In nearly every capacity, Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial remains an unqualified success. The sentimental sci-fi sensation charmed audiences back in 1982, breaking box-office records and laying the foundation for generations of suburban fantasia (hello, Stranger Things). Yet its charms have almost never translated into gaming experiences. A hastily made Atari 2600 cartridge helped send the entire market into free fall and took the idea of burying failure to shocking extremes. Can a board game break that bizarre curse?
Funko’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial: Light Years from Home is flying in to challenge that paradigm. The eye-catching co-op board game designed by its Prospero Hall team (who’ve crafted tabletop adaptations of Spielberg’s Jaws and Jurassic Park) is unusually similar to seeing the film for the first time as a child; if you can get past some early moments of unrest, you’re in for a treat.
Designed for two to four players, Light Years from Home takes the film’s plot — get E.T. to “phone home” — to complicated but exciting extremes. Each bike-riding player — Elliott, his siblings, Michael and Gertie, and semi-obscure friend Greg — moves themselves or the alien around the board, collecting communicator pieces and evading pesky federal agents (who possess neither guns nor walkie-talkies). Those communicator pieces are used to build a set of dice to help the beautifully designed mothership piece move — but only once the players carry the dice (and E.T.) in their bike baskets to a special spot in the forest to send their signal.
The customization aspects make E.T. as spirited as the Dungeons & Dragons game the kids play early on in the film. Each character has unique abilities, and carrying the little E.T. figurine grants you access to a deck of extra powerful movement cards, sporting beautiful stylized renditions of scenes from the movie. (A set of player cards helps keep track of everyone’s move sets.)
Light Years from Home’s challenges — at least early on — lie in the sheer amount of play options you have per turn. Some moves are free, others get you closer to the end of your turn, and some abilities offset or allow those moves to be skipped. Those actions can even be combined by snapping the characters’ bases together and moving them around the board in tandem. It’s a setup that could frustrate younger kids with shorter attention spans — or adults gorged on Reese’s Pieces and cans of Coors. (The game is marketed for ages 10 and up; if you’re a 10-year-old E.T. fan in 2022, I’d love to sit down with you and tell you what to expect for your next decade.)
But after a few focused rounds — or a pause to really read those instructions — you’ll thrill to achieving the game’s objective together, basking in the glow of the game’s retro art design and nods to all your favorite moments in the movie. You might even be inspired to put on that classic John Williams theme when you get the spaceship to land before the government boxes you out of the landing site — and after you pack the game pieces back up, you might wonder when it’s the right time to ask to play it again, picking different characters next time.
Four decades after E.T. became synonymous with miserable gaming experiences, Light Years from Home offers a surprise shot at redemption. The balanced character specs and well-placed nods to the best details of the source material all add up to a fun addition to your next family game night. You’ll forgive the obvious pun… but it might even send you and yours over the moon.
E.T The Extra-Terrestrial: Light Years From Home was reviewed with a final retail copy provided by Funko Games. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.