If you’ve ever played Dungeons & Dragons, or any other role-playing board game, then you understand the depth and creativity that can be achieved, and how interesting the worlds can become. But what if that world could include the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? What if there was a game that could bring the turtles off the comic book page and into the living room, in a way never achieved by any other incarnation?
In September 1985, mere years before the heroes in green hit it big, that exact situation occurred when Erick Wujcik and Palladium Books created the first TMNT RPG, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness. Gameplay and rules drew from Palladium’s Megaversal game system, and players were allowed to create characters from any number of mutated animals. The type of mutation, animal, nature of powers, and source of mutation all allowed for deep and individualized game play. Players could even give their mutants a moral or ethical alignment, mental illness, or any number of other humanistic traits, making sure that whatever happened in the game, certain personality traits would remain true and affect the story.
The world of Other Strangeness featured several aspects from the comic book, including stats on all the turtles and the Shredder, as well as several other characters that had shown up in the comic’s first couple years of print. The settings of the game even mimicked that of the comic, but the stories themselves were completely divergent, giving players the chance to really create their own adventures. In addition, an extra element for creating a connection to the comic was having Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman do all the illustrations and cover art for the game.
To help the game grow and become a success for the franchise, Palladium released eight supplements between 1986 and 1990, expanding the world of the game. Additions like the post-apocalyptic “After the Bomb” and the star-studded “Turtles Go Hollywood” guaranteed that the adventures could continue for a long time to come. However, the best laid plans never quite go as expected, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness ultimately faded into obscurity.
Palladium once spoke of the game’s fate, and attributed the ultimate failing of the RPG to the 1987 animated series and the live-action films of the early 1990’s. Because those two adaptations deviated significantly from the Mirage comic turtles, they became too childish to support a game that was marketed to teenagers. The company figured that even if teens liked the turtles, they wouldn’t admit it enough to buy a game related to a children’s cartoon. So, sales soon plummeted from 50,000 copies per year to about 6,000.
By 1997, there was talk about rereleasing the game, and trying to reclaim the fan base, but production delays, low interest, and the cost of maintaining the license from Mirage became too much for Palladium, so the idea was scrapped and the license given up in 2000. When TMNT came out in 2007, there was some word from the developer that if the movie proved to be a success, then there might be new talks with Mirage about renewing the license, but that idea never came to fruition. Now with the entirety of the franchise owned by Viacom, a new TMNT board game may never become a reality.
Despite being relegated fairly quickly to obscurity, the RPG board game was a great way to expand the TMNT universe early on. It gave fans a new way to enjoy the franchise without requiring Laird and Eastman to sell out in a way that ruined the characters. While it may not have been terribly popular, it sold enough early on that it might be worth revisiting now. With the golden age of geek and nerd culture upon the world, and the stigma against RPG board games gone, the target demographic for a game like this would no longer be worried about the concerns Palladium once targeted as reasons for dipping sales. A game like Other Strangeness may be able to turn a profit again, and give the franchise yet another unique shot in the arm.