I was born and bred for word games. Which has led me to regard them fondly, but also sometimes with a simmering resentment you could whip up a stir fry in. What if I don’t want to spell QANATS for the thousandth time?
But Jeff Beck’s Word Domination is a clever one. And it largely has to do with the fact that it doesn’t focus too much on prioritizing the tougher letters.
A game about the selling and buying of Renaissance indulgences would be fascinating. You could try to guess which sins would need forgiving that weekend, pay the priest, and waltz right off to your fancy sexy parties. But! If you didn’t anticipate your transgressions properly, Martin Luther would lodge a complaint and Teresa of Ávila would slap you hard across the cheek.
Indulgence, one of the three titles in the opening salvo from Restoration Games, isn’t quite that. It’s a remake of Jerry D’Arcey’s Dragon Master, which was a remake of his own Coup d’Etat, which was a remake of Barbu. That’s a type of history too. Fewer assassinations and peasant revolts, one hopes.
My Grandpa owned the original Stop Thief, the one from way back in 1979 before exclamation marks were considered proper for board games. The ’80s overcompensated by adding the buggers to everything, but for that brief moment in time you could utter that phrase with a gruff flatness. Stop. Thief. No yelling. You’re hardly even speaking aloud at that point. Growling it, maybe.
Sadly, the chunky plastic “police scanner” that revealed the location of the fleeing thieves was hopelessly broken. We mostly just pushed the investigators around and pretended they were blasting each other in broad daylight and on public streets with their magnum revolvers. So, in a way, a big stretch of a way, Restoration Games giving Stop Thief! new life — with a shiny new exclamation mark — feels almost predestined, as though I was never meant to escape its gravitational pull.
After the iterative cleverness of Cry Havoc, which entrusted its players with the command of four highly distinctive factions, I’d gladly play almost anything designed by Grant Rodiek. Hence the initial allure of Solstice. Unlike Cry Havoc, however, Solstice would be a small production. No significant asymmetry, no mini sculpts, no fist-pumping Trogs. Just a fast-playing, hard-hitting, no-prisoners card game.
And hoo boy, is it devious.
The Roman Ludi Saeculares of 248 were an astonishing spectacle. Featuring exhibitions of hundreds of animals ranging from giraffes and elk to lions and rhinoceroses, as well as gladiatorial matches, banquets, and theater, the commemoration of the thousand-year existence of the city was intended as the greatest expression of Roman longevity ever shouted from the rooftops.
But while these festivities represent a date historians would eagerly dial into their time machines, the Roman Empire of 248 was anything but triumphal. The host of the games, Emperor Marcus Julius Philippus — more commonly known by his epithet Philip the Arab — was beset by scandal and whispered rumor. Not only had he overseen the death of his predecessor while serving as his bodyguard (awkwaaard), but he had also paid the Sassanids of Persia a tribute of half a million denarii to leave the Empire’s eastern border alone. In the same year as the millennial games, dissatisfied legions rose against Philip to appoint a new emperor of their own, spurring opportunistic Goths to flood across the Danube. Philip the Arab died in battle after fewer than five years as emperor. And that was considered an above average tenure for an emperor during the Crisis of the Third Century.
Barbarians. Famine. Civil war. Plague. Assassination. Inflation. Any game about Rome’s half-century of near disaster will have to grapple with a wide range of issues. And even though Wray Farrell and Brad Johnson’s Time of Crisis somehow touches on all of them, that’s only the second-best thing about it.
When Ryan Laukat announced that his latest crowdfunded project would be a sequel to the much-loved Above and Below, it was always going to kick right past its funding goal. Above and Below might have been flawed in some ways — the seams between its euroish town-builder and storybook adventures occasionally resembling potholes, the writing often halting, the mechanisms perhaps unbalanced (invest in beds, kids). Yet it wasn’t ever about balance or euro mechanisms or even its storybook. Or, well, not entirely about its storybook. If anything, it was about place. It was pleasant and whimsical and provided just-hefty-enough stakes to make its fans care. Also, you could recruit a cat who would occasionally fall asleep in a sunbeam.
For those who were enamored with Above and Below, I can absolutely assure you that Near and Far is creeping in through the window, tossing the watchdog a slice of bacon, and smothering Above and Below in its sleep. It’s more coherent, more thoughtful, and that beloved sense of place has never been more carefully formed, illustrated, or realized.
And for everybody else? Well, those heartstrings aren’t about to become more pluckable anytime soon.
I’ve never been secretive about my general distaste for cooperative games. I might say it’s the way they often devolve into tedious group discussions about movement optimization, but the real reason is that my lack of self-esteem means I need somebody to grind to paste in order to feel good about myself. It’s a disorder.
But hey! For whatever reason, Kevin Wilson’s Escape from 100 Million B.C. is an exception. A grand, silly, can’t-wait-to-play-again exception.
There aren’t many publishers that beat Oink Games for cramming so much utter delightfulness into a box the size of a tuna tin. Even a couple years after their first appearance, both Deep Sea Adventure and A Fake Artist Goes to New York make the occasional appearance at our table. These waters may not run fast, or even all that deep, but they certainly are steady. Like the Nile, perhaps.
Speaking of the Nile, The Pyramid’s Deadline sees designer Jun Sasaki back in fine form. Here, up to six players are the harried architects of an ailing pharaoh, desperate to finish their man-god’s tomb before his last phlegmatic gasp. Like an edifice of sandstone, it’s a sturdy sort of game. Unfortunately, it sometimes feels about as polished as sandstone too.