All I remember about licensed board games as a kid was that they were usually cheap, terrible cash-grabs. Things are much better for the youth of today.
Having spent the last few years reviewing adult board games, I wanted to try and play something with my wife and kids, and so we’ve spent time recently playing The Incredibles: Save The Day, a co-op experience that’s based on both of Pixar’s superhero films.
Players take control of one of the members of the Parr family, then have to work together as emergencies pop up around the city, racing through city streets to defeat villains while at the same time trying to keep an eye on Jack Jack.
The tone and design of the game is based mostly on the end of the first film and opening of the second, and the idea that The Incredibles’ ability to defend the city is being stretched (I’m sorry) to breaking point as more and more things go wrong around them.
It basically works like this: players roll a dice to move around the city, with small rolls simply resulting in less movement, while larger rolls (like a 5) move you farther but are accompanied by a threat icon.
This means you have to draw a card from a threat deck and place it along the bottom of the board, bumping up any existing threats. If too many threats pile up and they reach the end of the board, it’s game over.
The Incredibles can overcome these threats by moving to the space on the board that’s under attack and rolling a combat dice, with sides reflecting various powers. The catch is that each emergency calls for a particular skill based on each Incredibles’ strengths, so one villain might be better served by having Dash attend (because he has extra speed rolls), while Elastigirl is more suited to another (though all family members can attempt all battles, even if they’re not suited).
This is really hard! If you roll small it takes an eternity to move around the map, and rolling big simply adds to the list of threats you have to match. It can quickly start to feel overwhelming, particularly if you can’t get the right family member to the right encounter.
Helping tip things in your balance, though, is the presence of Jack Jack. Like he is in the films, the baby is a wildcard factor here, represented not as a playable character but as an extra dice. If you can spare the time to go and pick him up instead of attending an emergency, you get to roll his dice in combat along with your regular one, and he’s a massive help because his bonus ‘wildcard’ faces can often make the difference between winning and losing.
The Incredibles is tough, a lot tougher than I was expecting for a game aimed at kids/families. You’ll lose, a lot, in ways more reminiscent of a roguelike than a blockbuster superhero family. The way encounters can quickly pile up while you fail to even get to them, let alone beat them, can get stressful
But games are quick, so disappointment can be quickly turned around in a new game, and I like the fact it’s difficult to string together a win. Superhero work is hard work, reliant on not just planning and teamwork but sometimes blind luck as well, so when it all comes together here it can really feel triumphant, with a thematic resonance that I wasn’t expecting.