Hard to believe it’s only been a year since I bid adieu to Summoner Wars. When I wrote that piece, I believed it was my final paean to a game that kindled friendships and shaped my approach to the tabletop hobby. Only a short time later, Colby Dauch mentioned he was working on a second edition. It didn’t seem real. Even after chatting about it on the Space-Cast!, I couldn’t quite bring myself to believe it would ever materialize.
Over the past three weeks, I’ve played the second edition of Summoner Wars nearly every day. Some part of me still doesn’t quite believe it. The other part has to acknowledge that it might not be the same this time around. The same friendships. The same community. That same pull to create new factions and discuss rules on the Plaid Hat forums.
That all comes later. For now, I want to tell you about Summoner Wars, and why the second edition feels like coming home.
There’s something rejuvenating about getting lost in the woods. Of course, I’m not talking about getting really lost. Lost in the sense that I know the trail is somewhere over that hill, or that if I walk a few miles I’ll descend into the rich folks’ suburbs. Lost with cell coverage.
Nate Hayden’s Rocky Mountain Man is a game about getting lost. Wholly, truly, stuck in place, walking around in circles until the sun goes down lost. Good thing you’re a mountain man.
For a group that usually conjures images of blood-rimmed axes, freshly extracted skulls, and ransacked monasteries, Jon Manker’s Pax Viking certainly knows how to make its Vikings seem almost tolerable to spend an afternoon with.
The War of 1812 suffers from an asymmetry of memory. In America it became part of a triumphal national myth. In Britain it became a footnote. In fairness to the former, resolving a war in stalemate despite having your capitol sacked is an achievement. In fairness to the latter, everything becomes a footnote when you’re trying to depose Napoleon. Neither side properly won. No borders were redrawn. No major concessions were granted, and the minor ones went largely ignored. The real losers were the American Indians and the Spanish, both of whom found themselves ceding more territory to the expanding Republic.
In Dawn’s Early Light, David McDonough evinces the pointless fury of this conflict largely by wrenching any gains back toward the status quo. It’s hard to conclude whether this is because he’s an exemplary teller of history or a cruel maker of games.
I’m going to detail Trekking the World, the sequel to Trekking the National Parks that’s apparently selling like gangbusters, and I want to buffer your expectations by pointing out that I mean these things descriptively rather than pejoratively. Moreover, I think it’s fantastic when a game exceeds expectations and attracts a raft of enthusiastic fans. And really, the hobby is about enjoying these things in company, as friends and family, and nothing can take away the precious memories we make when we share quality time.
Whew. Okay. Here goes: Trekking the World is utterly and defiantly mainstream. It’s as smooth as a white granite countertop and about as interesting. It has been engineered for appeal, relies on familiarity to draw attention to itself, and says nothing of note. I do not like it. I expect it does not care. Which makes it all the more puzzling that it appeared on my doorstep without warning, like a baby in a bassinet, except the baby turned out to be a very dull child who grew up to become an actuary.
Every time. Every dang time.
Whenever I write about a board game, a certain sort clamors to my inbox like ants chasing a line of sugar cubes. “Yeah yeah, but what’s its score? Would you say it’s a 7.18 or a 7.19 out of 10?”
Know what? I surrender. As of today, Space-Biff! will be assigning a score to every game we review. But seeing as how you’ll be skipping past every word I write from now on, you can bet your butt you’re going to have to wade through seven hundred words to understand the scoring criteria.
It’s easy to imagine the East India Company as a cabal: an instrument of villains, territory marked by the plunging of daggers into nautical maps, shareholder meetings held by candlelight, masks mandatory. How else to explain the company that became leviathan — that touched half the world’s trade, employed twice the fighting men fielded by the British army, and ruled India for a century? Surely it was sinister. Perhaps even occult.
Except that’s far too tidy. As is always the case with sweeping evils, it’s easier to tuck a mastermind behind the curtain than to acknowledge that reality is so much more banal. That the Company’s ascent was the work of clerks and captains, common soldiers and administrative functionaries, merchants selling on commission and thousands struggling to earn their daily bread. Absent a villain, there’s more blame to go around. An uncomfortable degree of blame. Maybe even the sort of blame that might implicate us.
More than any game I’ve played, John Company is about culpability. And Cole Wehrle’s second edition accomplishes the improbable by making that message more articulate and more playable at the same time.
Faiyum reminds me of Tigris & Euphrates. Not mechanically, or not entirely. Rather, in the way it captures a span of history almost entirely through systems. It’s the sort of game that seems entirely about the placement of pieces and the manipulation of cards. Yet it’s also a game about ancient progress, about struggling against the land to fashion something livable.
And it’s very nearly perfect.
Is a game worth its asking price? The question comes up so often that I’d be surprised to hear that this isn’t also true for other reviewers and critics. Most recently, two reviews in particular drew a lot of attention: Radlands from Roxley Games and The Shores of Tripoli from Fort Circle Games. Both are beautiful titles with noteworthy production values. Both are also shorter games, which understandably raises questions about their longevity. And of course, both are priced toward the high end. Hence the questions.
I get it. When I’m curious about a new game, what do I do? I check to see if anybody’s reviewed it. That’s why I spent years happily fielding these types of questions. Isn’t that what a review is for?
More recently, my policy has shifted. Now I refuse to answer questions about price. For today’s Talking About Games, I want to discuss why that is — and why other reviewers and critics might consider the same.
The Hindu festival of Holi isn’t something I know much about. The largest celebration in the United States takes place only fifty miles from where I live, although its proximity to both BYU and UVU fill it with so many Mormon revelers that it was years before I realized it wasn’t a local custom. Having handfuls of color flung at my person was never in my wheelhouse anyhow.
But don’t go into Julio Nazario’s Holi: Festival of Colors looking for background. “Throwing color” and “collecting candy” are pretty much the extent of its interest in Holi. At least we’re on even footing.