Editor’s note: The below contains minor spoilers for Alice in Borderland Season 2.Now that we’ve had some time to absorb and think about the games that Alice in Borderland Season 2 brought us, it’s finally time to ask: How good were they? In the second batch of episodes of the Japanese series, we witnessed more diverse games, since the structure of the episodes – separating the cast in different cores – allowed the Borderland players to get into some games that were not as action-packed as in Season 2, but just as thrilling.
So we’re going to rank the seven major games presented in the new season, most of which played by lead characters Arisu (Kento Yamazaki), Usagi (Tao Tsuchiya), and Chishiya (Nijiro Murakami). For this list, we’re not looking at games that weren’t fully depicted throughout the episodes, those which featured random characters, and/or whose rules aren’t made clear, like the ones briefly shown in Episode 7.
7. King of Clubs’ Arena
Make no mistake: The weakest game on the list isn’t necessarily a bad one. After all, this is the game that kicks off Season 2 and sends the message that, this time around, everything will be bigger and more dangerous. The shooting range (or battleground) of the King of Clubs puts every player in his arena in fight or flight mode, and both options have horrible consequences.
What makes the King of Clubs’ game terrifying is that it diverts from the norm that Borderland players had seen so far. They spend quite some time trying to figure out the rules of his game, only to realize that, for this one, there are no rules. You just have to kill him, or he won’t stop. The problem is, it’s virtually impossible to get anywhere near the King of Clubs, since he’s always packing a fully loaded machine gun and his blimp also shoots down whoever is running across his designated area.
Another thing that makes this game different is that it’s stretched across most of the season, and its threat looms in the corner of at least half the episodes. It only comes to an end when Arisu and his friends come to realize they can no longer ignore it – which leads to an unprecedented bloodbath. The problem with this game is that it is so deadly that you wouldn’t expect anyone to survive it for longer than 10 minutes, which makes it a little hard to buy the fact that it stretches for that long.
6. Croquet for Beginners with the Queen of Hearts
While the final game from Season 2 is not the most thrilling, at first it certainly seems intriguing. As soon as Arisu and Usagi make their way to the top of the building where the Queen of Hearts Mira Kano (Riisa Naka) is located, she gives them two surprising bits of news: They’ll play a simple game of croquet, and they don’t even have to win. That’s it. No twists, no different rules… they only have to make it to the end of the game.
Of course, if you’ve watched even a single episode of Alice in Borderland, you know that it just can’t be that simple, and immediately assume that there is a catch somewhere down the line. This is where this game kind of disappoints, because the game itself has nothing that sets it apart. The “real” game happens when Mira creates a massive distraction so that Arisu and Usagi get mentally and physically incapacitated of seeing the match through.
At the same time, we do have to consider that, story-wise, the point of this last game is not to be intriguing or revolutionary, since what’s most important is the information that Mira gives the main characters and what happens when the game wraps. At the end of the day, though, it is a game by its very definition, albeit not as thrilling as the others on this list.
5. Escape From the Stadium
Even though this is a smaller game in the season and features no main characters, it is shown from beginning to end, and it’s fairly simple (on paper): Players only need to escape from inside a stadium, which starts to collapse the minute the game begins. It’s pretty easy to feel the desperation of the players, and it’s impossible not to root for everyone to make it out alive.
However, the focus of this game is a bit different, since it is used to provide some background story to Akane Heiya (Yuri Tsunematsu). In the flashback, we learn about the girl’s past with her mother, how she came to lose her leg, and how she learned to be ruthless in Borderland from the very start.
4. Checkmate With the Queen of Spades
In this thrilling variant of tag, players have to tag each other throughout sixteen rounds that last five minutes each. The rules are pretty simple: You tap on the button from a person’s device on their back in order to make them a part of your team. Each person can only change teams once per turn and, at the end of all rounds, the team with the most players wins. However, the Queen of Spades is so confident that her team starts out with only four members, while the Challenger team has 16.
Even though this is one of the simplest games of the season, the level of stress and despair that it causes is immeasurable. As they see the Queen’s team get bigger, players know they are a step closer to death, which puts them in a moral dilemma that has to be solved in a timely fashion: Do you join the Queen of Spades and watch your peers die? Or do you try to play the game to the best of your ability and don’t surrender to Borderland’s tyranny? In true, Alice in Borderland cruelty fashion, a child is inserted into the game, which makes the moral choice even more difficult.
3. Balance Scale With the King of Diamonds
In one of the few games that players get to play sitting down and standing still, Alice in Borderland puts Chishiya at a table with four other players inside the sumptuous Supreme Court building. In this game, complexity is key: Players have three minutes to choose a number between 0 and 100. Once this is done, the game system will take all numbers chosen, add them up and then come up with an average, which is multiplied by 0.8. Whoever chooses the number closest to the final result wins the round. If you are not the winner, you lose one or more points, and here’s where it gets terrifying.
Every time you lose one or more points, a massive basin on top of your head gets filled with sulfuric acid. If your score gets to -10 points, the basin gets too heavy and topples over, spilling the acid on top of the player and killing them instantly. Every time a new player gets eliminated (AKA killed) a new rule is added.
This is the type of game that shows how Alice in Borderland can be cruel without making players physically fight for their lives. In a short amount of time, the players from Balance Scale are forced to figure out a strategy that will make them survive each round, and it takes mathematics, logical thinking, as well as trial and error to master the game – and all of this must be done within a couple of rounds at maximum. The game also shows Chishiya’s wit and provides a peek into his past before he went to Borderland.
2. Osmosis With the King of Clubs
Alice in Borderland is at its best when a game mixes action and wits. Osmosis is presented as a 2-hour-long game of tag, but its points system forces players to devise a strategy because simply tagging the opposing team is not enough. In this version, each player wears a bracelet and the team needs to decide how many points each player will get assigned. The difference in points is crucial because you have to decide which players can lose more points and which can’t.
Osmosis is one of the best games from Season 2 because it is dynamic, forces players to devise a strategy on the fly, and its rules also leave plenty of room to get creative with how you will play it. Of course, “getting creative” in this world means making some drastic decisions to guarantee a win, as Arisu later finds out. But for us watching in the comfort of our home, it’s pretty entertaining.
1. Solitary Confinement With the Jack of Hearts
One of the things that make a TV series compelling is putting characters we care about in situations where they seem cornered. The cell block game in which Chishiya participates halfway through Season 2 defies his nonchalant demeanor and, for the first time ever in the series, you can feel his despair as the walls start closing in, even though he never lets it show.
In this game, when every round starts, the necklace that players are wearing displays one of four card symbols (clubs, diamonds, spades, or hearts) on a small screen located in the back of their necks. You can only make it to the next round if you correctly state which symbol is on your screen by the end of the round. This means you are forced to trust someone and make an alliance if you want to make it to the end.
This game is the best of the season not only because it introduces a bunch of interesting characters – many of whom subvert the anime tropes that are constantly present in Alice in Borderland – but also because it corners Chishiya in a way that makes you fear for his destiny. Last but not least, this game introduces two characters that, if the series gets picked up for Season 3, will definitely be of great importance to future episodes, so we have two guaranteed excellent players for the next games.
You can stream all episodes of Alice in Borderland on Netflix now.