Everybody knows the Great Wall was built to prevent the barbarian hordes from plundering the imperial garden’s strawberries, and thank goodness Imperial Harvest isn’t too caught up in politically-motivated historical propaganda to deny the obvious. One side wants royal strawberries, the other side wants royal strawberries; there ain’t enough royal strawberries for the both of ’em.
Cue one of the weirdest gaming experiences I’ve had this year. And I’ve played Zimby Mojo.
Interrupt me if this is a spoiler, but it’s the factions that do it. Can a review be spoiled? If so, I just spoiled myself.
Neuroshima Hex has been a thing for a while now. Ten years, in fact. When it first appeared on the scene, Portal Games was much smaller than it is now, and Michał Oracz was just beginning to show his prodigy-levels of cleverness at creating distinct factions. In essence, Neuroshima Hex was the broadside that started the war. After all, this was before his wonderful Theseus: The Dark Orbit and the brand-new Cry Havoc, both of which are all about the way their various factions intersect, clash, and resolve their differences. Usually by shooting or eating each other. Sometimes both.
Now it’s ten years later and Neuroshima Hex is still going strong. And I’m going to tell you why it’s the raddest abstract tile-laying game on the market.
Every so often, I come across a game that’s so artistic in its vision, so inventive in its mechanical execution, so determined to march to the beat of its own drummer, that’s it nothing short of breathtaking. After playing a few dozen nigh-identical deck-building or worker-placement games, creativity can be its own reward.
Unfortunately, sometimes that game stumbles in just such a way that it becomes nearly impossible to recommend it. And so it is with the asymmetrical cooperative game The Ravens of Thri Sahashri.
Eighteen cards. Four tokens. One pad for keeping score. A single golf pencil.
That’s how I introduced last year’s Tides of Time, Kristian Čurla’s then-unique microgame about the dawn of civilization as glimpsed through the world’s tiniest lens. It was a bijou of a game, as clever and elegant as it was petite.
Now we’ve got Tides of Madness, which at first glance appears like little more than the inevitable Lovecraftifying that has gripped so much of this hobby. But let’s take a closer look.
If we’ve learned any one thing about Scott Almes and Gamelyn Games’ Tiny Epic series now that we’ve reached the fourth entry — the previous ones being Kingdoms, Defenders, and Galaxies — it’s that they’ve got a lot of heart. Maybe even more heart than bite, sometimes, maybe.
It isn’t that they aren’t tiny, because sure, on a particular scale they’re downright microscopic. And it isn’t that they aren’t epic; when a word has lost all meaning, there’s no reason to keep championing it. Rather, it’s that they live up to their pitch. They’re portable, functional, and for being so compact and workmanlike they’re also decently good times when you don’t have a whole evening to burn.
The problem with that theory is that Tiny Epic Western is actually the sort of game I might play as a non-filler.
In a lot of ways, the greatest feat of Trickerion: Legends of Illusion is that it highlights precisely why Kickstarter works as a platform for independent game ideas. Set in a city that just can’t get enough of magic and magicians, this original design by first-timers Richard Amann and Viktor Peter is all about the thrill of putting yourself out there, the joy of pulling off that impossible illusion, and the frustration that settles in at the bottom of your stomach when you watch your rival pull off that vanishing elephant trick before you. It’s also a risky project, complex and deep and occasionally infuriating. So let’s talk.
In Deep Space D-6, a solo dice game that wears its influences on its sleeve, my first victory came while helming the Halcyon. Time warps, space pirates, even the lure of cosmic existentialism and the dreaded Ouroboros station couldn’t stop me. Everything space had to throw at me, and I chewed it up and spat it right back in space’s pimply face. And it was only my first try.
I was dumbfounded. Was this it? Had I reached the edge of space so easily? Had I made some mistake? Was I even now trapped within the swaddled interior of cosmic existentialism itself, unwilling to see the boundaries of the dream?
The answer to all of these questions was no. I’d played correctly. I’d defeated space. But that was only aboard the Halcyon, the galactic equivalent of a bike with eight sets of training wheels trailing off its sides. The Athena Mk. II would not prove such a tender lover.
At its height, the Carthaginian Empire was enormous. Encompassing much of northern Africa, swaths of modern-day Spain, Corsica and Sardinia, even a toehold on the jewel of the Mediterranean that was Sicily, they were one of the world’s great maritime powers — a true thalassocracy, their navy indomitable at sea — until the scrappy Roman Republic’s unification of the Italian Peninsula put them in a position to challenge Carthage’s authority. The ensuing wars spanned more than a century, and only concluded when the grand city of Carthage was burnt to the ground.
Not only is Hands in the Sea set during the first of these wars — that’s the war of Hamilcar Barca, father of the Hannibal Barca who would brashly march elephants across the Alps in the Second Punic War — it also contains some history of its own. Riffing on Martin Wallace’s innovative A Few Acres of Snow, this is Daniel Berger’s attempt at taking the system to the next level without resorting to the same fantastical measures that Wallace undertook in Mythotopia. Which is to say, this is a serious game, full of serious people undertaking serious endeavors — and it’s every bit as good as it is serious.
In today’s episode of the Space-Biff! Space-Cast!, Dan Thurot and Rob Cramer speak with D. Brad Talton Jr. (the D is for Danger) of Level 99 Games about ushering in the New Millennium — the heralded thousand years of Millennium Blades, that is. We also reminisce about collectible card games, being nerds, and jerky cousins.
There’s something about throwing a hefty mug, beverage still sloshing around inside it, at a friend’s head. If you haven’t managed to scratch that one off the old bucket list, I recommend getting to it sooner rather than later. Live a little.
In the meantime, The Dragon & Flagon is all about tender moments like these. A bunch of adventurers, rowdy and randy after their latest successful dungeon dive, and all as parched as that heap of desiccated bones they kept tripping over, have decided to trash the tavern they’re supping at. Who can blame them? They just saved the village. Maybe. After knocking a couple back, they can’t quite remember.