Right when he thought he was out, Michel Foucault wandered straight back into the woodland. Silly Foucault. Something tells me it won’t be the last time.
Speaking of last times, in the first part of our series on the Foucauldian assumptions behind Cole Wehrle’s Root, we introduced the concept of biopower. The very short version is that the suits on the game’s cards and clearings might feel like mere components, but they really represent the majority population that’s the font of all power in the woodland. In order to win, every faction must use different methods to control and expend them.
But that’s going to have to wait. Today we’re talking about the big picture. What is the central conflict in Root, and what can we learn from it?
What goes up must come down. That’s the proposition of James Naylor’s Magnate: The First City, the modern Monopoly that sees its housing boom through to the inevitable bust. Today, James joins Dan to chat about real estate development, game development, and what makes Humbleburg more of a “first” city than the many counter-examples that are undoubtedly popping into your head.
This month, we’re making a donation to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Please consider making a donation of your own or searching for ways to help your local homeless community.
Michal Vitkovsky’s Shiver Me Timbers is a sandbox pirate game. To answer your question, yes, it’s similar to Christian Marcussen’s sandbox pirate game Merchants & Marauders. In more ways than one. Both see you helming your very own pirate ship, unashamedly trace their genealogy back to Sid Meier’s Pirates!, and, since Board Game Geek is basically a dating app for board games, they both catfish you into expecting a two-hour playtime when really you’ll be stuck at the table for four. Tsk tsk.
But even though the parallels are difficult to avoid, this isn’t a comparative review. Shiver Me Timbers is more interesting for the ways it stands apart.
Last year’s Super-Skill Pinball: 4-Cade by math nerd Geoff Engelstein was a probabilities superstructure. What first seemed simple — picking which of two random numbers your pinball would hit next — was in fact a long con of ever-deepening regrets. But in a good way. It was a take-backer’s nightmare, a niggling reminder that the human brain has proved inferior to a rodent’s at assessing basic likelihoods. It also felt weirdly like real pinball.
Engelstein’s second stab at the system, Ramp It Up!, is better than the original in every regard. So instead of describing Super-Skill Pinball at its most elemental, let’s take a look at those four new tables.
James Naylor’s Magnate: The First City is an ambitious opening act, a fact only made more appropriate by its wicked irony. In my preview, I compared it to Monopoly. Plastic buildings, paper money, rents, dice. They even share a setting, focused as they are on unregulated property development. It’s almost as though the entire real estate industry is so shot through with corruption and profiteering that its only natural gamification is get-rich-quick fantasies.
Unlike Monopoly, though, Magnate’s satirical perspective hasn’t been neutered by corporate plagiarism. Instead, it rushes toward a single inexorable conclusion. This will undoubtedly be the game’s most controversial aspect, but to strip it away would be to remove the whole reason Magnate works, both as a plaything and as a statement.
I’m speaking, of course, about that game-ending housing crash.
Being honest upfront, there are very few topics I know so disproportionately much about as lunar colonization. So when I bellyache that Jose Ramón Palacios’s LUNA Capital doesn’t even mention regolith printing, lava tubes, basalt radiation shielding, or the deposits of thorium, titanium, and lunar ice that would be the few resources of value to corporations settling the moon, don’t take it the wrong way. Did I really expect LUNA Capital to take a serious stab at what a real moon colony might look like? No. I’d say I hoped. Hoped forlornly.
But it’s bad practice to write about the game I hoped for rather than the game I got. So instead, I’ll say that LUNA Capital is defined by some excellent set drafting and some very tired tile placement.
Most people would agree that Cole Wehrle did something magnificent with Root. As a game, it’s no mean feat, a sandbox where any number of truly asymmetric factions can interact with surprising fluidity. But that sandbox only scratches the surface. Root is also the most Foucauldian examination of power dynamics ever put to cardboard.
Does that matter? Well, it depends. To somebody looking to ransack a few of the Marquise’s sawmills, maybe not. But as a historical and cultural artifact, Root speaks to so much more than its folksy anthropomorphs might lead you to believe. In this series, we’re going to talk about why.
Yesterday we looked at Amabel Holland’s Trans-Siberian Railroad, a cube rails game so stuffed with ideas it had a serious case of stomach cramps. Published only two years later, Iberian Gauge tinkers in similar spaces. This time, however, its appetite and gaze are simpatico.
I’ve been playing a handful of train games lately. Try not to faint. I’ve suffered through by reminding myself that the trains aren’t the actual focus.
Honestly, I’m glad I did. Amabel Holland’s 2015 Trans-Siberian Railroad recently earned a reprint from Rio Grande Games, which means its winsome self has been trotted out for the enjoyment of a new generation. It’s bursting with ideas. Sometimes in a good way.
Christian Marcussen is a name I associate with Sid Meier, and not only because both of his published games, Merchants & Marauders and Clash of Cultures, could be described as adaptations of Sid Meier’s Pirates! and Sid Meier’s Civilization. More than that, it’s because Marcussen has a way of taking big ideas and making them… well, still big, since both games are long-winded, but more compressed, more digestible. More distilled.
Clash of Cultures in particular is one of the finest portrayals of the rise, rise, rise, and earthquakes that beset ancient civilizations. It now has a Monumental Edition from WizKids that preserves all the highs the lows of the original game and its impossible-to-find expansion — and, in some cases, smooths out the original’s rougher corners.