Author Archives: Dan Thurot
Coup was great, wasn’t it? Hard to believe it’s been over a decade since Rikki Tahta’s original splashed onto the scene. With only fifteen cards and an absolutely intuitive merging of hidden roles and action selection, it was very nearly the perfect social deduction game. Its follow-up, Coup: Rebellion G54, deepened that card pool but also traded away a significant portion of its ease for an oppressive need to check which actions were available this session. I eventually traded it away. Rebellion G54, that is. I still have my original printing stashed somewhere.
Right in time for the pandemic, three designers expanded on that framework. The question seemingly asked by AC Atienza, Alvin Lee, and Mitchell Loewen bordered on the heretical: What if Coup, but with an extra layer of hidden roles built atop the hidden roles it already had? Also: What if Coup, but with Shakespeare?
The answer to both questions is Captain’s Gambit: Kings of Infinite Space.
It’s been a few years now since video games cribbed big time from the realm of cardboard with Slay the Spire, the roguelike deck-builder that spawned a hundred copycats, none of them more compelling than the wickedly glorious Monster Train (CHOOT CHOOT). As someone who weathered the Great Deck-Building Imitation that followed in the wake of Donald X. Vaccarino’s genre-establishing Dominion, I’ve followed this outpouring with some interest. My expert conclusion: both hobbies seem to be operating on the “flinging spaghetti at the wall” model. And too often, the noodles have yet to be wetted.
The latest case in point in Mahokenshi, a lavishly animated deck-builder that sees one of four heroes roaming a landscape inspired by Japanese mythology, poking goblins and hiding in forests. Its closest cousin is Vlaada Chvátil’s supernal Mage Knight. Unfortunately, its consanguinity is thrice removed.
As the foremost authority on the matter, a “space biff” is when a robot, preferably a giant robot mech, punches one of its peers in the jaw. Why do these robots have fists? Why jaws? Nobody knows. I certainly don’t. But there they stand, with their fists and jaws. Sometimes accident or fate brings them into collision.
I never watched Robotech. It, uh, aired before I was born. On those grounds, I’m the absolute worst person to measure whether it’s a suitable adaptation. Instead, my expertise lurks around an unexpected corner: as an avid player of the COIN Series.
There are certain missteps freshman designers struggle to avoid. Take Oros, the first title from Brandt Brinkerhoff. Set on an archipelago bristling with demigods and volcanoes, Oros leans into its first-timer gaminess right away, offering upgrade tracks that don’t always feel fully-baked, complex interactions between its shifting islands and floes of lava, and persnickety rules that are guaranteed to slip through the cracks. It’s as scattershot as its shattered seascape.
For all that, it’s also as refreshing as a sea breeze. Let’s pick into why that is.
Medical history is one of my favorite topics. As an undergrad I was fortunate to work with a second edition of Andreas Vesalius’s De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem, that revolutionary tome that contested and updated Galen’s anatomical observations from over a millennium earlier.
This shouldn’t be taken as a criticism of Galen. Unlike his far-removed successor, the Roman prohibition on human dissection forced guesswork on his part. If anything, the anatomists led remarkably parallel careers. Both challenged received wisdom, ran afoul of their period’s traditions, and eventually escaped into self-imposed exile. Where Vesalius drew fire by concluding that men didn’t have fewer ribs than women, a detail that clashed with the Catholic Church’s belief that Adam’s rib had formed Eve, Galen threaded an awkward middle ground between the dominant dogmatist and empiric schools of medicine, drawing ire and threats of poisoning when he spurned their guiding philosophies.
Galenus, designed by Harry-Pekka Kuusela, steps into the testy waters of Galen’s poison-laced Rome. It’s a fascinating setting. If only it provided more of a deep dive than a shallow wade.
What’s the difference between a puzzle and a game? Heck if we know. Today’s Space-Cast delves into two puzzle titles by designer Blaž Gracar: the 18-card microgame All Is Bomb and the pen-and-transparent-sheet game LOK. Listen in as we discuss both games, the value of nonsense words, and share some of our favorite puzzle recommendations.
As popular as it is to make games about war, more and more I’m drawn to those that investigate peace. Specifically, those fraught peacetimes that can be lost as surely as war, that can demolish a country, a people, a future more surely than any cannonade.
John Hague’s forthcoming The Last Summit is one such examination. Like many of our cultural landscape’s speculations for the day after tomorrow, The Last Summit presumes the collapse of civilization and the advent of apocalypse. Unlike its peers, however, it also presumes that we’ve somehow waded through to the other side. Humanity’s leaders have come together to negotiate the shape of the new world. It’s a chance to work together to quell the excesses that pushed the globe over the brink — or to capitalize on everybody’s exhaustion to seize power for yourself.
Gussy Gorillas calls itself a negotiation game. That might be a function of marketing. Please note, that isn’t the same as calling it false advertising. True to its word, it features both trading and negotiating. Further, it’s double-billed with Zoo Vadis, the Reiner Knizia negotiation game we examined last week. They’ll appear together on Kickstarter later this month, less an Abbott and Costello pairing than, I dunno, Abbott and Franz Liszt.
Maybe you can see what I’m getting at. Side by side, there’s very little connective tissue between Zoo Vadis and Gussy Gorillas. Unlike its sister title, this is a negotiation game the way chimps with typewriters are Shakespeare. Not nearly as elegant or timeless, but much louder and messier, and, depending on the day (and the theater troupe), more interesting to watch. That’s because Gussy Gorillas isn’t really about negotiation. It belongs to that most cacophonic genre, the “hollering game.”
I’ve never played Quo Vadis?, Reiner Knizia’s long out-of-print cult title that, to my great surprise, is not actually about Jesus appearing to Peter on the Appian Way to egg him into martyrdom. Instead, it’s a catty perspective on the Roman cursus honorum. Way to commingle your Latin references, Doc.
Here’s the thing. I might have teased Quo Vadis? back in the ’90s. I might have even chuckled at the game’s new setting. But this remake is so pristinely crafted, so sharp in its social undertaking, that I really can’t do anything other than bask in its warmth. I love it when a good game gets a second chance. Even better when its second go-round is superior to the first. To commingle some references of my own: It is risen.