For Designers: Free Intellectual Properties that are NOT Cthulhu
Eric Etkin
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Oh, Cthulhu, you dark crutch of over-exposed madness...

An over-used crutch for recognizable free IP? I sure as hell think so. Whether or not you agree with me, I thought I'd start a list for OTHER open IPs that could be mined for game themes.

Sure, some of these you've probably seen before, but in the current New Shiny Kickckster climate, maybe they're not quite as played-out as you'd think (at least compared to a dried out Elder God).
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Board Game: Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland
Eric Etkin
United States
Gloversville
New York
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Free? Yep. Played out? Maybe not as much as you'd think. Sure, Alice has seen her share of "moody goth with knife" video game and pop-art variants, but when was the last time you saw it in a successful BG Kickstarter?
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Family: Books: The Wizard of Oz
Eric Etkin
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Gloversville
New York
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Like Alice - overused in some cultural respects, but there's a reason - it's got scads of adaptable content. There's a reason Tin Man, Oz the Great and Powerful, and the MGM original made/make good bank. People love them. And as a hobby game theme? Generally untapped.
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3. Board Game: John Carter: Warlord of Mars [Average Rating:6.58 Overall Rank:8484]
Board Game: John Carter: Warlord of Mars
Eric Etkin
United States
Gloversville
New York
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There's two board games listed under John Carter. Just two. Despite this being a totally kick-ass setting for a modern tactical or wargame. WTH?
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4. Board Game: Chupacabra [Average Rating:5.63 Unranked]
Board Game: Chupacabra
Eric Etkin
United States
Gloversville
New York
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This poor little guy only has three games to his name?
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5. Board Game: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Game [Average Rating:5.20 Unranked]
Board Game: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Game
Tim Thornhill
United States
Ashland
Oregon
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I believe that all of Jules Vernes' works are public domain, including Journey to the Center of the Earth, Around the World in 80 Days, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
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6. Board Game: The Bigfoot Game [Average Rating:4.78 Unranked]
Board Game: The Bigfoot Game
Ralph T
United States
Signal Hill
California
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How about some other creatures such as
Bigfoot/Sasquatch/Abominable Snowman
Nessy, the Loch Ness Monster
The Bunyip: the aboriginal dream monster

More recent creatures:
The Grue, from Zork I.
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7. Board Game: Pride and Prejudice: The Game [Average Rating:4.80 Overall Rank:19199]
Board Game: Pride and Prejudice: The Game
Richard Pickman
United States
New York
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Well... there's always Jane Austen.
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8. Board Game: The Three Musketeers: The Queen's Pendants [Average Rating:6.81 Overall Rank:4086]
Board Game: The Three Musketeers: The Queen's Pendants
Paul Davidson
Japan
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Anything by Alexandre Dumas is in the public domain. Three Musketeers, Count of Monte Cristo, etc.
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9. Board Game: The Legend of Robin Hood [Average Rating:6.24 Overall Rank:6136]
Board Game: The Legend of Robin Hood
Paul Davidson
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I'm waiting for someone to go and make an awesome Robin Hood game.
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10. Board Game: Fury of Dracula (Second Edition) [Average Rating:7.12 Overall Rank:584]
Board Game: Fury of Dracula (Second Edition)
Xander Fulton
United States
Cleveland Heights
Ohio
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'Dracula' is an obvious candidate.

Obviously, there was a furious hubbub about that in the 1920s (when the Stoker family arguably had copyright on it - but even that ended by 1962) that led to the totally-not-a-ripoff-at-all-why film Nosferatu. However, as noted, that copyright ended many decades ago. Material is in public domain, now.

Of course, vampires are a moderately well-tapped market at the moment, but...this is a set of characters, story, and setting in a complete package that IS public domain, so...
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11. Board Game: Frankenstein [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
Board Game: Frankenstein
Xander Fulton
United States
Cleveland Heights
Ohio
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Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" would be another candidate for 'obvious pop culture touchstone that is in the public domain'.

Note - as the linked article points out - while the original text is in the public domain, certain interpretations of it may not be. IE., you could use the character/monster/setting/etc from the book just fine. Just don't start nabbing stills from the Universal Pictures 1931 movie - that is NOT in the public domain.

That's probably true for a number of items on the list...so be cautious that what you are using is actually based only on the original material and NOT updated interpretations of that same material.
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12. Board Game: The War of the Worlds [Average Rating:6.69 Overall Rank:13541]
Board Game: The War of the Worlds
Xander Fulton
United States
Cleveland Heights
Ohio
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HG Wells is another famous author, with a wide range of well known work, that also largely falls in the public domain.

The linked article makes some observations on that - for example, in the United States, anything published before 1922 is 'public domain'. HG Wells, of course, lived until 1946 - but the bulk of his most 'famous' works ("The Time Machine", "The War of the Worlds", "The Island of Dr Moreau", "The Invisible Man", etc) were published well before 1922.

