Considering the TV series’ immense popularity, there aren’t that many board games themed after The Simpsons. The long-running animated show is notorious for the sheer amount of merchandise featuring its cast of iconic characters, yet the tabletop industry is severely lacking when it comes to Springfield’s finest. Whilst there are plenty of the kind of licensed board games one expects – from a Simpsons-themed Uno to multiple Simpsons editions of Monopoly – the show hasn’t seen a board game that isn’t a trivia title or a reskin of an existing game since 2000’s The Simpsons Board Game.
The sitcom series might currently be a shadow of its former self after being dragged into its 33rd season by the now Disney-owned 20th Century Fox. But in its heyday of the late ‘90s and early 2000s, The Simpsons was unimaginably huge. Which is why it’s so surprising that it’s yet to receive a truly beloved board game adaptation.
Neither time nor cultural relevance has ever stopped publishers from releasing licensed tabletop titles - not when a board game based on Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 thriller Rear Window was revealed earlier this year. In fact, nostalgia is a massive selling-point for studios such as The Op, Ravensburger and Funko Games, as all three companies have published tabletop adaptations of properties from decades past – whether that’s Back to the Future or Godzilla.
At this point, The Simpsons very much feels like a nostalgic property despite still being on the air. The show’s undeniable dip in quality over the last 10 to 15 years has, for all intents and purposes, left The Simpsons in a state of undeath. Episodes are being released, but so few people care that they might as well be screened on TV in an empty pocket dimension. The only reason most people talk about The Simpsons now is to either bemoan how terrible it’s gotten or to reminisce about when it was good. Thereby making it prime material for a great board game adaptation.
In recent years, we’ve seen the emergence of several licensed board games that provide players with an enjoyable gameplay experience as well as all the fan service. From Disney Villainous to Jaws, publishers and designers have a greater understanding of what makes a great licensed tabletop title. Take a beloved property like The Simpsons and combine it with a satisfying gameplay system, and you’ve got yourself a doozy of a board game.
A Simpsons Betrayal game needn’t be scary – though a few Treehouse of Horror-inspired scenarios would be a good inclusion.
A Simpsons-themed board game wouldn’t even need to be entirely original to be good. Tabletop RPG Dungeons & Dragons and classic cartoon series Scooby-Doo have been adapted into spin-offs from Betrayal at House on the Hill, in Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate and Betrayal at Mystery Mansion respectively. Both titles utilise the fundamental formula of the horror board game, whilst providing a unique enough experience – to the degree that they ended up helping the series as a whole improve by making key additions and changes included in this year’s Betrayal at House on the Hill: Third Edition.
Imagine a Betrayal at House on the Hill-style board game – in which players control characters who explore a location, encounter various events and eventually experience a random story scenario – but with The Simpsons as its theme. The Simpsons is primarily a show carried by episodic scenarios: Homer becomes a food critic, Springfield hosts a film festival, Apu is fired from the Kwik-E-Mart. These scenarios all run their course within the space of a single episode and are written as such, providing the perfect kind of content needed for a Betrayal-style board game.
The sheer quantity of genuinely excellent scenarios that a Betrayal-style Simpsons board game could draw upon is astounding.
A Simpsons Betrayal game needn’t be scary – though a few Treehouse of Horror-inspired scenarios would be a good inclusion – just have a collection of scenarios that players will be able to experience either cooperatively, semi-cooperatively or competitively. Considering the often-ridiculous tone of the show, the players could explore an iconic location like Burns’ mansion and discover rooms themed around other places in Springfield. Along the way, players controlling characters such as Homer, Marge, Lisa, Bart, Maggie and more – each with their own unique stats – could encounter events referencing past jokes, like an old man getting his beard caught in a pencil sharpener or a police officer running around with squirrels in his trouser legs.
Eventually, the group would trigger a scenario to occur, similarly to original Betrayal, which could have players teaming up or turning on each other. One player could be helping Sideshow Bob to finally kill Bart, whilst the others are trying to save him. Or the group might work together to stop an army of evil Itchy & Scratchy robots from taking over the mansion. Alternatively, a cat burglar might have revealed the location of some treasure that all the players are trying to find. The sheer quantity of genuinely excellent scenarios that a Betrayal-style Simpsons board game could draw upon is astounding.
Besides providing a fun Simpsons-themed gameplay experience, a Betrayal-style game could reignite the love that many fans have for the TV series. After all, there are only so many times one can watch seasons one to ten of The Simpsons before it starts to lose its appeal. But the incredible comedy – and sometimes unexpected heart – of the series is so good that it would be wonderful to relive in tabletop gaming form.
These days, The Simpsons is in great need of a shot in the arm; one that isn’t another awful Disney or Marvel-themed short. Whilst it’s unlikely that we’ll see a return in quality in the show itself – the time for that is long gone – we can at least hope for more excuses to remember how good The Simpsons used to be. A Betrayal-style board game would do the trick. I just think it would be neat.