In Walter Hill’s 1979 cult classic thriller The Warriors, a Coney Island street gang is framed for the murder of a charismatic uptown gang leader. To win the day they have to cross the entirety of New York City in a single night, with every other gang in the city vengefully gunning for them. They’re hard-pressed and on the edge of getting murdered in nearly every scene, with minimal resources and no help. They can’t even seek protection from the cops, who hate the Warriors and their fellow “boppers” in the other gangs equally. Funko Games’ co-op board game The Warriors: Come Out to Play replicates that situation and the massive stress that comes with it. But to enjoy the game, players really have to be up for the experience of being harried, hunted, and desperate.
Two to four players each take on a role from the movie — Warriors gang members Swan, Snow, Cochise, Cowboy, Fox, Vermin, Rembrandt, or Mercy. Each character has a few signature abilities represented by cards, with the cards from the unused players in any given game going into a shared War deck. Players each build their own small deck while traveling along a game board from the Bronx to Brooklyn, gathering weapons or War cards, which can be used in the frequent gang fights along the way.
The Warriors, credited collaboratively to “the boppers at Prospero Hall,” keeps the action tight and claustrophobic. Players only have a few choices at a time on the board, and nearly every choice has an associated cost. They’re given very little time to build up their hands between conflicts, and many of the battles will require them to permanently sacrifice cards from the game just to keep going. Each fight is a calculation: Spend resources to guarantee a win at the expense of future fights, or play conservatively and risk a loss, which will also burn the gang’s minimal resources?
Each fight in The Warriors is a small gambling game where players need to generate certain numbers on the dice in order to win, but they have to earn those dice by either playing or permanently burning cards. One of the more innovative elements here is how often cards are removed from the game entirely. Those sacrifices may be necessary to salvage a failing battle or upgrade a mediocre hand, but letting go of a card for the rest of the game still always feels like a nerve-wracking exercise in limiting your future options.
The game doesn’t require any knowledge of the Warriors film (or the 2005 beat-’em-up video game it spawned), but cult-movie fans will notice that the game’s design is closely integrated with the film. An event deck that adds extra conflict is labeled “Hey, Boppers,” referencing the radio show in the movie that spreads rumors about the Warriors’ whereabouts so other gangs can zero in on them. The eight Warriors character options in the game all have abilities that reflect their roles in the story. (Each one is lovingly detailed, in art that’s warmer and more attractive than the film itself.)
And players face off against the ridiculously costumed gangs that are one of the movie’s most memorable elements: the suspiciously mime-like Hi-Hats, the vaguely mechanic-ish Rogues, the all-female Lizzies, and yes, the baseball-themed Furies. Each gang has its own thematic complication in combat, and each gets its own adorably detailed plastic mini. (Aww, lookit the teensy little crowbar the Rogue is wielding.) Those minis occupy a reputation track on the board, and move up or down as the Warriors fight each gang in turn. Wins give the players a better rep, which grants them a small combat benefit and a buffer against losing the game by tanking their reputation.
But above all, the game reproduces the movie’s feeling of dread and hanging on the edge at all times, which may be the deciding factor in whether a given group enjoys playing it. One group Polygon playtested The Warriors with hated the sensation of never leveling up to the point where they could handily dominate a fight. When each new battle became a scrabble to hang onto their diminishing decks, they felt overwhelmed and defensive in a way they didn’t enjoy. (Players who despise race-against-defeat board games like Dead of Winter or Pandemic should steer clear of this one.) In a playtest with a completely different set of people, the group strategically dodged some early fights, accepted some hits, and came away from the game victorious. That team was pleased by the challenge and the tension of feeling like they were about to lose for most of the game. Your mileage may vary according to your tastes.
The Warriors isn’t for everybody. It’s an unusual experience — a game that’s fairly simple to set up and learn, but that feels like every choice could be meaningful and dangerous. But in an industry where media tie-in games often barely feel connected to their source material, The Warriors can at least boast a solid connection: It puts you right in the action of the movie, and it doesn’t let up until you either make it back home or die trying.
The Warriors: Come Out to Play was reviewed with a physical 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.