Unreal and Real: Games from Books
  Lists    March 13, 2016     The Last Bookstore


Books have long been a source for game designers.  In this post, I sit down with our pal Lucio Rodriguez, who covered John Dies in the End for our Horror Story Art Show project, and run thru a list of games from books – some real and some we formed from the fecund grey matter of our own cabezas.

AND for the first time ever on this blog, we video’d it and posted it on one of them Youtubes the kids are so into these days. This is a step towards having a Youtube channel. I say “a step” because I have been close to tears (manly tears of fury, of course) on more than one occasion trying to bend the world of Google tools to my will: it is a WIP.

So you got yourself two scrappy 20 minute vids and some raggedy “show” notes. Now, if you want to experience the delightful whimsy of guessing which games are real, then you should ride our Youtubes first. If you don’t care about such stuff, then just cruise down to the spoiler-filled notes, where there are links and so forth.


(You can avoid having to stare at my ugly mug – and that weird delay – by just going audio. The only visuals you’ll be missing out on are our sweet Star Wars coffee mugs.)






Lucio and Eric’s notes and links:

Pride and Prejudice - tea set not included

Pride and Prejudice – tea set not included

Pride and Prejudice board game (Ash Grove Press) where the object is to get married before the other couples – it seems sort of cooperative, like “can we get our wedding-shit together before these other losers” and Marrying Mr. Darcy, a card game. I cannot explain this second one better than by quoting its own copy  “Players work to improve themselves and attract the attention of the available Suitors. The ladies do this by attending Events and improving their Characters, but advantage can be gained by the use of Cunning. All of their efforts are in hopes of marrying well and becoming the most satisfied character at the end of the game!” The only people able to appreciate the heritage of this game are those enlightened enough to be at least slightly offended by it. Of course, it’s all in good fun; maybe it’s the opposite of “rescuing the princess” – you are rescuing the prince from his stark bachelorhood.



Where Art Thou, Romeo? (Crash Games)  There was a movement for minimalist card games started a couple years ago, games with a small number of cards or other components. Games like CoinAge, that consist of a credit card sized map and a handful of tokens, or Love Letter, which consists of only sixteen cards.

One of these is a bluffing game based on Shakespear’s Romeo and Juliet. Each turn someone is “Juliet,” and that player must find Romeo. The other players each have a card, which they must keep hidden, and try to convince Juliet that they are Romeo. The whole game consists of five cards.


Waiting for Godot  (Vector Belly)-  You actually just wait. By what looks like a tree – could be one of those public sculptures that are scattered around Chicago.  Actually, there was a cease and desist that forced the designer to rename it.


Ender’s Game: Battle Room – I’m hoping most people are familiar with Ender’s Game, the military Sci-fi novel written by Orson Scott Card. Aside from all the interesting social and philosophical questions it brings to mind, there were some really interesting action sequences in the novel. My favorite were the Battle Room sequences earlier in the book.

Ender’s Game: Battle Room is a multi-player action-game focused solely on this part of the book—the Zero-G Battle Room sequences. Just as in the book, the goal is to use your flash-gun to freeze the other team, or to surround the opposing team’s gate and then pass through it. Just as in the novel, it’s good to go in with a general strategy, but on-the-fly tactics and team coordination is what will usually win. The coolest thing, just like in the novel, just as the rules for the Battle Room would be changed without Ender being informed, sometimes the same thing happens in the video game, and you have to recognize this and change tactics to compensate.   (Not real – was in development but later cancelled – nothing to do with the meh movie.)


80 Days

80 Days

80 Days (Inkle Studios) started as a mobile game, but has recently been released for PC/Mac – It is based on Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days. What makes it interesting is you play as Fogg’s servant Passepartout, so you are the one actually doing all the real work: planning the itinerary, selecting and arranging transportation – all the logistics of travel – but you also have to interact with all these different personalities, around the world. Text-based, but more than your average CYOA. It’s very detailed and highly-replayable.


