Author Archives: The Innocent

Hamilcar, Not Hannibal

RAMMING SPEED! is something you tragically never say in the game.

At its height, the Carthaginian Empire was enormous. Encompassing much of northern Africa, swaths of modern-day Spain, Corsica and Sardinia, even a toehold on the jewel of the Mediterranean that was Sicily, they were one of the world’s great maritime powers — a true thalassocracy, their navy indomitable at sea — until the scrappy Roman Republic’s unification of the Italian Peninsula put them in a position to challenge Carthage’s authority. The ensuing wars spanned more than a century, and only concluded when the grand city of Carthage was burnt to the ground.

Not only is Hands in the Sea set during the first of these wars — that’s the war of Hamilcar Barca, father of the Hannibal Barca who would brashly march elephants across the Alps in the Second Punic War — it also contains some history of its own. Riffing on Martin Wallace’s innovative A Few Acres of Snow, this is Daniel Berger’s attempt at taking the system to the next level without resorting to the same fantastical measures that Wallace undertook in Mythotopia. Which is to say, this is a serious game, full of serious people undertaking serious endeavors — and it’s every bit as good as it is serious.

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The Space-Biff! Space-Cast! Episode #5: The New Millennium

Staged shot, so don't climb up on my back about how badly I'm doing.

In today’s episode of the Space-Biff! Space-Cast!, Dan Thurot and Rob Cramer speak with D. Brad Talton Jr. (the D is for Danger) of Level 99 Games about ushering in the New Millennium — the heralded thousand years of Millennium Blades, that is. We also reminisce about collectible card games, being nerds, and jerky cousins.

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Yer Dragon Is Flaggin’

I keep thinking that dude's hat is a frying pan. It wouldn't be even a little out of place in this game.

There’s something about throwing a hefty mug, beverage still sloshing around inside it, at a friend’s head. If you haven’t managed to scratch that one off the old bucket list, I recommend getting to it sooner rather than later. Live a little.

In the meantime, The Dragon & Flagon is all about tender moments like these. A bunch of adventurers, rowdy and randy after their latest successful dungeon dive, and all as parched as that heap of desiccated bones they kept tripping over, have decided to trash the tavern they’re supping at. Who can blame them? They just saved the village. Maybe. After knocking a couple back, they can’t quite remember.

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We All Need Control

This box art? I dig this box art.

Elegance is tough.

Think about it. If you want your game to be elegant, it needs to have moving parts, but not so many that it becomes a mess, and what’s there must be well-oiled and purposeful. You’ll need clear winning strategies, but no single strategy that trumps all others. Simplicity, but simplicity with depth.

Control, a game ostensibly about time travelers wrestling to escape a rift in spacetime, is elegant. Unfortunately, most people might not reach the point where they can recognize that.

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Lords of Underdeep

Sultry Tyrants: The Reality Show

Lords of Waterdeep was pretty great, wasn’t it? Designed from the ground up to hit that sweet spot that would appeal to both newcomers to the worker placement genre and cardboard veterans alike, it saw widespread success for good reason. Anyone who said they didn’t like it was almost assuredly a walking diaper. A used walking diaper.

Tyrants of the Underdark is looking to replicate that success. It’s even set in the same place, at least broadly — Skullport, the shady locale from the Lords of Waterdeep expansion, registers as a tiny blip in Underdark’s sprawling, uh, Underdark. This time, however, the target is deck-building games. And not just any deck-building game, but the chimera sort that splits your time between shuffling your cards and waging war on a map.

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Star Trek Done Right

I'm listening to the Wrath of Khan theme as I type. Tearing up already.

Fifty years ago today — that’s either August 8th, 1966 or stardate 1513.1, depending on how much of a nerd you are — marks the first appearance of the USS Enterprise, as Kirk, Bones, Spock and the rest of the crew grappled with a mystery of hidden identity, a long-dead civilization, and a salt vampire. It was the moment that kicked off the series that would flop, get cancelled, become a hit, and spawn a thousand new episodes, movies, books, games, and imitators.

The difficulty with adapting Star Trek to cardboard has always been that there are nearly as many ideas and topics that encompass the notion of “Star Trek” as there are episodes — that’s 726 across six television series, to be precise. Is it about exploration? Ethics? War? The power of communication? Teamwork? The answer to all of these is, at turns, yes. And many more besides. How do you capture the essence of something that has ambitions on nearly everything?

Star Trek: Ascendancy, however, has not been designed by any old two-bit studio. This is coming from Gale Force Nine, the same people who captured the treachery and violence of Spartacus, the paranoia of Homeland, the tough-guy act of Sons of Anarchy, and the meandering twang of Firefly. And now they’ve done it again. By Grabthar’s Hammer, they’ve done it again.

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Dirty Little Shitler

"Was that... was that an All-American Rejects reference?" you ask, slightly horrified. "Yes," I weep.

I enjoy plenty of social deduction games. Mafia de Cuba. Spyfall. A Fake Artist Goes to New York. Deception: Murder in Hong Kong. Dark Moon. Homeland. So why is it that the genre has always sounded like a swear word to me?

When I really put my mind to it, the essence of my beef is that I simply don’t enjoy any entries into the genre that feel scripted, where a person’s role or ability informs nearly all of their behavior. I’m talking about stuff like The Resistance: Avalon or One Night Ultimate Werewolf, where everyone else works out these logical identity puzzles while I sit there counting the minutes. The first time is thrilling, but the tenth? Boring. Programmatic, even. Invariably, it feels like we’re just going through the motions as our assigned characters.

Secret Hitler feels a whole lot like Avalon, and yet it sidesteps this issue completely. Let’s look at how.

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Salvation: Worth It?

I sort of feel like those bondage enthusiasts could hear that guy screaming into that other guy's hand from right there. They're known for their excellent hearing.

Comparisons can be a tough thing for a board game to weather. Is it fair to compare any particular game to another, especially since people might not have played whatever’s being used as the point of reference? Or would it be unfair to not draw comparisons, failing to trust your audience to understand what you’re talking about and letting them make up their own dang minds?

Take Salvation Road, for instance. It’s easy to compare it to Dead of Winter. They’re both games about scavenging in a post-apocalyptic landscape. They’re both about survival. They both feature a diverse and randomized cast of characters, some better suited to their task than others. Most importantly, despite a pretty lengthy list of differences, they both feel extremely similar.

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A Vast Vast Review

Are the goblins attacking the big letters? If so, why? Who left them there? Were they anti-goblin in some way? Or do goblins, mostly being illiterate, simply hate anything resembling writing?

The prospect of asymmetry in board games has always been a tricky one, promising great variety and depth while also threatening to overwhelm its participants with — and I believe this is the scientific term — a metric butt-ton of rules. Unlike digital games, which might handle calculations behind the scenes or offer helpful tips whenever you get stuck, in the analog world of board games every single rule must be relayed, parsed, and understood between all players at all times. Or at least most of the time.

Not only is Vast: The Crystal Caverns by Leder Games not an exception to this rule, it’s pretty much the definition. But does that do it a disservice or make it one of the richest games to appear on our table this year? Read on to find out.

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The Space-Biff! Space-Cast! Episode #4: Copycats of Catan

Where I come from, this is often referred to as a Zarahemlapalooza.

For the first time ever, Dan Thurot is joined by Rob Cramer and special guest Mark Henderson in order to shilly-shally about board game rip-offs, homages, and copycats. Highlight of the week: Settlers of Zarahemla, everyone’s favorite Mormon-themed Catanalike. And at 29:21, join the cast for the inaugural round of the Space-Biff! Space-Cast! Space-Guess!

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