Author Archives: Dan Thurot
One of my favorite questions to ask fellow historians is “When did the Roman Empire fall?” Not because I have a firm answer — it’s a harder question than you might think — but because our answers say a lot about how we conceptualize historical narratives. It’s easiest to respond with a year. Say, 410 or 476. If we remember Constantinople, maybe 1453. A conclusive final chapter. The end of an era. The opposing answer is that Rome didn’t fall so much as transition; that the Merovingian and Carolingian kings who fancied themselves emperors had no less of a claim than the string of weaklings who had ruled the Empire for centuries. This narrative is more meandering, but still, in its own way, unsatisfying.
And then there’s the answer that one aging professor offered in a course many years ago: “Why are you asking when something imaginary ended?”
I spent a good two years trying to figure out what that meant.
Hello. How do you feel about puns? Your answer may well determine how you feel about The Rival Networks, Gil Hova’s latest game — and a minor Hova all around.
A few years back, I took part in an impromptu discussion on how a civilization game might model the will of the people. The issue arose thanks to a question that’s always nagged at me: while civilization games usually cast the player as a near-absolute sovereign, what happens when their subjects diverge from the sovereign’s directives? It isn’t uncommon for soldiers to grow sick of war, farmers weary of farming, pioneers with the treaties that mark where they’re permitted to settle. Revolution and reform are as inherent to civilization as technology or warfare. So why is it that they’re so often rounded down to negative modifiers?
Imperium: Classics and Imperium: Legends, twin titles designed by Nigel Buckle and Dávid Turczi and published by Osprey Games, have an answer.
Civilization games face a particular conundrum. It’s a small thing, even a niggle. I wouldn’t even describe it as solvable. It’s just there, always putting up a fight, demanding a reckoning from designers and forbearance from players. Hardly fair that it always pops to mind when I sit down to play one of these things.
That conundrum is movement. Literally, how your units move across the map. To use it as a metaphor to describe Scott DeMers’ Hellenica, imagine an ancient army departing their city-state, well-provisioned and suitably optimistic, supported by baggage trains and ships and combined arms and allies, only to falter exactly one step short of capturing the city of their oldest rival.
They said it couldn’t be done. They never believed that Dan and Brock could reunite, after some 600 days, and write another Two Minds. But at long last, we’ve done it. This time, we’re discussing Warp’s Edge by designer Scott Almes and Renegade Games. It’s a tidy little box that will have you dog-fighting in zero gravity at practically the speed of light. But will the g-forces nauseate you?
Dan: Yes. I’m actually very susceptible to even slight changes in velocity. I’ve always struggled with carsickness. One time at Disneyland, I ate a turkey leg right before Space Mountain, and—
Brock: As much as I’ve missed our nausea chats (and I really, truly have), let’s try to keep things on track.
If our last episode left you confused, today we’re doubling down! Twice the confusion! Double! Times two! Continuing the futuristic saga of a golden age on the brink of disaster, we discuss unreliable narrators, miracles real and invented, and what happens when you name your sniper character Sniper. Come along as we dive into Seven Surrenders by Ada Palmer. Listen here or download here.
Next time, we’ll be dipping into something friendly and light with Autonomous by Annalee Newitz.
It’s the dystopian future and a group of attractive youngsters are the only ones who can stick it to the system. How very Young Adult! If you haven’t heard of Pierce Brown’s Red Rising series, don’t worry, neither had I. Nor is any knowledge of the series necessary to play Jamey Stegmaier’s cardboard adaptation. Although that’s largely because this adaptation is more about professional networking than overthrowing the ruling class.
Oath is Cole Wehrle’s most off-putting game yet. I mean that affectionately. I also don’t anticipate everybody will feel the same way. Riding high on the goodwill generated by Root and Pax Pamir — and dressed up in Kyle Ferrin’s affable illustrative style — this sure is a beaut for something Wehrle called a “hate letter” to the civilization genre. Would it be rude to accuse such an attractive package of false advertising? Because Oath is so determined to make its audience reconsider their assumptions that it sometimes feels like it’s asking too much.
Sometimes. The rest of the time, I’m glad it asks so much.
I’ve been holding this in for too long and now I need to let it out in a rush.
Narrative board games — now there’s a phrase that’ll get me yammering. There’s no quicker way to make my eyelids droop than by forcing me to read a middling Young Adult novel in between rounds of combat. There are exceptions. Ryan Laukat’s Near and Far and Above and Below were both charming enough to stick around for a few plays, even if their marriage of choose-your-own-adventure snippets and Eurogame sensibilities wasn’t entirely harmonious. I enjoyed them in bursts before largely forgetting they existed.
But then there’s Laukat’s latest offering, Sleeping Gods. In sharp contrast with both of his earlier narrative games, this is a landmark title. Not only is this his strongest work by far, and not only is it an entirely smooth merger of narrative and cardboard, but it’s possibly the first time I’ve been persuaded that a narrative game can accomplish something remarkable.