The Search for Moby Dick – Honestly, I was surprised I didn’t find more games based on Moby Dick—that is, if you ignore the dozens of free online games where you feed whales to sailors or sailors to whales. That said, I did find one really good one:

The Search for Moby Dick is a mix of text-heavy adventure game (heavy on story) and a rogue-like. The story has you interacting with people at different ports, or learning about members of your crew—it’s actually a pretty engaging, non-linear story.

As far as the game goes, you have to hunt whales to bring in money, manage the physical and mental health of your crew, and your ship’s reputation. It’s a bit of a balancing act, as taking more risks brings in more money, but puts your crew at risk. Also, injuries or low wages decrease your reputation, which in turn makes it harder to hire crew. You also need money to buy supplies and upgrade your ship’s equipment…but being a rogue-like, if you die, you have to start over.

Like most rogue-likes, the game isn’t long once you get used to it, maybe five hours, the reason being the knowledge you gained in previous attempts is useful, and there are also some achievements that let you carry over a small portion of your resources.   (Not real. Should be, but ain’t. You might check out Sunless Sea, which this fake game is sorta based on.)



Name of the Rose board game – The players are assigned secret roles as monks, and are supposed to hide their own identity while discovering everyone else’s. Nothing really about murder or secret libraries or liaisons with village girls – as far as I can tell, though I have not played it. Actually, not sure what this has to do with the book – except that it involves a fair amount of psychology and deduction. Comes with monk cowls. (Not really)

Foucault’s Pendulum: The Plan –  FP is what Dan Brown wishes DaVinci Code was: ie, a book smart people read and discuss seriously. In fact, I read a quote from Eco where he claimed that Dan Brown was one of his characters. It’s not just about unraveling conspiracies and secret societies and so forth, but about how and why those things start and grow – and why we need to organize chaos. The game is pretty tough. You get a set of cards at the beginning, and those cards are the elements of your conspiracy, something like: Rosicrucians would be your group, Alchemy would be your weapon, Destruction of the Church would be your goal. So, these elements are like mix-n-match – which is something that happens in the novel. But amongst the players, only one of these sets is an actual conspiracy, the other three are Dan Brown novels, basically. So, it’s like a global, historical game of Clue, but instead of finding the murderer+location+weapon, you are trying to find the real conspiracy, made up of the various elements. The more you know about obscure medieval and renaissance scholarship, the better you will do. It actually comes with a short Latin glossary – like, 50 pages long.   (Totally fake, but man – it sounds fun and brain-twisty.)




We mention the Lovecraft game Arkham Horror in the video. Here is a link to a whole nasty bag of Lovecraft games. It doesn’t look 100% current, but it’s a place to start if you’re (unwisely) looking for that sort of thing. Click at your own peril.





Fahrenheit 451 – (Tellarium)  This is a text adventure game, akin to classics like Zork. (For those not familiar, in a text adventure, there’s a description of a scene, and the player types in commands like LOOK or USE to interact with the game) This is a sequel to a classic Science Fiction novel, Fahrenheit 451.

You play as Guy Montag, the protagonist from the novel. Since the novel ended with Guy being a fugitive, your goal is to evade ‘the law’ by altering your appearance and changing your fingerprints and chemindex. Other challenges include finding enough to eat, safe places to sleep, and ultimately finding the underground literary community.




The Shining board game – Stephen King actually likes this game. It has a sort of map of the Overlook Hotel – it reminds me of those Civil War games – well, any war game – with the hexes and little markers – and you play either the family or the Hotel, represented by some of the ghosts. You fight for control of the hotel – it’s not super involved. Oh – and you get to fight the topiary animals – which are not in the Kubrick film, but are in the SciFi channel version – if you haven’t read the book.  You can get this for free on-line.




Fifty Shades of Grey Party Game (Imagination Games) – Most people are familiar with ‘Party games.’ Games like Trivial Pursuit, Cranium, Apples to Apples (Charades)—light-hearted games designed to be played at a social gathering with larger numbers of players.

Well, why not add a popular intellectual property to one of these? A popular book that became a movie? So, which novel is this? Harry Potter? Hunger Games?

How about Fifty Shades of Grey? In this game players take turns acting as the judge, who asks a question of the players. Something like, “Who is the most likely to join the mile-high club?” Players then write down their answers in secret, and compare their answers to the Judge’s answer. To add to the theme, this game even includes a contract all the players sign before beginning the game.


