Dark Moon Rises Again

Dark Moon RED EDITION

Ever since its release two years ago, Dark Moon has ranked as one of my preferred traitor games. Between its in-your-face brand of manipulation and the grungy utility of its visuals, it offered an oppressively claustrophobic take on the classic tale of a crew torn apart by an invisible insider.

Shadow Corporation is one of those expansions that might not seem necessary at first glance, especially because Dark Moon was as perfect as a curly-haired baby. But now that it’s here, I can’t fathom playing without it.

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Thingamabob

I dunno, looks cozy to me.

Board games don’t stir up every emotion with equal ease, but they do succeed admirably at evoking paranoia. For that reason alone, John Carpenter’s 1982 flop — and subsequent retroactive hit — The Thing seems like the perfect fit for cardboardification. A bunch of dudes trapped in a remote location? A shape-shifting alien that imitates its prey? Betrayal, mistrust, and torching each other with flamethrowers? Yes indeed. The only remaining question is whether The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 is the real deal or a twisted imitation masquerading in the flesh of its predecessors.

Well. Let’s talk about that.

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Deep Space 51

So, uh, space isn't white.

Portal Games has a thing for tableau building games that occupy three rows. See 51st State, Imperial Settlers, and the other 51st State, all of which were largely defined by how much your economic engine snowballed. If the last round wasn’t ten times longer and slower than the first one, you probably hadn’t adequately snowballed.

At this point, Portal delivering another three-row tableau-builder might feel a smidgen like those games that reappear after a Cthulhu retheme. Slap tentacles on the cards, change some keywords — the draw pile is now Miskatonic University or whatever — and there you have it. No need to come up with new ideas when people will gratefully snap up the latest mind-numbing coat of paint, fumes and all. 51st State in space.

But in spite of appearances, Alien Artifacts isn’t just another three-row tableau-builder. Sure, cards are aligned across three rows, and sure, it’s about assembling a tableau. While it wasn’t designed by Ignacy Trzewiczek, co-designers Marcin Ropka and Viola Kijowska could have fooled me, right down to the factions with ever-so-slightly different advantages. But that’s where the similarities stop and Alien Artifacts steps out from under the shadow of its predecessors. And the most radical aspect of its reinvention? It melts snowballs.

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Swabber Sonar

"Which way? Left?" / "Right!" / "Right?" / "Scout's Honor!"

There were precisely two problems with last year’s firecracker-in-a-tin-can Captain Sonar. One, it benefited from a crew of at least six people to staff its dueling submarines, and was further improved by a full complement of eight. And two, it was the direct opposite of a good meditation session. It could get so hairy it was almost a cure for balding.

Sonar — sans the Captain — is Matagot’s gesture of reconciliation toward those who suffered post-traumatic stress as a result of their time at the scope, helm, engine room, and torpedo tube. In theory, it’s the same grand sub-hunting action, but for two or four players and at a much more relaxed pace. The question, then, is whether Sonar represents a dry-erase The Hunt for Red October — or is it more akin to Down Periscope?

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Flipping Flips

AMBIGRAM really should be an ambigram.

Kane Klenko showed that he knew what he was doing with last year’s FUSE, a game that saw its players disarming bombs in real-time by matching dice and occasionally balancing them in precarious towers. It wasn’t necessarily deep, but it produced a thick cloud of tension and banged some pot lids in your ears. By the end of its countdown, even failure was a relief. More so if you had that annoying app braying in your ears.

Even though they couldn’t be more different, Flip Ships reveals Klenko doing what he does best. Like FUSE before it, Flip Ships takes a single idea and blitzes merrily past the point where any other designer might have been content to wrap the thing into a minigame box and be done with it. Here, the idea is that just maybe the best way to defend against a Space Invaders scenario would be to launch your starfighters so that they spin like one of those barfy amusement park rides, right before rolling off the table and beneath the couch. As in, it’s the plan you resort to after everything else has failed.

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Swallowing Hemloch

I would have been ever so slightly more excited by DARK POMADE.

Here we are at last, taking a look at the final installment of John Clowdus’s second-latest trilogy of Small Box Games games. This time it’s Hemloch: Dark Promenade, and it’s by far the most interesting of the three.

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Daimyo Seii, Daimyo Do

Gold on black. Making things seem more epic than they really are since the dawn of time.

Another day, another Small Box Game by John Clowdus. This time it’s Seii Daimyo, where much like every other game about Feudal Japan, your goal is to unite the country’s warring clans under a single Shogun.

Fortunately, the execution is more interesting than the setup.

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Not Sure What a Cartouche Has to Do With It

This wins the award for Most Nonsensical Title.

Another year, another trio of small box games from small box games king John Clowdus, proprietor of Small Box Games. Except this time I’m so far behind that he has some other games out, which pretty much makes me a filthy truant, and—

Deep breath. One thing at a time. First up, Cartouche Dynasties. This is a single-deck ditty about building a kingdom in Ancient Egypt. It has nothing to do with either cartouches or dynasties.

Now let’s uncover what else it’s been lying about.

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COIN Volume VII: Colonial Twilight

Smell that? It's the worn papery scent of history.

Whether it’s tackling the Vietnam War, the Cuban Revolution, narco-terrorism in Colombia, or the shenanigans Julius Caesar pulled before attracting Shakespeare’s fancy, the COIN Series has never shied away from a hard topic. If anything, the French-Algerian War of 1954 to 1962 is a perfect fit for the series’ asymmetric take on insurgency warfare, casting players as either the French colonial government or the Front de Libération Nationale. Even better that it should be Brian Train’s second contribution after the quagmire simulator that was A Distant Plain.

But the stickiness of its setting isn’t why COIN’s seventh volume comes as such a surprise. Rather, it’s because Colonial Twilight is the first entry to feature fewer than four sides — and for all its familiarity, the result is a game that breaks exciting new ground for the series.

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BattleCONtinuum: A Look at Temporal Odyssey

CLOCKS

At first glance, you might assume that Level 99’s forthcoming dueling game — coming to Kickstarter later this week — was the brainchild of D. Brad Talton, Jr. After all, Talton is one of modern gaming’s undisputed champions of two-player punch-’em-ups, with both the BattleCON and Exceed systems in his corner.

Instead, Temporal Odyssey appears courtesy of up-and-coming designer Chris Solis. But don’t let Solis’s newcomer status dissuade you, because this is one of the slickest two-player duels I’ve witnessed in a long time.

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