Reviewing a licensed game for a property you love is easy. Does it capture the film well, does it translate to the table, does it make you happy as a fan? I’ve done a few of those, and I can tell you that enthusiasm helps sell a game better than anything. But what if a game is of a property you’re less familiar with, that you have some nostalgia for but maybe haven’t even thought of in years? That’s where I was when Funko Games sent me a copy of The Rocketeer: Fate of the Future, a two-player strategy game and their latest in a line of more hobbyist-oriented games.
I remember the original Rocketeer being around as a kid (it predates me by about three years), but I mostly know it for its reputation as a key exemplar of the dieselpunk aesthetic. I’m always a sucker for two-fisted pulp action, though, so I dug into this game with a friend of mine with gusto! Did it take off and soar, or is The Rocketeer: Fate of the Future a crash landing?
What’s In The Box?
The biggest selling point for The Rocketeer is undoubtedly the look of things. I mean, look at it. Really. It’s gorgeous. Yeah, we should probably expect this from Funko at this point (they are Prosper Hall), but they had a challenge getting such an aesthetically distinctive movie to look right on the tabletop. There’s plenty of golds and dark browns, countered with sinister greens for the baddies. The minis for the characters look damn near the characters, posed dynamically, and the Art Deco vibes all jump out. As usual they don’t use pictures from the movie, instead giving the art for the characters and locations a look that evokes the old film strips of the day, or the WPA murals that date from that time period. If you’re a fan of that look, whether you like The Rocketeer or not, there’s a lot to appreciate.
How’s It Play?
The game follows the general premise of the movie, that stunt pilot Cliff Secord has acquired an experimental jetpack, and film star (and secret Nazi) Neville Sinclair is out to get it and the plans for it from him. Each player takes a side, with one taking on the roles of Cliff, his girlfriend Jenny Blake, and his mechanic Peevy, while the other acts as Sinclair, the hulking Lothar, and gangster Eddie Valentine. The game is technically asymmetrical, though it’s not nearly as deep as even some other Prospero hall creations since the asymmetry comes out mostly as slight differences in strength and what cards can be used by whom.
Each round the players take turns using one of their characters, and it ends when all have been used. Characters can move around the board to gain advantage or acquire resources, take control of an area for more rewards, or just try to beat each other up. The cards that are used as the actions are easy to use and can be used in bulk, the only limit being the resources available to you and the timing in the round. They have free abilities that are usually just a combination of moving, “tussling”, and sometimes gaining clout or grit, which you use to activate the special abilities on the card. Some of those abilities are unique, others are shared, and they are pretty thematic (the bad guys have a lot of cards centered on violence and deception, while the heroes have more teamwork-focused abilities). Building up the strength to use the powerful abilities makes up a big part of the game’s strategy.
Combat is done through comparing the “tussle” strength compared to the enemies use of shields to reduce that strength. Winning gets you grit and losing means you might get knocked out. It’s a fun little mechanic with low stakes.
The two characters with the biggest mechanics are Cliff and, oddly, Eddie. Cliff, as the Rocketeer, can move more than others thanks to his jetpack. As time goes on, he upgrades the pack and can move further and further around the board. Eddie Valentine, on the other hand, can become the “Secret Army” (the Nazi SA with the serial numbers filed off for…reasons?), which are a larger presence on the board with the drawback of not getting special abilities and a weaker tussle. It’s an interesting choice and is timed about right to reflect the twist from the film.
The final wrinkles in the game are the plans and the Zeppelin. The plans are what you’re fighting for, and knocking out a character with a plans card lets you look at it. Two of them are fakes, one is real. Finding the real one after defeating its owner lets you steal the plans (a bad thing for either side) and hide it again. It adds a little social deduction and problem solving to things, which is fun. The Luxembourg zeppelin (again, de-Nazified) acts as the timer for the game, moved by Current Events cards that also have effects on each round. These tend to be silly Golden Age Hollywood-type headlines that nevertheless have a real effect on the game while also adding some chaos to things thanks to the unpredictable rate the zeppelin might move.
The strength of a licensed game, as I alluded to earlier, is if it can hook you if you’re a non-fan. And I think this one really can. While obviously a lot of the details are MUCH better if you understand the plot and characters of the movie, the aesthetics and gameplay are good at evoking the era so that anyone can enjoy. It plays pretty quickly and is extremely easy to pick up, and it’s nice to see care being put into a two-player game genre.
There’s a couple snags to the game, mostly the random nature of things and the Secret Army. While I loved the Luxembourg mini and the Current Events cards, the games I played were wildly hard to predict. If a game runs too short, your strategy might not even get to be implemented. If it goes too long? You might find yourself spinning your wheels. The Secret Army is a perfect example of this, since it’s more of a late game change that requires a shift in the bad guys strategy and a little building up in order to make work. The initial benefits compared to just using Eddie Valentine are low, and unless you’re very confident in your strategy it’s hard to see why you’d activate them at all.
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You can find Rocketeer: Fate of the Future at your FLGS, where it’ll run about $24.99
Images via Funko Games
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