I’ve always had a complicated relationship with word games. Raised from birth to compete in Scrabble, I can identify all the best two- and three-letter words. I’m the guy you accuse of cheating when playing online. But I’m not cheating. It’s just that I’m a robot with a singular purpose, and that purpose is to spell QUICHES on a triple-word score.
With that level of programming rattling around my head, you’d think SHH would be my sort of thing. So let’s talk.
Paolo Mori has put together some wonderful stuff, ranging from the shipshape Libertalia to the behatted Dogs of War. Both were exceptionally muscular for their size, flexing their wiry ruleset so that even reluctant friends could join in and still feel brilliant after a couple rounds. What’s the one thing better than staffing a snarling pirate den? Fighting on both sides of a mercenary battle, that’s what.
Ethnos joins that brawny pair as possibly Mori’s most sinewy game yet, and not just because it features trolls beating up orcs. Come take a look.
For today’s review, Dan Thurot was tasked with looking at a kid’s game — Scuttle!, an adventure of piratical treasure-hoarding — while unfortunately not possessing any kids of the proper age. His daughter can count to twenty, but even simple arithmetic is a little out of reach. In order to determine whether this is the Best Game For Kids, he has enlisted Brock Poulsen, who owns as many as THREE TIMES the number of children. You can handle that math on your own.
Negotiation in games is great, isn’t it? Unfortunately, it’s also a beast to pull off. You’ve got to provide something worth haggling over, hopefully provide avenues for weaker-willed players to thrive (they are weaker-willed, I call it like I see it), add a dash of risky speculation, and probably figure out how to keep those two from spending the whole night shouting at each other. You know the pair I’m talking about.
Tomb Trader isn’t the usual fare from Level 99 Games. It’s a diminutive thing, just seventy-ish cards and some ultra-cheap tiddlywink tokens. Fortunately, it’s also a surprisingly solid negotiation game for five reasons.
Churchill is a game I’ve wanted to write about for almost two years. It takes a sky-high view of World War 2, pitching you as the Big Three in their efforts to break the back of the Axis Powers. Yet it couldn’t rightly be described as a wargame. Rather than emphasizing the strategy or logistics of war, it’s about the interactions between Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt (and later Truman) across multiple conferences as they divide the responsibilities and risks of beating Germany and Japan — and eventually divvy up the world itself. It’s a game of politics, of give-and-take, of hard expediency in the face of crushing reality. It’s about working hand-in-hand with your ideological enemies and hoping you have enough clout to avoid triggering yet another war once the current one is wrapped up. It is, in a word, bold.
Jim Felli always brings me the very weirdest stuff. Remember Zimby Mojo, the game about cannibal tribes warring over a magical crown? You would remember. It was crazy.
Bemused is slightly more muted, if only because it doesn’t see you transforming your tribesmen into hulking zombies. Instead, you’re a jealous muse who can drive your rivals’ artists insane, return your virtuoso from the dead to haunt those who killed her, and generally sow dread and doubt rather than actually, y’know, making art.
Okay, so it’s also bonkers.
Two of my favorite games by Phil Eklund, Greenland and Neanderthal, also happen to be two of my favorite games full stop. One of the reasons is their willingness to employ a particular scope, which in turn gives their subject matters room to breathe. Greenland, for example, takes place over the course of approximately four hundred years. Neanderthal sprawls over four hundred years per turn. Both are about a lot of things, from the way cultures or brains develop in response to environmental pressures to the profound unfairness of how a group might rise or fall into extinction through sheer luck. They’re narrative masterclasses, micro history seminars, and compelling play experiences rolled into one.
Bios: Genesis takes this broad view and stretches it, taking place over the course of, oh, four billion years. That isn’t a typo. Billion. Four of them. This is a game that will cast you as primordial soup, single-celled bacterium, all the way up to the grandeur of sea stars and trilobites. As a next step in Eklund’s “survival” series, it’s a bold one.
It’s also a huge pain in the ass to learn.
Thus far, the best titles in the small-as-a-pack-of-gum Pack O Games — which I only just now realize is a very, very light pun — have navigated the sweet spot between simple and too simple. By presenting a slender set of rules that still gives everyone some latitude in how to behave, games like HUE and GEM seem deeper than their ninety-second explanation would imply, generating tension through the guesswork of who’s in the lead and how to reel them back in.
FLY, on the other hand, is the simplest of the lot. But does that push it into TKO territory?