Almoster Famous

we have yet to get a french horn on the cover of On Tour, total failure, not good, problematic

I was somewhat cool on Chad DeShon’s On Tour, a roll- and flip-and-write about transiting either the United States or Europe and very likely getting stuck in a corner somewhere. It was a perfectly inoffensive but also perfectly inoffensive game, fifteen minutes long and not one of them too cerebral.

For the system’s second outing, Allplay has handed the reins to guest designer Alban Viard. The basics remain intact. The quality, however, has shot through the roof.

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They Survived

This might be my favorite of Amabel's covers. It makes me feel the cold.

One of the big questions in wargame design is how one ought to simulate the range of possible outcomes. Take the Battle of the Bulge. Should a designer concede to playability by pretending that the German Ardennenfront could turn aside the Allied advance? Or should they instead presume that German victory could only be measured by some other metric, such as days or weeks of delay? Press a little deeper and you get questions about balance and historical determinism. Maybe, just maybe, we can rethink what it means to “win” in the first place.

That’s exactly what Amabel Holland has done with Endurance. Right from the outset, her rulebook warns that the survival of Ernest Shackleton and the twenty-seven members of his crew is not a historical given. Their escape, in her words, was “a fluke.” It shouldn’t have happened. It nearly didn’t happen. Roll the dice a hundred times in a hundred parallel simulations and it might never happen again.

That’s the first thesis behind Endurance, but it isn’t the most essential of them.

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Bowie Back to Bowie

in which Dan Thurot learns how to use the lasso tool

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.

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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.

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Grab Hold of One Long Sharp Tooth

"Those should be backwards!" —nerds, not realizing that the words The Hunt are printed, ambulance-like, so as to be read forwards in a mirror. Checkmate, nerds.

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.

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Space-Cast! #26. Voting for Women

This image looks uncomfortably confrontational between Wee Aquinas and the Suffragist.

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.

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Spreadsheets of Gaia

You can tell it's the future because there are hexes in the font.

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?

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Justice, Not Favors

"The Awakening," from Puck magazine! That's from way back in 1915! Period art is always cool!

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.

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Bugpope and Spacegirl Hijack a Starship

Meet BUGPOPE and SPACEGIRL, the best friends and nemeses that ever were in space or popery.

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.

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Something Wicked This Way Comes

Richard III is apparently the Emperor Palpatine of the Captain's Gambit Expanded Universe.

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.

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