Yippee-Ki-Yay…Capturing an Action Classic in Die Hard: The Nakatomi Heist Board Game – Designer Diary

Die Hard: The Nakatomi Heist Board Game

Die Hard: The Nakatomi Heist Board Game is the first officially licensed tabletop game based on the 1988 classic, thanks to a partnership between Usaopoly and Fox Consumer Products. As featured on Nerdist, Mental Floss, Polygon, and more, the one-vs-many strategy game that lets players jump into the story of the first Die Hard film to create their own ending has continued to excite fans since its suspenseful Gen Con activations, giving hobby gamers, movie buffs, and collectors even more reason to bust out their favorite snarky film quotes. Designers Pat Marino and Sean “Fletch” Fletcher detail how they brought all of the best Die Hard elements to the table. Welcome to the party, pals.

Pat Marino: When the idea came up to make a Die Hard board game, I was immediately excited. We were shocked that no one had made one yet, and happy to find that our friends at Fox were as thrilled by the idea as we were.

Sean Fletcher: For me, a lot of the enthusiasm diving into this project came from knowing that so many fans of board games are also fans of the movie, and that there was a community already looking for that Die Hard experience as a game.

Pat: We considered a lot of different approaches to the game design when we started, and ultimately went with what best captured the action and tension of the movie, bringing as much flavor from the license into the game as possible. For months, Die Hard was heavily quoted in our office while testing and development were underway.

Sean: In the game, one player takes on the role of John McClane, while the others must work together as the team of thieves trying to rob Nakatomi Plaza. We loved the idea of a 1 vs. many game because throughout the film, John is pretty much on his own. He gets some support from Sgt. Al Powell, but only by radio, which we included in the game as a support mechanic for the McClane player. Meanwhile, the thieves are trying to work together, but John is listening in on the radio he steals, so they can’t communicate openly. This is why the thieves have limited communication when selecting their action cards, which makes their game into a challenging puzzle.

Pat: In order to bring out the story of the film we created a 3-act game, which starts small on a folded game board, and expands each act as the board unfolds. In each act, each side has unique objectives that tell the story of the film and bring out memorable moments for fans. This was a challenge for us in designing the game – we wanted an experience that felt authentic to the movie, but also gave players decisions to make. Creating three acts made it possible to have the story evolve in a way that matches each act of the film, without limiting the character actions and story arc within each act.

Sean: Really, it was all about making the movie the star of the game. We knew early on that every mechanic we built into the game had to serve to tell the story. We worked hard to keep the core mechanics really accessible and intuitive to gamers of all levels. Both John McClane and the thieves have a common set of actions that guide the gameplay; everything starts with those actions and builds out from there. It makes it so that learning one side of the game gives you a pretty good grasp on how the other side will work as well. Once we locked in those key structural pieces, we could ask ourselves what we wanted to do to make the two sides feel and play differently. In the end, playing as John McClane is about the long game, seeing how your actions in the early game help your character build up and improve skills for Act III. The thieves meanwhile are all about getting a mind-meld going that helps you hack the vault codes as efficiently as possible.

Pat: This game is perfect for Die Hard fans as they get to relive all their favorite moments from the film, but also put their own spin on how the story unfolds. We also made John McClane and the thieves play differently so that players could experience the game from different perspectives using different mechanisms to plan and carry out their actions. This really gives players added incentive to get the game to the table more often, because the game feels fresh each time you change sides.


Pat Marino is the Game Design Manager at Usaopoly (The Op). His works include Court of the Dead: Mourners Call, Talisman: Batman Super-Villains Edition, and Gem Hens. His favorite games include Trickerion and Burano. Pat’s game collection is slowly taking over his household in Lemon Grove, CA where he lives with his partner Kat, dog Murphy, and cat Lucian.

Sean Fletcher is a Senior Game Designer at The Op whose previous works include Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle and Magic: the Gathering – Shadowmoor. His favorite games include Gloomhaven and Orleans. Fletch lives in Oceanside, CA with his wife, their son, and a thoroughly uncooperative dachshund. When not designing or playing games, he enjoys listening to baseball radio broadcasts.