentlemen, because it’s time to venture out into the vast unknown that is deep space. Fear not, for while there may be hostile species out there, I have utmost faith in you -- our fine crew -- to see us through the challenges ahead. Sorry, what do you mean you’ve never fired a torpedo before? No, you may not practice by blowing up that moon!
Look sharp -- the enemy is closing in, and we’ve got less than a minute to respond. Engineering, get this man some power, stat! Wait, are you just pressing buttons randomly and hoping for the best? Who trained you!? At least the pilot will get us safe -- aaaand we’re heading straight into an asteroid. I don’t know why I joined the academy.
What’s it ripping off?
Star Trek -- but everyone’s an incompetent redshirt.
Barring a few episodes, we’re pretty sure the crew to the Enterprise actually knew how to fly their ship. Space Cadets is more like replacing the actual cast of Star Trek with a group of trekkie fans, then watching them flail at the very real controls of a state-of-the-art spaceship while the Borg blow them to pieces. (Huh, isn’t this the plot of Galaxy Quest?)
Space Cadets is hardly the only offender when it comes to drawing -- in the heaviest air quotes possible -- “inspiration” from Star Trek. Vlaada Chvatil’s Space Alert takes its theming far more seriously and is arguably all the more guilty for it; Joe Price and JT Smith’s The Captain is Dead shows literally no shame, asking you to imagine yourself as the crew to your favorite science fiction TV show. Star Trek was your favorite sci-fi show, right? Oh, you’re a Battlestar fan? Well in that case...
Infringe-o-meter: 9/10 (red alert)
The staff of the Noguchi Masaki’s mining corp on Titan is stretched thin. Vital equipment keeps mysteriously failing, and morale is waning. Something is definitely wrong. Following an excavation disaster, it appears some of the crew have been infected with a dangerous parasite that’s determined to bring down the very station keeping you alive. But who’s been infected and which players are simply rolling their dice badly? Whom you decide to quarantine may decide the fate of the game -- and length of your lives on this rock.
What’s it ripping off?
Battlestar Galactica (the board game)
Formerly a free print-and-play creation known as BSG Express, Dark Moon makes no secret of its origins. Cutting down the popular but oh-so-lengthy Battlestar Galactica board game to a snappy half an hour length, it delivers a refined dose of lies, accusations, and betrayals. By dropping the BSG theme entirely, Dark Moon escapes the beady gaze of the board game criminal courts. Sadly, that independence comes at the cost of a far blander aesthetic, making this a rare case where we wish they’d kept some of the original flair.
Infringe-o-meter: 0/10 (a dark moon but a dull moon)
Sentinels of the Multiverse
Holy smokes! A dastardly villain is once again up to no good, cooking a nefarious scheme that’s put the world in jeopardy. Fear not though, as in this cooperative card game, you fill the spandex costumes of the Sentinels of the Multiverse, a mighty band of superheroes who serve justice and equality.
Will you play Legacy, an impossibly strong and tough caped hero capable of flight? Or are you Wraith, a rich aristocrat turned masked crimefighter, combining martial skill with a wealth of gadgets supplied by your, er, wealth. Hang on, this is all sounding a bit familiar, isn’t it?
What’s it ripping off?
Every superhero. Superman, Batman, The Avengers...the lot.
Almost none. Most of Sentinels of the Multiverse’s cast are straight replicas of well-known heroes, with minor tweaks to avoid getting into trouble. Heroes like Wraith and Tachyon are just genderswaps of Batman and The Flash, respectively, while Legacy and Young Legacy don’t even bother to shift anything but their color pattern from Superman and Supergirl.
The many expansions add a bit of flavor but also give up pretending not to be copycats entirely. The red-haired Argent Adept hero’s promo card lists Kvothe of The Kingkiller Chronicles by name, confusingly mixing fantasy novels with superheroes. Sentinels does at least have fun with the concept, creating fake comic issues and quotes for its cast in a tongue-in-cheek manner.
Infringe-o-meter: 10/10 (that alter-ego is fooling no-one!)
And that’s it for our list of copyright-infringing board games. Some are more egregious than others, but we’re afraid we’ll have to sentence them all to several years locked away on our shelves, providing community service at our game nights.
If you prefer your board gaming content in a far less illicit manner, check out the Going Analog Podcast! You can also follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to keep up to date with our features, photos, and more.
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.