Resistance – This is a Squad-based shooter. You are using guerilla tactics to fight the Nazis in occupied Paris during WWII. You form small teams for missions, kinda like the Clancy games (eg Rainbow Six) – but here, you get to choose from actual real-life resistance fighters from the war, who just happen to be canonical authors: Samuel Beckett, Italo Calvino, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, et al. Even if they didn’t do actual fighting, but were spies or published underground papers and so forth – in this game, they get to blow up Nazis.  It uses the Unreal engine, so it’s got good bones.  The cut-scenes are incredible: the first one (I haven’t got all the way thru it yet) has a pretty tough looking Jean-Paul Sartre jumping up on a table in some cafe, yelling “Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you!” There is a lot of the actual literature woven into it, in the form of little comments the characters make, and what you see them doing when they are not fighting. The leader of your resistance cell?  Josephine Baker. Not really a literary figure, but certainly a cultural one, like the filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville, who is also in the game.    (Not at all real, but again – it should be.)


Assiti Shards  – I did my thesis presentation on video games as a new form of literature. In it I brought up that, historically, video games were primarily ‘power fantasy,’ and that many modern games are leaning toward adding an emotional arc to them.

Not this game. This is all power fantasy. Loosely based on the Ring of Fire series by Eric Flint and David Weber (1632, 1633, etc.) this is a shmup, or “shoot ‘em up.” Think Galaga, or more closely, that old Nintendo classic, R-type. Depending on the level, you’re either a modern soldier or ship transported to the Thirty-Years War. The screen continually moves up, and you basically lay waste to wave after wave of 17th century soldiers and ships. As with most shmups, the game is about memorizing the patterns of enemy waves, and as much as I hate to admit it, this game is just stupid fun.

I’m not 100% certain, but I think this is a Japanese import. The few lines of story between each level are either horribly written or horribly translated. I’m not going to repeat them here, because most of them border on being socially unacceptable.    (Nope. Fake. Surely it’s just a matter of time…?)


High Fidelity – a comedic RPG-puzzler thing, based on Nick Hornby’s novel – another iPhone/mobile game. It is almost exactly like the book: your character gets dumped, and then has to visit all these previous girlfriends, collecting various clues as to why the relationships ended and so forth. You’re trying to level up so your girlfriend will take you back, BUT there are side-quests, mostly involving building your record collection, which really complicates things.  Each past GF is different: some hard to find, some end up acting like allies, some will try to kill you. What makes it really difficult is to actually win, you have to win back your girlfriend and grow your vinyl collection. You have a couple bumbling dude-friends that are useless for anything but record collecting. For the relationship stuff, you’re mostly on your own.    (Not even close to real.)






Martin Amis’ Invasion of the Space Invaders: An Addict’s Guide to Battle Tactics, Big Scores, and the Best Machines. Straight-up strategy guide with essays on the classic cabinet video games of the 70s/80s. There’s an amazing photo of the young Spielberg leaning against a Missile Command game cabinet, w/ like aviator glasses. He wrote the introduction.  Check it out in this sweet post from The Millions.  This is 100% real, and could cost you a few hundred bucks on eBay/Amazon.




Gone Home – A game with a narrative that engages more than a novel or a movie because you have the idea of “I”, an idea of agency.  You are a college student who comes home from studying abroad. Your parents had moved in the interim, so you come home to an unfamiliar house. The house is empty, but you find a note from your sister, saying “Goodbye, I hope I see you again”. It’s all exploration; you’re finding calendars, notes, etc.. There are about 3 subplots, things with your dad and his writing career, your mom maybe having an affair, and this whole underlying thing about your sister. Where is she? What did she do? It’s a really interesting game, steeped in a lot of horror tropes. It’s better to go in knowing very little. The whole story has a very interesting emotional arc to it, and I’ll admit this – I did cry a little bit at the end.  If you want to see how storyteling can be done in a video game, it’s a really great place to look. It’s available on a variety of platforms.


There are a few more on this dynamite list from Flavorwire.


Games from Books


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