Author Archives: Dan Thurot

When Fire Met Stone

Notice how both sides use two-pronged symbols. Yet another signifier that they are more alike than they are different.

From Troy to Stalingrad, there’s nothing quite as gripping as the stakes and drama of a good siege. Sieges seem like the perfect setting for a board game, with their limited parameters and clear-cut victory conditions. Yet we don’t often see them given their due. In many cases, board game sieges are little more than countdown timers while armies elsewhere rush to reinforce besieged allies or outmaneuver their foes.

In stark contrast with other efforts, Fire & Stone: Siege of Vienna is possibly the best siege game I’ve played. We’ve seen the work of Robert DeLeskie before, first with The Wars of Marcus Aurelius and later Stilicho: Last of the Romans. But where those were sweeping epics, covering decades of zoomed-out politics, Fire & Stone covers two months of intense fighting between the Ottoman and Holy Roman Empires.

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Lacuna Matata

From now on, every header will be a weird stretchy thing.

The older I get, the more I appreciate cozy games, those with simple rules and an intent to generate sensations of warmth and ease. Lacuna, designed by Mark Gerrits, is one such game. I came very close to overlooking it.

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Fighters in Spaaaaace

I like the font. That's a point in the game's favor, at least?

There are so many things in Jordan Nichols and Michael Dunsmore’s Star Fighters: Rapid Fire that ought to be my jam. This is a real-time game (check) about chucking dice (check) and assigning them to a starship’s dashboard (check) in order to blast your opponent out of the sky (check check check). That’s a lot of checks. An entire preflight checklist’s worth of checks.

Upon takeoff, however, the flight was turbulent. Or perhaps it wasn’t turbulent enough. There’s no turbulence in outer space. What I’m saying is that it didn’t go as I’d hoped. After giving it some thought, there are two reasons for Star Fighter’s failure to launch. Now there’s the right metaphor! One, this game doesn’t seem to know what to do with its dice. And two, it’s been done before with far greater panache.

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The First Shall Be First

The Book of I.

There’s an account in the Gospel of Mark that stands out, not only as an expression of Jesus’s idealism, but also as an indictment of the Christian project at large. Jesus walks in on his disciples arguing over which of them is foremost among the entourage. His answer is succinct: Whoever wants to be first must instead be last. The symbol of greatness to Jesus is the servant, the child, the helpless. I have yet to find a church that takes Jesus at his word.

Pardon the religious talk. It’s impossible to discuss Ierusalem: Anno Domini without slipping into the territory. Designed by Carmen García Jiménez, this is the most devotionally charged board game I’ve played in recent memory, and that’s counting titles like The Acts of the Evangelists, Nicaea, and The Mission. The rulebook is glossed with statements from the Gospels. Resources include stones, loaves, fishes, and the Holy Spirit. Final scoring is an outpouring of points based on your proximity to the big man himself.

Speaking as a lifelong student of early Christianity — and surely not projecting any of my own hangups and traumas — it’s a very weird game indeed.

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Class Warfaire

Pictured: More social unrest than Hegemony is actually comfortable presenting.

Hegemony: Lead Your Class to Victory, brought to us by veteran designer Vangelis Bagiartakis and newcomer Varnavas Timotheou, is the sort of game that invites criticism right out of the gate. As a medium, board games have a knack for modeling complex situations and structures. Those models, however, are only as sturdy as a designer’s understanding of the topic under reconstruction. And there aren’t many topics as complicated — or as prone to disagreement, even by very educated people — as class conflict.

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This Trick-Taking Life: The Triumphs

aww! the bee doesn't want to rip his guts out when he stabs somebody!

Why are trick-taking games having such a moment? Last time in this series about my personal journey with trick-takers, I proposed an answer: because the things are so dang simple that learning the rules to one immediately opens the door to a hundred more. But that’s not all! Far from being simplistic time-wasters, there are untold depths and ranges to the system. In fact, one of the best things about cracking open a new trick-taker is that you’re almost certain to discover an approach you haven’t seen before.

Today, though, we’re tackling an aspect of trick-taking that initially put me off the genre altogether. I’m talking about the triumph, also known as the trump, also known to my friend Rob as the “super-suit.”

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Space-Cast! #29. Enduring Snake-Eyes

Wee Aquinas also suffers from low morale when he gets chilly.

What’s the commonality between Shackleton’s voyage to the Antarctic, brain hemorrhages, and the virtue of watching R-rated movies? Today, it’s Amabel Holland’s Endurance, a board game about the strength of the human spirit in the face of abject misery. Join Dan and Amabel as we chat about this game’s difficult development, throwing out historical determinism, and why not every game should have a victory condition.

Listen here or download here. Timestamps can be found after the jump.

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Taming the Medicean Stars

Yes, Galileo named them the Medicean Stars in honor of the Medici. Those jerks were showing up everywhere in the Renaissance.

It’s been 413 years since Galileo Galilei gazed into the heavens with his telescope, a homemade object fitted with lenses he’d ground himself and that could only achieve twenty-power magnification, and noted three points of light lingering near Jupiter. Contrary to the stars behind them, these points of light, which were soon joined by a fourth, seemed to be moving in the wrong direction, clustered in a straight line about the planet. Within three months, Galileo published The Starry Messenger. Among a few choice insults flung at the moon (“mountainous,” he called it), the treatise described how other celestial objects possessed satellites of their own. The universe was suddenly a lot bigger and scarier.

In the four centuries since, we’ve dreamed of ways to conquer Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. Fortunately, Adrian Hesling’s Galileo Project is all about taking the Galilean satellites down a peg. About time.

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I was told in no uncertain terms that "Vulvarium" would not be the title of this review.

Sometimes when playing a board game, I simply have no idea what’s happening. Not necessarily because the game is complicated — although sure, that happens too — but because the game doesn’t bother to string together its bones with connective tissue.

Take Vivarium by Frédéric Vuagnat, for example. Vivarium is about exploring a hitherto undiscovered continent brimming with amazing creatures, uncategorized plants and minerals, and zero complications from colonialism. In exploring this new land, explorers select their discoveries from a grid by matching dominoes. Why dominoes? I couldn’t tell you. Presumably the publisher had a few extra pallets of dominoes hanging around at the warehouse.

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Stranger than Documentary

Do the pips mean something? Are they, like, Hebrew niqqudim?

Wordle. If you haven’t played it, you’ve definitely been irritated by its scoring rubrics cluttering up your social media pages. Josh Wardle sold his original game to the New York Times for about a billion dollars, but not before it spawned even more imitators. There was even a board game adaptation. It was garbage.

Peter C. Hayward’s version is not garbage. When last we saw Hayward, he was helping us kill our alternate selves via That Time You Killed Me. Now he’s back with Fiction, a version of Wordle that captures the spirit of the original. Rather than slavishly reproducing the thing, he’s transformed it into a game of panicked guesswork, dueling wordsmiths, and some well-placed lies.

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