New Year, Old Year: 2019 Revisited

Day Four! The Conceptualists!

What I Got Wrong!

Almost everything. Note the flip. I got almost everything wrong.

Some of that, though, is because 2020 was a real bummer of a year. Party games like Wavelength were out, and that’s to say nothing of a six-player-only title like Westphalia, which I’m actually playing digitally this weekend — although it’s taken a month to put together, with players on both sides of the Atlantic, and we’ll see if it actually happens. The more tangible missteps were Undaunted: Normandy, which required an expansion like North Africa to really grow into its own, and Sabotage, which is every bit as fussy and charming as a baby of eighteen months, and trust me when I say I know what I’m talking about there. Even Jaws, which is a very solid game, started to feel oddly tempting. When venturing out to the grocery store becomes potentially dangerous, risking my legs for a swim on the beach doesn’t seem quite so foolhardy. How many people got eaten in that movie, anyway? Three? That’s, what, a ninety-nine percent chance of survival! Now where else have I heard those odds?

It was a hard year. For you. For me. For the entire hobby industry. And odd, concept-heavy games fared poorly.

What I Got Right!

There’s this guy on Twitter who keeps asking me if my views of Pax Transhumanity have changed. I’m not sure what the question means. Come to think of it, I’m not sure of the why behind the question, either. Are we talking about the game as it presents itself, a world in which humanity stands on the cusp of many potential destinies both tremendous and terrifying? Or are we talking about Phil Eklund, designer Matt Eklund’s father and perennial wackadoodle, whose footnotes repainted the game as some fantasy football version of libertarianism?

Never mind. Fact is, my views of Pax Transhumanity have changed — for the better.

No, I haven’t become a shadow libertarian. The footnotes weren’t the interesting thing about Pax Transhumanity in the first place. Like some of the other games I highlighted in 2019, it was the optimism that convinced me. “Technology can make the world better,” it argued. This didn’t discount the possibility of some seriously horrific outcomes, including humanity getting left behind by any number of singularities. But it was the sort of argument that’s only easy to dismiss when we don’t pay attention to history. Here we are in the midst of a global pandemic, surrounded by countless dinguses who wail about how wearing a mask for an hour at the grocery store will erase your core identity. Yet in spite of the situation and the exacerbating morons, we’re also enriched by the tools we’ve created. We can speak with friends and family. Teach and take classes. Try to finish Netflix. Argue about a baby puppet on the internet. Refrigerate our food so we don’t need to go out as often. Sleep in comfort. Consume medicines that help regulate our anxieties. Understand germ theory. Watch that squiggly line turn downward thanks to a vaccine that took less than a year to engineer.

Look, I don’t agree with the footnotes, either. If I were the Grand Emperor of Humankind, I’d handle a few things differently. But, man, there are so many things I’m grateful for right now. And Pax Transhumanity’s unabashed celebration of what we can accomplish with technology is what I needed this year.

Also, we played so much of it on Tabletop Simulator. So much. Any game that’s still interesting after that many plays is worth something.

Next, we’re back to normal. Mostly.

Posted on February 25, 2021, in Board Game and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.

  1. Sadly, Unmatched kind of fell flat for us. Just ended up feeling shallow and anti-climatic in all of our games following the 1st time we played (The first play seemed very promising).

    Beautiful package though.

  2. Surprised to hear Unmatched fell flat. I thought the game nailed the cliche “simple with a lot of depth” we throw around so easily. I thought it did a particularly good job of forcing actual maneuver. Rarely do my games turn into slugfests, but instead are very drawn out with timed attrition of mobs and a focus on pinning my opponent. This may just be because my son plays as Robin Hood who feels slightly overpowered and really forces opponents to move a lot. I’d also advise against using King Arthur. He’s mechanically the most simple which I think forces players to mindlessly attack and makes him a weak character also. Both Robin v Bigfoot and Bruce Lee are excellent cheaper expansions that add a lot to the game IMO that might be worth trying before you write it off. The raptors are useless. Cobble and Fog is indeed sublime and adds just enough complexity without becoming onerous to really elevate this above a simple skirmish game. Of course it’s a more expensive expansion so may not be worth it if you’re on the fence.

    Sorry for wall of text. Passionate about this game.

    • The later boxes certainly help Unmatched come into its own, though. I can see how someone would find it dull if they only played the original box.