The case in the UK is a BIT trickier, as UK copyright is based not entirely on publishing date but author death - still, he died a long time ago. As the linked article above, notes, even in the UK/EU/etc, all of his works will be public domain by December 2016 - so pretty much right around the corner, even there.
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13. Board Game: Don Quixote [Average Rating:6.11 Overall Rank:5760]
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Tim Thornhill
United States
Ashland
Oregon
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Don Quixote would make such a great theme for an adventure game with storytelling elements.
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14. Board Game: Mickey Mouse Game [Average Rating:3.53 Unranked]
Board Game: Mickey Mouse Game
Geir Erik Ø
Norway
Sandnes
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I think Mickey is public domain, but he is still trademarked.

I guess this could mean you can include him in your game as long as you don´t call the game Mickey mouse?
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15. Board Game: Sherlock Holmes: The Card Game [Average Rating:6.20 Overall Rank:5749]
Board Game: Sherlock Holmes: The Card Game
Cate
United States
Mequon
Wisconsin
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I am waiting for the classic Sherlock Holmes Game.
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16. Board Game: Alphabet [Average Rating:2.33 Unranked]
Board Game: Alphabet
Bob Bob742
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Despite McDonalds corp trademarking literally scores of words and phrases (in English at least), a bedrock of written human communication is still in the public domain.

Hmmm.
There are a lot of games based on the alphabet already...
but not Cthulhu/alphabet game yet!!!
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17. Board Game: Three Kingdoms Redux [Average Rating:7.89 Overall Rank:1044]
Board Game: Three Kingdoms Redux
Eurojuegos Buenos Aires
Argentina
Buenos Aires
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Romance of the Three Kingdoms, one of the classical novels of China. Some 700 characters in it. Hopefully a good game about it is incoming.
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18. Board Game: Mountain of Inferno [Average Rating:5.68 Overall Rank:14698]
Board Game: Mountain of Inferno
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Journey to the West, another classic Chinese novel. Not so many characters, but interesting nonetheless.
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19. Board Game: Dante's Inferno [Average Rating:4.70 Overall Rank:21412]
Board Game: Dante's Inferno
Xander Fulton
United States
Cleveland Heights
Ohio
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Eternal Damnation!

I'm a bit surprised that Dante's 'Inferno' hasn't shown up in more boardgames. Or, indeed, the entire "Divine Comedy" - it is structured in 'levels' (9 circles of hell, 7 terraces of purgatory, and 9 spheres of heaven) that would adapt quite interestingly to boardgame concepts (Area movement? Worker placement? etc...)

And, published in the 14th century, it is quite in the public domain at this point.
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20. Board Game: Hamlet! [Average Rating:5.97 Overall Rank:15130]
Board Game: Hamlet!
Xander Fulton
United States
Cleveland Heights
Ohio
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Whether 'tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by rolling dice end them: to roll, to place...

So, yeah, Shakespeare's work also well in the public domain. And what material to cover! I'd hardly even know where to begin...murder, revenge, the rise and fall of Kings, soooooo much material to work with!
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21. Board Game: Batman: Arkham City Escape [Average Rating:5.72 Overall Rank:14224]
Board Game: Batman: Arkham City Escape
Xander Fulton
United States
Cleveland Heights
Ohio
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Quote:
We seek him here, we seek him there,
Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.
Is he in heaven?—Is he in hell?
That damned, elusive Pimpernel.
So, yeah - the Scarlet Pimpernel. Basically, the original Bruce Wayne - simple 'playboy' in public, but has a secret identity whereby he rights wrongs and engages in daring-do!

Heck, he even has a secret league to assist him - the 'League of the Scarlet Pimpernel'!

This one might not be okay in the UK/EU, yet - it's 70 years after the author's death, which would put it in 2017 for UK/EU. In the US, though, it's public domain!
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22. Board Game: Cinderella or Hunt the Slipper [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
Board Game: Cinderella or Hunt the Slipper
Robert Wise
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Cinderella

A story about overcoming current circumstances in a complete and fantastic reversal of fate. A tale of an Action Heroine with elements of wish-fulfillment.

The story can be broken down into challenges, and the game has a thematic mechanism based on time (the clock reaching Midnight).
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23. Board Game: Paths and Burrows (The World of Beatrix Potter) [Average Rating:5.41 Unranked]
Board Game: Paths and Burrows (The World of Beatrix Potter)
Andy Leighton
United Kingdom
Peterborough
Unspecified
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Well Beatrix Potter died in 1943 so is now out of copyright in the UK (life + 70) at the end of the year.

Unfortunately The Tale of Little Pig Robinson will remain in copyright in the US until 2026. But every thing else is fair game. Unfortunately this is another set of works which are likely to have lots of trademark issues.

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24. RPG Item: The Art of War [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
RPG Item: The Art of War
F H
United Kingdom
UK
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Tolsoy's "War and Peace"
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25. Board Game: Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island [Average Rating:7.82 Overall Rank:68]
Board Game: Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island
Ralph T
United States
Signal Hill
California
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Robinson Crusoe. Woops, too late.
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