Everyone has licensed games. There are licensed games for just about everything now, and they keep getting better. Gone are the days when licensed games were highlighted by such gems as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Heroes in a Halfshell Card Game, X-Men: Crisis in the Danger Room, Batman: The Animated Series 3-D Board Game, Star Trek The Next Generation: Game of the Galaxies and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Pizza Power Game. It used to be hard to find a quality licensed game, but it’s not like that anymore. There is no shortage of good options. Spoilers: This list does not include Battlestar Galactica by design… I can’t stand it! Sorry BSG fans!
Top 10 licensed board games
10. Harry Potter: The Battle for Hogwarts (review)
The top of the list is one of several deck building games. Based on Harry Potter, this is a co-op game for 2-4 players (5th possible in the second expansion). What this game does that immediately caught my attention is that it takes a page (pun intended) from the books and has a setting for each of the seven books in the series that gradually get more and more complex. Book 1 is very simple and not too difficult, while Book 7 has several tasks it asks of you and more obstacles in your way to defeating Lord Voldemort’s forces. The gameplay can get a bit long in the later books and you can get really bogged down at times. The game is very thematic though, and when you successfully build a powerful deck, the results are incredibly fun.
2-4 players • Ages 11+ • 30-60 minutes • $30
9. Disney: Villain (review)
This was my introduction to asymmetric games. It’s pretty simple, and true rules nerds will bristle at some of the ambiguities, but the game is fun and so themed. Five expansions and 21 different villains for you to play as, all of which feel like they’re living up to their blueprints from their respective films. The breadth of different victory conditions is quite impressive considering that every villain has the same basic actions to achieve it. The system proved versatile enough to branch out into both Marvel and Star Wars iterations (hello Disney, lords of our entertainment). One of the three versions is compatible with each other, as Marvel and Star Wars have slight differences according to their themes, although they all share the same basic rules. This is a bit of a disadvantage, as playing Thanos against Darth Vader and Maleficent would be really fun. However, the unique feel of all three makes the differences in theme worth it.
2-6 players • Ages 10+ • 50 minutes • $27
8. Card game “Tea Dragon Society”.
Another deck building game (I can care) but with the simplest rules I’ve found in the genre. The game is based on the comic of the same name about the tea dragons of the same name, who were given appropriate names like Jasmine, Ginseng, and Earl Gray (cool!). The gameplay is fast and the card art is simply adorable. Some may find this too simple for a deck-building game (you don’t have a hand, you just play cards from the top of the deck to your “hold”), but I think it’s perfect for the source material I have one of the keys to a licensed game.
2-4 players • Ages 10+ • 30-60 minutes • $22
7. Dungeons and Dragons: Attack Wing
When I was told that there was a miniatures game on this list that used the “Flight Path” rules, most people would have assumed that I had chosen the X-Wing Miniatures game, and it’s easy to see why. Of the games that use the basic rules, it was the most popular (although I played Star Trek: Attack Wing the most). However, I think the best is the one that probably sold the least: Dungeons & Dragons: Attack Wing. The rules were the most difficult. The game’s multiple levels between ground and air created strategies not found in other titles. If the price (or system fatigue?) hadn’t slowed down sales, and the game had lasted longer, it would have had a lot of potential.
2-4 players • Age 14+ • 30 minutes • $37
6. GI Joe Deck Stacking Game (review)
Over the last few years, licensed games have been blessed with a partnership between Renegade and Hasbro, the deal has produced some really good games for several Hasbro brands. I love what they’ve done across the board, but number one on that list is the deck building game for GI Joe. Like many franchises, GI Joe has struggled to get a quality board game. Not more. This collaborative game is both challenging and exciting. It captures the spirit of the franchise very well and has great replay value. The system is quite extensible. It has received two expansions so far, with a third on the way, crossing over with Hasbro’s sister franchise: Transformers.
1-4 players • Age 13+ • 30-70 minutes • $33
5. The Lord of the Rings: Duel
I think most people haven’t heard of it. This is a great little game for two players that pits Gandalf against the Balrog on the bridge of Haza-dum. The gameplay is simple but can be strategic. Each card game presents an attack and counterattack that your opponent must respond to. An exact replica of the punch bridge will help you track your dominance (or failure) over three rounds. Its quick to set up and play and I think it went smoothly. It’s worth checking.
2 players • Age 10+ • 45 minutes • $29
4. Game “Transformers: collection of decks” (review)
There’s more to this deckbuilding game than meets the eye… *throws back rotten tomatoes* Seriously, like a lot of the IPs on this list, a really good game has eluded Transformers for a long time. It was a Transformers TCG, but it ended very abruptly. It raised the mantle. It’s a really good game and an interesting take on the genre. What really sets this game apart from deck building games is the Matrix concept. Instead of a line of cards you can buy like Ascension or a pre-defined set like Dominion, the cards you can add to your deck are laid out face down in a grid (or Matrix) and you have to move around this little board , to reveal them, defeat enemies and get cards to improve your deck. It looks quite thematic, capturing the ongoing battle between the Autobots and the Decepticons. After three expansions (and one more on the way), there are tons of game mode options, making it easy to find a way to play that suits your preferences.
1-5 players • Age 13+ • 45-60 minutes • $36
3. Lords of Waterdeep (review)
Nearing the top of the list is a great themed take on the city of Waterdeep in the Forgotten Realms. In this worker placement game, there are groups of fighters, rogues, wizards, and clerics who complete quests. It has hidden scheming lords. It feels like its setup, and games often come down to the final scoring stage after a lot of back-and-forth over the course of eight rounds. Thematically and mechanically, it is well thought out and attractive. It is hard to believe that he is now more than 10 years old. I now consider it one of the classics.
2-5 players • Ages 12+ • 60-120 minutes • $39
The grandfather of dungeon crawlers. Yes, it technically belongs on this list because the original setting was licensed by Games Workshop! The recent reprint avoided Warhammer connections for legal reasons, but I’m going to count it anyway. I think the simplicity of this oft-derided game compared to its modern successors is its greatest strength. It lacks the complexity of a game like Gloomhaven, but it makes it accessible and easily moddable if you so choose. I’d pass that simplicity over the complex direction the genre has gone at any time. The future once looked bleak for HeroQuest to be reprinted, but that has changed over the past couple of years, with new additions to this classic game.
2-5 players • Age 14+ • 90 minutes • $99
1. Heroes of the Grid/Mission Critical (review)
And of course, topping the list is… the licensed Monopoly. Just kidding! It’s a bit of a hybrid record. Power Rangers: Heroes of the Grid launched in 2019 and was successful enough to warrant over 20 expansions in less than four years. Due to this success, its rules were changed to the “Guardian System” with the release of the fully compatible GI Joe: Mission Critical. Being fully co-op games at their core, they have a lot of interesting team decisions to make from team building to deploying your resources to best keep things under control to the best cards/abilities to use during battles. Sometimes strategizing as a team takes up most of the battle, debating options before the “ah-ha” moment when you see what you want to do (and maybe fail spectacularly!). This excellent gameplay is enhanced by high-quality components, including the large miniatures that are the hallmark of the games. Add in the near-infinite number of combinations from an extremely expandable system, and this system is hard to beat.