Author Archives: Dan Thurot

Chaos. Order. Back Together.

Me, upon waking from my hibernation pod: "Another million years, thanks."

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.

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All Is Bomb Is Bomb

header is bomb

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.

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Abstracts Get Political: GoCaine

A church leader came over to my house. He saw GoCaine on the table. "Is that a game... about COCAINE?" he asked. "Nah, it's about baby powder." He was visibly relieved. I said, "Of course it's about cocaine." He looked like I'd slapped him.

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.

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An Empty Omen

an header replete with empty space

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.

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Siege of Manatee

Siege of Manitoba

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.

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Foucault in the Woodland, Part Five: Parasites in the Panopticon

It looks like he's trying to sell newspapers.

Recap: Across the past four installments, we’ve been talking about power. Specifically, how Cole Wehrle’s Root demonstrates an understanding of power in line with the writings of Michel Foucault.

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.

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This One’s a Bear

Somebody made this art. Keep that in mind before you publicly express your confusion about it. And then express your confusion anyway, because what.

I like it when a publisher has an ethos. I’ve never really thought of BoardGameTables — which I can’t quite bring myself to write under its full name, because blech — as anything other than a table company that happens to publish a few games on the side. Not unlike Ultra PRO and card sleeves, come to think of it.

Peculiar branding aside, writing about a portion of their catalog this past week has given me a more concrete sense for their internal logic. The defining trait is focus. Whether it’s Bites, On Tour, Q.E., Kabuto Sumo — yes, even Loot of Lima — these games pick one thing and try to stick the landing. More often than not, that one thing is offbeat. Outside the norm. Neither a mishmash nor a retread. They hone a single concept to a cutting edge. Even when the result is mixed, it’s hard to argue that this isn’t a carefully curated selection.

And then there’s Bear Raid. Bear Raid may be offbeat, but it lacks the tidiness of those other titles. It even lacks the tidiness of designer Ryan Courtney’s upcoming game Trailblazers, which I wrote about last week. In that respect, it’s closer to Pipeline or Curious Cargo. This here is a big old mess. And I think that’s why I have so much affection for what it’s trying to do.

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Bite Me


During yesterday’s entry in our splurge of titles from BoardGameTables, the simplicity and repetition of On Tour caused me to call it “a kid game masquerading as a game for grown-ups.” Today, we’re looking at a game that goes out of its way to look like a kid game, from its cutesy subject matter to some adorable double-layered cardboard tokens that look like food items with nibbles taken out of them. I’m pretty sure I even released an “Aww!” when we punched them out.

Never mind that. The title in question is Bites by Brigitte and Wolfgang Ditt. Childish exclamations of delight aside, it is decidedly a game for grown-ups.

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Almost Famous

The actual cover is much prettier than this crop.

After yesterday’s alleyway mugging by Loot of Lima, almost anything would be an improvement. Good news! Our next BoardGameTables entry, On Tour by Chad DeShon, is exactly the broad-appeal title I was looking for. It’s both a roll-and-write and a flip-and-write. That’s a twofer.

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Lima Beans, Maybe

I like how that one illustration looks like Jim from Our Flag Means Death.

I’ve been on a BoardGameTables kick. Not because I need a board game table. I’ve got one of those. It’s two card tables with a slab of felted plywood laid over the top. Upscale, I know. Instead of a table, BoardGameTables sent over four games in one big package. The current plan is to write about them in ascending order of quality.

Which probably clues you into what I think about Loot of Lima.

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