Take Down Spies, Saboteurs, Fascists, and All of the Above in the New Rocketeer Board GameImages courtesy of Funko Games / Disney Games Reviews board games
Funko might be better known for its miniatures, but two years after they acquired the board game design collective Prospero Hall, they’re churning out games that take advantage of the new parent company’s extensive licensing agreements. One of their latest titles is The Rocketeer, based on the cult classic Disney film from 1991 (which is supposed to get a sequel on Disney+ next year, what a coincidence!), a two-player asymmetrical game where you play the title character or the spy Neville Sinclair, competing over the secret Plans for the Rocketeer’s jetpack.
Bringing mechanics very similar to those of Prospero Hall’s Villainous games to art that evokes the movie’s setting from 1930s Los Angeles, The Rocketeer is very much a tit-for-tat game: You’re going to try to play cards to knock over your opponent’s figures so you can steal the Plans, and then they’ll do the same thing back to you. The Rocketeer player starts the game with the Plans cards—the real plans and two decoy cards, placed face-down behind that player’s three character cards. The game plays out over a short, variable number of rounds, after which players add up the values of their Finale cards, collected throughout the game, to determine the winner.
The two players have different decks of cards, and some small differences in the bonuses they collect during the game, but the core mechanics are the same for both players. Each has three miniatures on the board, representing characters from the movie, who will move among the board’s six locations (like Chapel Airfield, the South Seas Club, and the Bulldog Café). Each player takes a turn for one of those characters, playing as many cards as they want from their hand, as long as those cards show the correct symbol for that character. The turn passes to the other player, and back again, until all six characters have gone. The players start each turn with seven cards, and may play as many of them as they’d like in each round. Each card has generic actions you can take for free—move, tussle, gain a Clout or Grit token, and so on—and abilities that usually require that you pay Clout to use them. At the end of each round, you’ll see if any player has control of each location, meaning they have the majority of figures on it who are still active, earning them a small bonus.
The heart of The Rocketeer—the game, not Cliff Secord or Billy Campbell—is the Tussle action, where you use one of your characters to fight one of your opponent’s in the hopes of knocking them down and, if they have any of the plans, to try to steal them. You play a card with a Tussle action on it, with values 1 or 2, and may add Grit tokens from the attacking character to make the attack stronger. Your opponent must try to counter with Grit tokens from the character being attacked, and may also discard cards from their hand that have the shield symbol and also match the character. (I’m making it sound like the game has a lot of symbols, but there aren’t that many and they’re all on the reference cards that each player gets.) If the defending player can’t match the attacker’s total value, the character is knocked down—laid on its side, unable to move until restored with a discard—and, if that character has a Plans card, the attacker can peek at it, and steal it if it’s real. The player with the Plans gets various bonuses during the game; it makes some cards more powerful, and gets you a free Finale card at the end of the round.
The Sinclair player has one major feature the Rocketeer player doesn’t. At any point in the game, they may activate their secret army, playing a card and paying 3 Clout tokens, then removing Eddie Valentine from the game and replacing him with multiple soldier tokens. Soldiers can’t use abilities on cards, but they can move, tussle, and count towards location majorities at the ends of rounds. It’s a “flood the zone” strategy that limits how much you can use card abilities, but lets you gain more end-of-round bonuses and potentially win more tussles as you try to steal the plans or just incapacitate the hero’s figures temporarily.
The Rocketeer goes by very quickly, which is good for a game that’s aimed at a wide audience, but will mean more experienced board gamers will have to adjust their thinking—you don’t have a ton of turns to plan out a strategy, and the game isn’t built for long-term strategy anyway. Get a bunch of Finale cards, steal the Plans whenever you can, and knock your opponent down to stall them. It’s simple, and fun in its way, a good game for fans of the movie and/or folks who like the Villainous games but wish they had more direct conflict between players.
Keith Law is the author of The Inside Game and Smart Baseball and a senior baseball writer for The Athletic. You can find his personal blog the dish, covering games, literature, and more, at meadowparty.com/blog.