Board games in popular culture: Part 2

By Todd Sanders

For board games on popular TV shows let’s focus on two culturally significant programs – The Big Bang Theory and The Simpsons – each of which take a different tack in how they approach the presentation of board games. In this article I will first focus on The Big Bang Theory, and then later we will have a look at The Simpsons.

Board games in The Big Bang Theory

The Big Bang Theory has featured many games on the show and we are to assume the characters are board gamers as well as video gamers. They have been seen playing Star Trek Chess, Settlers of Catan (with some tired sheep jokes thrown in), Ticket to Ride, Talisman, Jenga, Dungeons and Dragons and Race for the Galaxy, among others.

They are playing Settlers of Catan: the entire scene is built on jokes on wood and sheep: “I want to build a road, but need wood. Do either of you fellas have wood? (laughter) Wood for sheep? (more laughter)”

Dungeons and Dragons seems to be their favorite game – the girls have gone to Vegas so the boys are alone.

There are a few games invented by the characters which are shown and discussed: an example is Sheldon’s Research Lab.”

Another example is an imaginary card game – the Mystic Warlords of Ka’a, which actually became a real game in 2011 and which seems to have Magic-like tournament play.

Kevin Sussman recently mentioned on Board Game Geek that a copy of Power Grid has been displayed for many years in his comic book store on the show. BGGers joked that it is apparently the only game he stocks in the store (other than Mystic Warlords of Ka’a) so it is little wonder it hasn’t sold.

While secondary to the lines being delivered, these games are shown as an active part of their lives. It is often hard to discern whether they are playing completely by the rules and whether the boards are set up properly in a mid-game state, but it seems a positive step saying something about games and people’s social lives and not merely that of a product placement prop. Kevin Sussman, who plays Stuart on the show, did mention that when games are featured in a scene he tries to make sure they are playing accurately. With Wil Wheaton being a recurring cast member I am sure he lends his expertise as well to the set dressing.


Board games in the Simpsons

The Simpsons has had a long history of board games on their show though their approach has always been one of parody. We have seen a wide variety of mock Monopoly games over the series’ episodes – these parody some aspect of the characters or the story that week. In one episode for example they are choosing between Star Wars Monopoly, Rasta-Mon-Opoly, Galip-Olopoly and Edna Krabappoly, but then decide to stick with the original version.

Recently though they have been branching out in their parodies to wider recognizable modern classics. One of my favorites in the modern classic category was Emissaries to Byzantium, a seeming eurogame along the lines of Settlers of Catan. I would like to give that one a try. The box cover made it look like a euro I’d enjoy strategizing over, even though the even the fictional family on the cover of the game did not seem to enjoy to enjoy playing it.

Additionally we have seen such games as Ravenous Ravenous Rhino, Yahtzu, Taffy Land, Drops and Risers, Consternation, Mousecatch, Battleboat, Crate of Apes, and Tiddlywonks in Treehouse of Horror Episode 21, in which the games come to life and terrorize Springfield. These are all parodies of venerable family games known in some form to most everyone.

In one clip, Homer also gets King of Tokyo explained to him – he does not seem too enthusiastic about it though.

Yahtzu in a Treehouse of Horrow Episode: