You would certainly be forgiven for not having realized that Fantasy Flight Games released two separate board games based on Robert Zemeckis' 2007 telling of the classic tale Beowulf. Further contributing to the confusion is similarly inspired cover art for the game boxes and the fact that both were written by master game designer Reiner Knizia. About the biggest clue as to which you're getting involved with lies directly beneath the unmistakable Beowulf movie logo in the form of the game's subtitle. One is known as The Legend while the other, which we're talking about here, goes by the aptly appropriate name: The Movie Board Game.
To summarize the plot differences between the two incarnations of the franchise, The Legend takes on a more action-oriented role with the game's winner proving his valor and strategy to be worthy of kingly succession after the mighty Beowulf. The Movie Board Game, it turns out, is actually a theme-tweaked variation of one of Knizia's earlier Fantasy Flight titles, Kingdoms. Of course a simple comparison of the games' boxes reveals that the Beowulf incarnation must contain more of something to justify its increase in girth and indeed Beowulf The Movie Board Game (BTMBG from now on) does include a game board that actually consists of three separate play areas (acts in this case) in addition to a nice assortment of colored plastic figures to accompany the tiles, saga points, and reference sheets. The mechanics and principles, however, are perfectly preserved from 2003's Kingdoms.
The approach to success in BTMBG is to take the classic tale's worth at face value, literally as each player strives to tell the most epic version of the Beowulf saga to win. Not to worry yee who failed Public Speaking 101; the game's definition of "telling" has more to do with mathematical formula than it does speaking verbally.
In typical Knizia fashion, the core of the game is tile laying while paying careful attention to the numbers and symbols each tile contains. Broken down across three separate acts (complete with unique tiles for each), the player who strings together the most intriguing variation of the epic tale (indicated by saga points: peril and temptation tiles deduct from the story's value) comes out the winner. The classic structure of drawing tiles from a shuffled pool ensures that clever strategy is a requisite for success. Amidst the perils and temptation tiles, players will draw and play tiles depicting Beowulf's friends and allies, enemies, hazards, treasures and mead. The key to victory is to string together the highlights of the journey while avoiding as many pitfalls as possible. After all, including a mug of frothy mead to cap a long day's championing is rewarding in and of itself; get careless however and the "drunkenness" tile can show up and make things really difficult to explain to the old ball and chain... Mrs. Beowulf that is. Er I mean her highness, the queen. Whatever.
In actuality there are special cards that when placed caused either damage or added numeric value to the player's runs but and perhaps to the game's greatest credit, there is most always a counteracting tile that can nullify said card's powers when played. What boons and perils a player happens to have in his hand are, unfortunately, completely determined by the luck of the draw. However, there is quite a bit of strategy to be found in the process of piece placement on the board in terms of maximizing the point values for one's own column or row while simultaneously putting the screws to their opponents' efforts.
About my biggest complaint to the whole system comes in the form of two particular tiles that undoubtedly upset the game's delicate sense of balance, both of which just so happen to be found in the game's second act pool. The Golden Statue and especially the Treachery tiles can truly turn the tides of the game's flow, perhaps even to the point of foul play. A perfectly strategized effort can be ripped to shreds by simple use of either tile in one of the final rounds of play. It can be frustrating to say the least and, in my opinion anyway, represents an odd deviation from the usually impeccable game mechanics for which Reiner Knizia is renowned. Aside from these two examples, the game is rife with typical-Knizia tactics in the form strategic tile placement and mathematics getting the final say on how each round is scored.
Speaking of, there is quite a bit of mathematical formula to be found in the 8-page rulebook that is sure to intimidate initially. The bottom line comes down to adding together the total numerical values of both the column and row for each plastic figure placed on the board then multiplying that number by the number of diamonds on the character's base. In other words, it sounds like a lot of computation but works surprisingly well after just a few rounds.
In all, I found Beowulf the Move Board Game to be a more viable continuation of Knizia efforts such as Lost Cities than competition for Fantasy Flight's other Beowulf entry. Aside from a few unbalanced tiles, the game works on a fairly simplistic yet brilliant mechanic that is quick to learn so long as you don't allow the sheer mathematics involved in scoring to intimidate. Reiner Knizia fans will immediately recognize his style and neophytes will likely find this game intriguing enough to warrant a closer look into his further gaming efforts.