Author Archives: The Innocent

BattleCONtinuum: A Look at Temporal Odyssey


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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The Other Other Crossfire

I love it when a game's cover just screams, "We have better hair than you."

Ah, yes, those social deduction dollars. Even a company like Plaid Hat cannot resist their allure.

Crossfire — and we aren’t talking about that silly 1970s ultimate challenge commercial, nor the Shadowrun game — is the sort of title that’s going to have to justify its seat at the high table, especially now that higher-profile offerings like Secrets have wet their pants in public. Social deduction is tough, and for a genre about pulling the wool over your friends’ eyes, it seems there’s not much chance of fooling players into embracing a lesser option.

But here’s the weird thing. For a game that doesn’t even seem like it even wants to succeed, I’m actually a tiny bit enamored with this one.

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Pax Pine: A Look at Cole Wehrle’s Root

I pronounce it rUt.

One of the things I appreciated most about Geoff Engelstein’s board game rendering of The Expanse was the way it took the venerable Twilight Struggle’s very serious, very wargamey card system and bolted it over the top of something that had nothing to do with real-world history or politics. It was, if you want to be dramatic about it, a democratizing move. Where any quantity of board gamers might shy away from engaging with “serious” topics in their leisure time, The Expanse boasted a deeply smart card system layered over a fictional world, right down to its dumber-than-a-bucket Captain James Holden. If the hero doesn’t bust his noggin over political statements and colonial implications, why should you?

Now, in a surprise alliance between political-game veteran Cole Wehrle (Pax Pamir, An Infamous Traffic, the forthcoming John Company) and one of the industry’s freshest publishers of asymmetric buffoonery Leder Games (Vast: The Crystal Caverns), we’re witnessing what just might shape up to be the next step in the process of bending the branch of wargame-style gameplay into reaching distance of a more general audience.

The game in question is Root. It’s still in playtesting, likely won’t be out for a good long while, and details are still subject to change. But my impressions of an early build have been almost entirely positive.

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Fate of the Public Domain Monsters

Those are no branches.

When it comes to board game settings, I’m about as energized by the appearance of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu as by anything featuring zombies — as in, yeah, they’re overdone, but at least they’re easy to design around. Just as zombies provide baked-in behavior (walk and bite, walk and bite), the presence of Cthulhu & Co. means you know what you’re getting yourself into. Hooded cultists, the coastal hamlets of New England, encroaching madness, and the Arkham that isn’t associated with Batman. It’s thematic shorthand for “watch your health and sanity meters.”

It might be possible to say that Fate of the Elder Gods does the setting a service by letting you don the robes of the cultists themselves as you strive to summon your chosen mind-flaying monster, but it’s hardly the first to do so. Instead, we’ll have to settle for celebrating the fact that it’s a surprisingly good screw-your-buddies affair.

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More Than 878 Vikings

Not a horned helm in sight. Thank goodness.

There’s something insecure about the title of 878: Vikings — Invasions of England, as though the creators weren’t sure they’d sufficiently clarified their intent. It’s set in the year 878, check. Also there are Vikings, sure. And they’re invading England, right. The only missing elements are motive, opportunity, and outcome.

Clunky title aside, 878: Vikings is a successor to Academy Games’ Birth of America series, which featured the rather-good 1775: Rebellion. And for the most part, it’s as fun as being on the pitching side of a monastery raid.

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What Spring Is Like on Jupiter and Mars

If this game keeps getting expanded, I bet I could get through all of Sinatra's "Fly Me to the Moon." Then again, we're now out of space lyrics, so the article titles would be increasingly misleading.

I’m a huge fan of Joseph Fatula’s Leaving Earth and its expansion Outer Planets. They’re messy in some ways, but that’s precisely why I like them — much like actual space exploration, they’re a cross between careful preparation and outrageous risk-taking, between brute-forcing the math and forgetting to take a heat shield on your trip to Venus. Back to the drawing board you go, again and again, until you get it right. Or somewhere closer to right than you were before, anyway.

Leaving Earth’s second expansion, Stations, feels like a microcosm of the whole thing, and not just because it’s all about adding a ton of extra depth to the exploration of the inner planets. Rather, in between offering new toys, new objectives, and new wonders to uncover, it still can’t seem to shrug off its former messiness, and even seems insistent on adding a few new problems.

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Ugh. Those smooth racing helmets. Ugh.

At first glance, I gave Downforce a pass. After all, of Restoration Games’ opening catalog of refurbished games from times past, my interest was more piqued by Stop Thief! and Indulgence, in part because I’ve never been partial to racing games.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Downforce is not only the best of the three, it’s also hardly a racing game at all. Instead, it’s a game about being the biggest jerk on the track and coming away filthy rich.

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The Eleventh Cardboard

When I think about Mistborn, I picture the kindly Terrisman Sazed, roguish Kelsier, up-and-coming Vin, and gossiping high school girls.

Mistborn: House War is a bit of an odd duck. Based on Brandon Sanderson’s much-loved series, it sees you taking command of Vin, Kelsier, and the rest of those scrappy rebels as they seek to topple the rapacious Final Empire.

Except, oops, it isn’t about that at all. Instead, House War’s protagonists are the first book’s sub-baddies, the Great Houses who squabble, gossip, and often lend that “rapacious” an uncomfortable edge. And they’d very much like to kill off the heroes of the books.

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Building Character: Mathfinder

header alt-text by Dan. that is all.

For some fool reason, Dan has decided to hand over the reins of the Space-Biff! carriage to his pal Brock Poulsen, for a feature they’re calling Building Character. Last time, Brock introduced us to his inaugural plays of Pathfinder with his son. But today, he’ll… well, Dan doesn’t actually know what Brock will be doing.

I tricked Dan into letting me do another one! For this month’s Building Character, I discuss the dark purposes I hide within my gaming sessions. Dark and mathy.

In addition to organizing a group of grown-ups, I quickly decided I would want to write and run my own adventures for my kids. My son — who as always I’ll call by his character name Myron — was struggling a bit in school with math, and I thought, what better way than a complicated tabletop game to help with that?

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Tic Tac On-the-Go

What a time to be alive.

OK Play isn’t the usual sort of thing I write about, but… um…

All right, look, I don’t have an excuse. Deep down, all we’re doing in this hobby is playing with toys, and OK Play looked like it would be fun to play with. Not necessarily by following its rules, but just by clicking it around. It’s sixty little squares of plastic attached to four prongs that are connected to a carabiner. And yeah, it’s a lot of fun to goof around with. I basically use it like a stress ball or fidget spinner. Clickety clack clickety clack. 10/10.

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