Bowie Back to Bowie
My brain associates Dan Bullock with new-wave wargames like No Motherland Without, 1979: Revolution in Iran, and (hopefully published one day) Blood & Treasure. I’ve been consistently impressed with his ability to tackle tough topics, imbuing them with uncommon humanity while delivering a few well-deserved body blows to those who put politics and profit over personhood.
Or at least that was true until recently. From now on, I think I’ll forever associate Bullock with Bowie. Namely, the card game Bullock has designed about the life and existential crises of David Bowie in the 1970s. For reasons that will soon make themselves clear, Bowie is not an “official” title. Independent designer Dan Bullock has not somehow acquired the star’s life rights. Rather, it’s a print-and-play design, free to anybody with a printer and some scissors.
But here’s the thing: the unofficial nature of Bowie is precisely what makes it a treasure.
This Grimoire Isn’t Grim At All
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Two wizards walk into a—
Oh. Right. I guess it’s pretty obvious what happens next. The wizards fight, don’t they? They begin assaulting one another’s limited pools of health points, don’t they? They tussle until one of them is a pool of gunk and the other is secure in their mastery, don’t they?
True enough, Wizards of the Grimoire by Cole and Joel Banning doesn’t provide the most novel springboard. It’s about dueling wizards, as if there were any other kind. Scratch the surface with your fingernail, though, and it turns out there’s one heck of a self-contained dueling game to be found.
Grab Hold of One Long Sharp Tooth
Wargames are in a period of metamorphosis. One of last year’s most impactful titles was Resist!, a masterful release from Salt & Pepper Games designed by David Thompson, Trevor Benjamin, and Roger Tankersley. Resist! was an exemplar of what I like to call the “human touch” wave of wargames. Rather than fretting over the particulars of military paraphernalia, its interest was more psychological, emphasizing the human toll of insurgent warfare. Every play forced a reckoning. Brought to life by the illustrations of Albert Monteys, its cast of Maquis rebels stared you down as you undertook antifascist assaults and chose who to sacrifice or preserve. Its pedigree owed more to The Grizzled than to Advanced Squad Leader.
That pedigree continues this year with The Hunt, another Salt & Pepper release illustrated by Monteys. Designed by Matthias Cramer and Engin Kunter, The Hunt positions its lens somewhat farther out, encompassing the South Atlantic Ocean and the dueling searches of the German and British Navies.
Space-Cast! #26. Voting for Women
Now that Tory Brown’s supernal Votes for Women has escaped into the wild, it’s time to sit down and discuss the important questions. Listen in as we chat about approachable “war” games, the importance of understanding one’s political opposition, and why Brown chose to include a guano magnate’s whining about Emmeline Pankhurst. As a bonus, we also delve into the game’s relevance today.
Listen here or download here. Timestamps can be found after the jump.
Spreadsheets of Gaia
In my corner of the world, the Great Salt Lake is drying up. Because its bed contains deposits of heavy metalloids, the winds that sweep that portion of the valley have begun to billow arsenic-laced dust. Local politicians have proposed a wide range of solutions, from “Let’s cut down all those water-hogging trees” to “Did you know Victorian women consumed daily arsenic wafers to bleach their skin lighter and show they didn’t work in the fields? It’s time to embrace the wisdom of our foremothers!”
I prefer my apocalyptic wastelands with a splash of eco-optimism. Crud, I’d take a wasteland that wasn’t in thrall to the alfalfa lobby. Until then, Ian Cooper and Jan Gonzalez’s Shapers of Gaia is about reseeding the desert after everybody’s arsenic consumption made them too pale to keep on living.
Then again, does it count as eco-optimism if it requires mega-robots and efficacious cloning?
Justice, Not Favors
I wish I could say Tory Brown’s Votes for Women didn’t feel so timely, coming over a century after the passage of the 19th Amendment, but here we are. Back around the turn of the new year, an acquaintance mentioned offhandedly his belief that the country might be better off today had the amendment not been ratified in 1920. My surprise had less to do with that he held such an opinion — people’s heads are stuffed full of silly notions — than that he was willing to state it so baldly. What can we agree upon, if not the idea that everyone should be guaranteed that most basic expression of political will, the vote?
Then again, that’s a large part of what makes Votes for Women so valuable. It returns us to a time when the rights we take for granted were anything but secured.
Bugpope and Spacegirl Hijack a Starship
There’s nothing quite like breaking into places where you don’t belong. Between Mind MGMT, Sniper Elite: The Board Game, and Specter Ops, the last few years have offered a wealth of options for ne’er-do-wells.
At first glance, though, Gale Force Nine’s Starfinder: Pirates of Skydock, designed by Dylan Birtolo, Josh Derksen, and Thomas Gofton, has more in common with Donald X. Vaccarino’s Infiltration. Mostly because your moves are visible to the entire table and the aesthetic is oh so very neon. More than that, it comes loaded with a sense of distrust for your so-called teammates. As a crew of pirates attempting to highjack a capital spaceship, there’s plenty of incentive to bury a shiv in your crewmate’s backside.
Or so the game wants you to think. Around these parts, the Pirates of Skydock are infamous for their passive-aggressive snittiness.
Something Wicked This Way Comes
Coup was great, wasn’t it? Hard to believe it’s been over a decade since Rikki Tahta’s original splashed onto the scene. With only fifteen cards and an absolutely intuitive merging of hidden roles and action selection, it was very nearly the perfect social deduction game. Its follow-up, Coup: Rebellion G54, deepened that card pool but also traded away a significant portion of its ease for an oppressive need to check which actions were available this session. I eventually traded it away. Rebellion G54, that is. I still have my original printing stashed somewhere.
Right in time for the pandemic, four designers expanded on that framework. The question seemingly asked by AC Atienza, Alvin Lee, Ethan Li, and Mitchell Loewen bordered on the heretical: What if Coup, but with an extra layer of hidden roles built atop the hidden roles it already had? Also: What if Coup, but with Shakespeare?
The answer to both questions is Captain’s Gambit: Kings of Infinite Space.
Digital Cardboard: Mahokenshi
It’s been a few years now since video games cribbed big time from the realm of cardboard with Slay the Spire, the roguelike deck-builder that spawned a hundred copycats, none of them more compelling than the wickedly glorious Monster Train (CHOOT CHOOT). As someone who weathered the Great Deck-Building Imitation that followed in the wake of Donald X. Vaccarino’s genre-establishing Dominion, I’ve followed this outpouring with some interest. My expert conclusion: both hobbies seem to be operating on the “flinging spaghetti at the wall” model. And too often, the noodles have yet to be wetted.
The latest case in point in Mahokenshi, a lavishly animated deck-builder that sees one of four heroes roaming a landscape inspired by Japanese mythology, poking goblins and hiding in forests. Its closest cousin is Vlaada Chvátil’s supernal Mage Knight. Unfortunately, its consanguinity is thrice removed.