Fighters in Spaaaaace

I like the font. That's a point in the game's favor, at least?

There are so many things in Jordan Nichols and Michael Dunsmore’s Star Fighters: Rapid Fire that ought to be my jam. This is a real-time game (check) about chucking dice (check) and assigning them to a starship’s dashboard (check) in order to blast your opponent out of the sky (check check check). That’s a lot of checks. An entire preflight checklist’s worth of checks.

Upon takeoff, however, the flight was turbulent. Or perhaps it wasn’t turbulent enough. There’s no turbulence in outer space. What I’m saying is that it didn’t go as I’d hoped. After giving it some thought, there are two reasons for Star Fighter’s failure to launch. Now there’s the right metaphor! One, this game doesn’t seem to know what to do with its dice. And two, it’s been done before with far greater panache.

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The First Shall Be First

The Book of I.

There’s an account in the Gospel of Mark that stands out, not only as an expression of Jesus’s idealism, but also as an indictment of the Christian project at large. Jesus walks in on his disciples arguing over which of them is foremost among the entourage. His answer is succinct: Whoever wants to be first must instead be last. The symbol of greatness to Jesus is the servant, the child, the helpless. I have yet to find a church that takes Jesus at his word.

Pardon the religious talk. It’s impossible to discuss Ierusalem: Anno Domini without slipping into the territory. Designed by Carmen García Jiménez, this is the most devotionally charged board game I’ve played in recent memory, and that’s counting titles like The Acts of the Evangelists, Nicaea, and The Mission. The rulebook is glossed with statements from the Gospels. Resources include stones, loaves, fishes, and the Holy Spirit. Final scoring is an outpouring of points based on your proximity to the big man himself.

Speaking as a lifelong student of early Christianity — and surely not projecting any of my own hangups and traumas — it’s a very weird game indeed.

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Class Warfaire

Pictured: More social unrest than Hegemony is actually comfortable presenting.

Hegemony: Lead Your Class to Victory, brought to us by veteran designer Vangelis Bagiartakis and newcomer Varnavas Timotheou, is the sort of game that invites criticism right out of the gate. As a medium, board games have a knack for modeling complex situations and structures. Those models, however, are only as sturdy as a designer’s understanding of the topic under reconstruction. And there aren’t many topics as complicated — or as prone to disagreement, even by very educated people — as class conflict.

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This Trick-Taking Life: The Triumphs

aww! the bee doesn't want to rip his guts out when he stabs somebody!

Why are trick-taking games having such a moment? Last time in this series about my personal journey with trick-takers, I proposed an answer: because the things are so dang simple that learning the rules to one immediately opens the door to a hundred more. But that’s not all! Far from being simplistic time-wasters, there are untold depths and ranges to the system. In fact, one of the best things about cracking open a new trick-taker is that you’re almost certain to discover an approach you haven’t seen before.

Today, though, we’re tackling an aspect of trick-taking that initially put me off the genre altogether. I’m talking about the triumph, also known as the trump, also known to my friend Rob as the “super-suit.”

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Space-Cast! #29. Enduring Snake-Eyes

Wee Aquinas also suffers from low morale when he gets chilly.

What’s the commonality between Shackleton’s voyage to the Antarctic, brain hemorrhages, and the virtue of watching R-rated movies? Today, it’s Amabel Holland’s Endurance, a board game about the strength of the human spirit in the face of abject misery. Join Dan and Amabel as we chat about this game’s difficult development, throwing out historical determinism, and why not every game should have a victory condition.

Listen here or download here. Timestamps can be found after the jump.

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Taming the Medicean Stars

Yes, Galileo named them the Medicean Stars in honor of the Medici. Those jerks were showing up everywhere in the Renaissance.

It’s been 413 years since Galileo Galilei gazed into the heavens with his telescope, a homemade object fitted with lenses he’d ground himself and that could only achieve twenty-power magnification, and noted three points of light lingering near Jupiter. Contrary to the stars behind them, these points of light, which were soon joined by a fourth, seemed to be moving in the wrong direction, clustered in a straight line about the planet. Within three months, Galileo published The Starry Messenger. Among a few choice insults flung at the moon (“mountainous,” he called it), the treatise described how other celestial objects possessed satellites of their own. The universe was suddenly a lot bigger and scarier.

In the four centuries since, we’ve dreamed of ways to conquer Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. Fortunately, Adrian Hesling’s Galileo Project is all about taking the Galilean satellites down a peg. About time.

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I was told in no uncertain terms that "Vulvarium" would not be the title of this review.

Sometimes when playing a board game, I simply have no idea what’s happening. Not necessarily because the game is complicated — although sure, that happens too — but because the game doesn’t bother to string together its bones with connective tissue.

Take Vivarium by Frédéric Vuagnat, for example. Vivarium is about exploring a hitherto undiscovered continent brimming with amazing creatures, uncategorized plants and minerals, and zero complications from colonialism. In exploring this new land, explorers select their discoveries from a grid by matching dominoes. Why dominoes? I couldn’t tell you. Presumably the publisher had a few extra pallets of dominoes hanging around at the warehouse.

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Stranger than Documentary

Do the pips mean something? Are they, like, Hebrew niqqudim?

Wordle. If you haven’t played it, you’ve definitely been irritated by its scoring rubrics cluttering up your social media pages. Josh Wardle sold his original game to the New York Times for about a billion dollars, but not before it spawned even more imitators. There was even a board game adaptation. It was garbage.

Peter C. Hayward’s version is not garbage. When last we saw Hayward, he was helping us kill our alternate selves via That Time You Killed Me. Now he’s back with Fiction, a version of Wordle that captures the spirit of the original. Rather than slavishly reproducing the thing, he’s transformed it into a game of panicked guesswork, dueling wordsmiths, and some well-placed lies.

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Something Familiar This Way Comes

Scary pumpkin-men are not my favorite thing to happen across on a moonlit night, but I've become very good at smashing them.

Madrid-based publisher Salt & Pepper Games has been on a roll lately. I hesitate to say that the secret sauce behind both Resist! and The Hunt was the visual work of Albert Monteys, not least because both would have been impressive even had they been illustrated by crayon. Honestly, though, it’s the art that catches the eye. There’s a humanity to Monteys’ work that breathes life into his subjects, whether they be dueling captains or ragged insurgents.

Or a coven of witches in Salem-adjacent New England warding off evil while placating the local judges. Designed by David Thompson, Trevor Benjamin, and Roger Tankersley, Witchcraft! is the follow-up to Resist! In many ways, it’s a familiar outing. In others, it’s an improvement.

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Not the Archean Supercontinent Vaalbara

The only image of this game's box is something like 300 pixels wide. I resorted to taking my own scan, but the gloss made my reflection show up. A Tom Clancy story would include somebody scanning the image and removing the clutter to find my location.

Did you know there was a supercontinent named Vaalbara? It’s true. There’s also a board game named Vaalbara. Presumably the board game Vaalbara, designed by Olivier Cipière, is not about the supercontinent Vaalbara, since it existed something like three billion years ago. The supercontinent. Not the board game. That exists right now.

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