    • (answering as anonymous; forgot to put my details in):

      I feel like if I were to try and pinpoint exactly where it kind of fell short is in how the nuance in the strategy/tactics relies on hidden info in the deck. It’s probably just a matter of taste, but somewhere in the
      “My hand’s crap! run away. Still crap? keep running away”
      “I play this, you cancel it. You play that, I cancel it –> Eventually someone hits or gets put on the run again”
      and the limitation of 2 units per team ended up giving me this feeling of having too much maneuverability? or too little friction? don’t know what the best term here would be.

      And what of course offsets this (i assume) is that keenness to examine the decks and keep track of the distribution of cards; “where’s that medussa’s gaze card?” or “where’s that big sniping card of robin hood?”, etc. But just couldn’t get excited about doing so.

      While I sense that this would be the thing that glues that card play and board maneuvering into that paradigm that fans of the game love about it, we just didn’t get the inspiration to do that while playing.

      I guess it doesn’t help that I’ve been spoiled by the other 30 keepers that I’ve collected so far. Probably just not my type of game (Was kind of hoping it’d scratch an itch for a Wiz-War lite or something)

  3. Wow, I didn’t expect you to like Pax Transhumanity. My first play of it put me off so much I just discared the game. It felt so unthematic,you were just trying to assemble the right colors.

    Maybe it’s time to give it another shot and try to see past that.

    By the way, any opinions on Pax Viking? And did you know we have another Pax incoming? It’s called Pax Shamiram and we have absolutely no information on it, but apparently that’s a thing.

    • Pax Viking is good! I have an early copy, and we’ve enjoyed our plays. It feels much more Pax-ish than expected. It’s less conceptual than the other titles, though. Feels more straightforward. Less wacky. Less controversial as well, perhaps.

      First I’m hearing about Pax Shamiram. I know one or two other designers are considering their own takes on the Pax system. Hopefully we’ll see it continue to grow in interesting ways.

  4. I eagerly bought Dune but always hesitate to bring it back out because there always is an argument about the rules, and it almost seems the way the Emperor is written intentionally forces you to make a house rule on his ability.

  5. I admire your bravery in saying you like an Eklund design at this point. I haven’t had a chance to play Pax Transhumanity yet, but I wouldn’t mind trying it. It sounds really crunchy.

    • Eklund still has a good mind for interesting systems, he has just always had garbage opinions

    • That’s kind of you to say, Dave! I’m not sure I’d call it “brave,” though. For one thing, Pax Transhumanity was designed by the Other Eklund. For another… I don’t really care if somebody doesn’t want me to play a game. Anyway, Eklund’s games are odd. They don’t generally argue what his footnotes say they argue. Which is a whole topic I’ve considered writing about many times before, but might never get around to.

      • Of course I’d read that article, but of course it helps to incorporate other designers so we’re not just designating one as our punching bag.

        I’m reminded again of the easily missed introduction in Archipelago’s rulebook that says “The mission is meant to be one of peace… Such a balance can only be achieved through each player’s commitment to make the archipelago a happy and productive colony.” but the game aptly demonstrates how violence can happen without the use of arms.

      • I’m glad that you take that stance, Dan. Shows integrity.

        And yeah, sorry I didn’t realize it was designed by the Other Eklund (tm?). Talking about the footnotes made me think of the first.

        I would read that article if you ever do write it!

      • Triskelli, exactly. I was more wont to write such an article before Eklund’s recent… social media moment? Implosion? Whatever we want to call it, I have no desire to write a piece that could be considered part of a pile-on. I’d do something comparative, but that requires a parallel game to consider. Frankly, Eklund is working in such a niche space that there aren’t as many parallels as I’d like there to be.

      • Dave, ha, yeah, you are definitely not the first person to mix up those two. The footnotes make them especially difficult to separate.

  6. For Sabotage, would you now say it’s not the best of the Fowers catalogue, where in your original review it was a “might be”? And are you even more hesitant to recommend it now?
    I’ve been on a bit of a Fowers kick (Now Boarding and Hardback, awaiting Burgle Bros 2), and the premise/mechanics of Sabotage really interest me.

    Really appreciate your written reviews, as I always find it a lot easier to read an article than watching a 20-30 minute video.

    • I still really love Sabotage! It just wants those caveats: it’s hard to teach, it’s persnickety, and it’s best with exactly four players.

      As for where it falls in Fowers’ oeuvre, I’d put it at number two, right under Burgle Bros 2: The Casino Capers.

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