Author Archives: Dan Thurot
I’ll confess I have no idea what’s going on in Circadians: Chaos Order, the handsome but oh-so-drab title by Sam Macdonald and Zach Smith. Six factions, their skin tones and general aesthetic helpfully color-coded, have gone to war. What are they warring over? What are these strange artifacts? Is this what it would be like to dip into the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Avengers: Endgame? Am I ignorant because I didn’t play the previous title, Circadians: First Light? Must board games have cinematic universes too?
Never mind all that. Klaxons are sounding. Missiles are incoming. We dive into battle — by setting some prices. Booyah.
Here’s a scenario for you. The Princess slumbers in her bed. Soon she will awake. What will she want for breakfast? Since she’s a bit of a, well, princess, she will neither wait to be served nor accept anything other than what her rumbly tummy desires most. You summon the breakfast prophets to foretell the proper meal. Except they’ve gone missing. A dozen other matters also consume your attention.
Also, everything is a bomb.
Once in a while, an abstract game steps away from the norm by being overtly political. See, for example, my series on Suffragetto, Guerrilla Checkers, and Paco Ŝako. This isn’t to say that every abstract game with a real-world setting qualifies as political. But if the first thing somebody does when unpacking the game is to pour out a pile of white plastic cubes, scrape them into lines with a credit card, and then wonder aloud about the real-world cost of its weight in cocaine — which is exactly what my friend Geoff did as we sat down to give Richard Nguyen-Marshall’s GoCaine a try —
Yeah. I’m gonna call that political.
Look, you already know that John Clowdus’s Omen: A Reign of War is one of my favorite games ever designed. I’d still be lying if I called it a perfect game. It’s very phasey, full of insistent procedures and favored approaches, not to mention being reliant on learning that pool of cards and winning in the pregame draft. If Clowdus announced he was going to redesign Omen from scratch, I’d be over the moon.
To some extent, that’s exactly what An Empty Throne purports to be. Like Omen, this is a Battle Line-alike game about fielding units, comboing powers, and trickling more points into your pool than your opponent. That’s where the similarities end. Foremost because, at fifty-five cards, this thing is lean.
Oh, and there are no phases. An Empty Throne is nothing but action.
Sometimes I wonder why I play games. Not in a terminal sense. I’m not about to kick the habit. Rather, in the sense that certain games, in particular those about warfare or politics or society, are more than mere playthings. They’re possibilities for illumination. I play for enjoyment as much as the next person. But I also play to explore ideas and history.
Amabel Holland’s catalog is rife with such explorations. It’s also full of trifles. That isn’t meant as dismissive. Sometimes, though, the line is blurry, scattering my expectations into disarray. So it is with Siege of Mantua, Holland’s first block wargame, which zooms in on a crucial slice of Napoleon Bonaparte’s campaign to break the first coalition’s efforts against the fledgling French Republic.
Except I’ve been making a significant omission. Because Foucault didn’t write only about power. That would have been too clear-cut. He always rendered it as “power-knowledge.” Two intertwined concepts that, once assembled, approximate what he meant when he talked about power. Pardon me, power-knowledge.
Today, we’re delving into why that distinction matters.