New Year, Old Year: 2020 Revisited

click to enter the wardrobe

Day Three! Some Time Away!

What I Got Right!

I’d pat myself on the back, but I was brought up better.

One of the perks of revisiting these lists is getting to see old friends again. Then I shift over to this one and, wow, it’s like nothing’s changed. While none of these titles are in regular rotation, plenty of them have continued to hit my table. Just a few weeks back, the micro-expansion for Santa Monica let me dive right back into its chilly surf. It was a breath of fresh air, a vacation in miniature, like taking a trip to a childhood destination and discovering it all over again. And, even better, learning that your recognition hasn’t grown out of the place you once knew, but grown together, with new facets of appreciation springing to the surface. It’s probably no coincidence that last summer I took my family to Monterey on nigh-expired plane vouchers (thanks, COVID!), and watching my girls explore the rocks where I’d once scrambled, the beaches where I’d once gotten splashed, it was as though parenthood and childhood had folded into one encompassing state of completeness. Santa Monica transports me there all over again.

My fondness doesn’t stop there. I’ve been tickled when my occasional visits to r/boardgames have witnessed people talking excitedly about how terrible yet how excellent Cosmic Frog can be, how it fumbles all the rules of good design yet still comes out so right. Of course, there would be no point in intruding to say, “No, there are no rules, only guidelines, and great designs know when those guidelines should be discarded like a city councilman of Prague chucked out the window by a band of rowdy Hussites.” What a game. I’m relieved I didn’t get hung up on the wrong things when I first played it.

This is waxing long, but these games really are phenomenal. Not all that long ago, I revisited Bronze Age to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of using a single deck of cards to depict history. Somewhere further along the component volume spectrum lies Versailles 1919, an absolutely brilliant game that looks like one thing while delivering cutting critiques of its topic. My only regret there is that my stupid review title drew more attention than the review itself. Maybe that belongs below the fold. Like so:

What I Got Wrong!

Confession: I shouldn’t have used that title for the Versailles 1919 review. It was insensitive of me to make fun of the French language in that manner. Especially because I really do know how to pronounce “Versailles.” I’ll prove it: vluh-FLUCK-uhrself. Mea culpa, pedants.

My other halfhearted acknowledgement is that Super-Skill Pinball: 4-Cade has been utterly obsoleted by its two sequels.

Deep breath. My real walkback is reserved for Empyreal: Spells & Steam. It’s just so very much and so very little at the same time. More and more, I feel like ostentatious productions can detract from a game’s strengths. I wish this one had been less produced and even perhaps less developed, especially given its connections to Argent: The Consortium, which allowed players to break the game and each other in fascinating ways. Is it a victim of having its wool carded a little too thin? No idea. But for such an imaginative world, its appeal didn’t stretch far before it snapped.

Next up, things get ragged.

Posted on June 21, 2022, in Board Game and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. While I do think with some folks there was a bit of special pleading re: Reign, and I said as much, you actually weren’t one of the ones I had in mind, Dan, to be clear.

  2. In a world obsessed with the new, I always appreciate a good retrospective. Thank you.

  3. I agree that the response to ‘the mission’ and some other kerfuffles has been disappointing.

    On the other hand, there never was an Eden, and there never will be.

    But this site is good, and the core conceit of this site is true: that games, both as artistic achievements and as the scaffolding to support shared exploration of a system, are worthy of serious criticism.

  4. Cosmic Frog is freaking awesome. It feels like a fresh breeze in the stale world of streamlined Euro games. It’s a pallet cleanser from the hype and the churn. It’s also a great way to “settle scores” from other games. And two years on it still stands out and gets requests at my gaming group.

    Cosmic Frog; the pick of 2020.

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