Best Week 2022! The Traumatics!
We are all broken. As board games grow more ambitious and tackle more mature topics, it’s inevitable that the traumas that are an inseparable part of life will receive treatments of their own. This is to be expected. Maybe it’s also to be expected that such games will be dour and full of halfheartedly ingurgitated meaning. What’s notable is when the games produced by this impulse are worthy of engagement. When they’re playable, interesting, thought-provoking, and yes, even my most despised curse word, when they’re “fun.”
Gah. I need to get that taste out of my mouth before it settles in for the night. So let’s talk about some board games. Today, we’re celebrating the best titles of 2022 about trauma, whether personal or systemic, hidden or overt. These are the traumatics.
#6. Bloc by Bloc: Uprising
Designed by Greg Loring-Albright & T.L. Simons. Published by Out of Order Games.
Change doesn’t come easy. That’s the macro message of Uprising, the third and ostensibly definitive edition of Bloc by Bloc. Up closer, it’s about barricading streets, expropriating resources for the people — how’s that for a euphemism? — and either avoiding or thumping on a corrupt regime’s police forces. It’s also, when played competitively, about the perils of trust. When the system is broken, any number of ideologues might seize the opportunity to remake the world in their image. So fight the power. But maybe keep one eye on the people fighting beside you.
#5. My Father’s Work
Designed by T.C. Petty III. Published by Renegade Game Studios.
One of the year’s biggest games content-wise, My Father’s Work touches on traumas of all sizes, encompassing hereditary abuse, splintering sanity, and the price of obsession. As the scion of a family with some mad science in its blood, you’re determined to complete your father’s masterwork. After a little while, that becomes your grandfather’s masterwork thanks to your eventual demise. Generation after generation you pursue the work, possibly altering the neighboring village along the way. Whether those alterations will be for the better or worse is up to you. Although spoiler, it will likely be for the worse.
#4. The Mirroring of Mary King
Designed by Jim Felli. Published by Devious Weasel Games.
It might seem like a stretch to call a game about spiritual possession an insightful look at the terror of one’s own changing identity, but that’s exactly what The Mirroring of Mary King got me thinking about with its bungee cord gameplay. Mary herself inhabits two identities, both determined to inhabit her body. At the end of the week, she’ll only embody one of them. This tug-of-war sinks its hooks in with the very first shifted image, treating players to one of the year’s profoundest gaming metaphors as they wrestle to decide who Mary will become.
Designed by Xoe Allred.
Domestic felicity is a fool’s errand. That seems to be the message of Xoe Allred’s sparkle-eyed litany against Victorian courtship, a game that starts toxic and soon transforms into a radioactive spill upwind of a small community the government doesn’t care about enough to relocate. Your goal, as one might suspect, is marriage. Whether that marriage is healthy is another matter entirely. But what makes Persuasion so special is its insistence on keeping everybody grounded, letting the humor of its mismatched couples and desperate singles bubble to the fore. May your happiness never require another’s misery. Unless you’re playing Persuasion.
Designed by Daniel Newman. Published by PD-Verlag.
Watch is an odd one, positioned halfway between an outsider’s critique of Soviet surveillance and corruption, bitterness at the gig and warehouse economies that are the desperate feedstock of so many young people today, and the big question for worker-placement games, “What if these workers would rather not be placed at all?” Tinker those disparate topics into the same housing and you arrive at the humming clockwork of Watch. This one stands out not only for its absolute fury, but also for its furiously clever interlocking systems. I didn’t even mind its many scoring criteria. You know, too badly.
#1. Heading Forward
Designed by John du Bois. Published by Hollandspiele.
There are so many reasons to recommend Heading Forward. Its unrelenting parade of tasks, all out of reach thanks to a recent brain injury. Its disgust at American insurance companies dictating the parameters of our care, expressed as an uncompromising time limit. The little razz it delivers whenever the trigger card shows up, angry red and intruding into your moments of success like an unwanted acquaintance. All those. But also its eminent playability. Heading Forward demands empathy, but it also demands repeat plays. John du Bois has designed one of the finest titles ever published by Hollandspiele.