Author Archives: Dan Thurot
Ecumenical councils aren’t exactly the topic everybody stays awake for, but there’s a good chance you’ve heard of the Council of Nicaea. Flush with success after unifying the Roman Empire, the Emperor Constantine had made himself the patron of Christianity, a major turnaround after the persecutions of Emperor Diocletian only a decade earlier. But Constantine’s fledgling religious program faced one major problem: rumblings of controversy in Alexandria over the nature of Christ. To avert potential embarrassment — or worse, schism — Constantine convened his council in 325 CE, leading to the first sweeping statement of orthodoxy in Christian canon.
That’s the part you probably know. Less publicized is the base political nature of the outcome, all those long-held and supposedly sincere doctrinal positions wilting in the face of the Council’s pronouncements. Although the attending bishops began almost evenly split, in the end only three out of three hundred refused to side with the majority and retain their privileges and positions. A miracle, perhaps. Or maybe, just maybe, ambition and cowardice played as much a role as they always do.
So begins Amabel Holland’s Nicaea, an irreverent, boisterous, and gleefully blasphemous assault on the entire concept of orthodoxy. Expect some ruffled feathers and you won’t be disappointed.
There’s a pair of reasons why I’ve never written about Mac Gerdts’ Concordia. First, it’s already been reviewed four thousand times, and the odds I’ll slip something worthwhile between the cracks is slight at best. Second, and perhaps more importantly, I’d never played the thing. Trading in the Mediterranean? That’s as novel as settings come, but I’ve been busy tackling such rare beasts as vikings and zombies.
In any case, in light of tomorrow’s release of Acram Digital’s, er, digital edition, I’ve finally learned how to play Concordia. And let me tell you something nobody else has mentioned: it’s quite good.
There’s something dangerous in those bushes over there. A sabre-tooth tiger? A handful of poisonous berries? Nope, it’s designer Peter Rustemeyer, here to chat about the origins, development, and history of Paleo, 2021 winner of the prestigious Kennerspiel des Jahres.
I’ve been playing a game about Anabaptist martyrs getting burned at the stake. I’m resisting the urge to call John Ratigan’s Martyr: Bloody Theater 1528 “metal,” although it practically begs for the descriptor. The gilt artwork, paused somewhere between reverential and an iconoclast’s pasticcio. Its sole resource, your stolen final breaths. A transparent disc indicating the Holy Spirit, drifting among onlookers. Even the sweetish wood smoke smell of the Game Crafter’s laser cutter, like some theme park’s attempt at “four-dee” entertainment, slathered so thick with verisimilitude that it kicks down the sauna door on bad taste.
What is this thing? And why does it remind me, more than anything, of a prayer spoken in an unfamiliar tongue, clumsy and unaware and maybe even vaguely offensive, but so earnest that it demands a clemency of its own?
For a while there, Darin Leviloff’s States of Siege system was a big deal for solitaire gaming. The concept was brilliantly simple: what if, rather than sprawling hex maps and proviso-laden movement priorities, conflicts were portrayed as tug-of-wars along lanes? The inaugural title in the series, Israeli Independence, was more a proof of concept than a full-fledged game, but it quickly drew imitators and iterators. Before long, the series stepped into many of history’s overlooked corners. Zulus on the Ramparts. Ottoman Sunset. Hapsburg Eclipse. Mound Builders.
The best entry in the series, however, gamified the under-publicized zombie invasion of Farmingdale. I’m speaking, of course, about Hermann Luttmann’s Dawn of the Zeds.
One of the things I value about the COIN Series, which stepped onto the scene back in 2012 with Volko Ruhnke’s Andean Abyss, is its ability to fill in the gaps of history. The Finnish Civil War was a bloody three-month conflict that left lingering scars for decades, yet it’s one of those wars that’s usually only mentioned in passing, more notable for how it impacted the foreign policies of its larger neighbors, especially Germany and Russia, rather than for the sovereign republic it ultimately birthed.
No longer! As the tenth volume in the Coin Series, All Bridges Burning is the first published design by VPJ Arponen. Never mind that. His confidence with the subject matter is evident in the game’s finest details. I’d even go so far as to call this one of the series’ most radical entries.
Nobles is a snack. Like John Clowdus’s Pocket Galapagos, it’s a bite-sized solo game preoccupied with the movement of cards from one place to another. Unlike that game, Nobles also taps into the joy of putting things into their proper arrangement, even when — perhaps especially when — it doesn’t feel much like a game at all.
One of the oft-unacknowledged talents of designer John Clowdus is his ability to evoke a complete world in the most compact format possible. I’m not only talking about Omen: A Reign of War, although my affection for that card game has been documented and documented again. Clowdus is also responsible for the messy prehistory of Neolithic, the undying carnival that is Hemloch, the collapsing Bronze Age, and, more recently, the chilly The North. His games are transportations in miniature, showing a cross-section of a world that stretches far beyond the limitations of the small boxes he crams them into.
The same is true of Dirge: The Rust Wars. Returning to Aaron Nakahara’s dilapidated style from The North — with additional contributions by Liz Lahner of Bronze Age — Dirge evokes biomechanical vultures picking over the last scraps of bone in a world that’s fallen apart and won’t be put back together again.
I’ll confess, I agreed to play Roll Camera! on the strength of its title pun alone. Because it’s about filmmaking, you see, and also it’s a dice game. Brilliant. Now you know the secret. Hook me with a next-level pun and your foot is already in the door.
Thank goodness Malachi Ray Rempen didn’t stop there. He also happens to have created a game that on more than one occasion made me exclaim with delight at its subtle moments of clever design.