Author Archives: Dan Thurot

Something Familiar This Way Comes

Scary pumpkin-men are not my favorite thing to happen across on a moonlit night, but I've become very good at smashing them.

Madrid-based publisher Salt & Pepper Games has been on a roll lately. I hesitate to say that the secret sauce behind both Resist! and The Hunt was the visual work of Albert Monteys, not least because both would have been impressive even had they been illustrated by crayon. Honestly, though, it’s the art that catches the eye. There’s a humanity to Monteys’ work that breathes life into his subjects, whether they be dueling captains or ragged insurgents.

Or a coven of witches in Salem-adjacent New England warding off evil while placating the local judges. Designed by David Thompson, Trevor Benjamin, and Roger Tankersley, Witchcraft! is the follow-up to Resist! In many ways, it’s a familiar outing. In others, it’s an improvement.

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Not the Archean Supercontinent Vaalbara

The only image of this game's box is something like 300 pixels wide. I resorted to taking my own scan, but the gloss made my reflection show up. A Tom Clancy story would include somebody scanning the image and removing the clutter to find my location.

Did you know there was a supercontinent named Vaalbara? It’s true. There’s also a board game named Vaalbara. Presumably the board game Vaalbara, designed by Olivier Cipière, is not about the supercontinent Vaalbara, since it existed something like three billion years ago. The supercontinent. Not the board game. That exists right now.

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Growing Up Free and Wild

Crane rental income when?

Back when cities regularly burned down, Seattle burned down too. That’s the starting point for Rebuilding Seattle, an optimistic title by Quinn Brander that does exactly what it says on the tin. Like so many modern games chasing mass appeal, it plays like a pastiche of a best hits album: there are polyominoes and a wide-open card drafting market, limited currencies and special powers. On their own, these elements are baggy and ill-defined. In tying them together, however, Brander manages to elevate Rebuilding Seattle to more than the sum of its parts.

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This Trick-Taking Life: The Suits

If you've got antikheirphobia, this article is gonna make you sweat.

“I never understood the appeal of trick-taking. Isn’t it just, we all put a card down and someone gets all the cards?”

Thus spake someone on social media this past week. I’m keeping their identity anonymous. Not so much because it’s a wrong opinion. Because it’s an opinion I shared not all that long ago. Growing up in a family where playing cards were an endowment from the devil, there wasn’t much room for anything more complicated than UNO. When I married into a trick-taking family, the appeal was lost on me. The processes seemed random. Yet the same people won no matter how poor their hand. Maybe, just maybe, there was something more to these games than first met the eye.

This series is written for my past self. One layer at a time, I want to talk about what makes trick-taking special. Today, we’re starting with the barest of basics: the suits.

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Book-Space! #24. Babel

Wee Aquinas also has suspicions about education.

Ever wondered what a translator’s life is like? R.F. Kuang’s Babel lends readers an accurate impression of higher education, British colonialism, and the magical powers of silversmithing. Join Brock, Summer, and Dan as we discuss this wonderfully dense and evocative book. Listen here or download here.

Next time, spider aliens! Courtesy of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time.

Rome in a Quarter Hour

Looks like Rome's going through some growing pains, hmm?

Despite being familiar to anybody who’s divided a last piece of cake, “I cut, you choose” doesn’t tend to attract much attention. It wouldn’t be accurate to say that Evgeny Petrov’s Rome in a Day is looking to change that. This is a quiet little game, such an embodiment of the filler category that it takes literally fifteen minutes to play. In spite of that, it’s an unexpectedly solid title that transforms its players into shrewd speculators of hexes and laser-cut structures.

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The Gryphon Has Fallen

I have no idea what's going on in this game's fiction, and I could not care less.

Very few games are as cacophonous as Guards of Atlantis II — or as elegant. Are those antonyms? Before playing Artyom Nichipurov’s masterpiece, I might have thought so. We’ve tried our hand at plenty of titles that have aspired to bring the skill and chaos of multiplayer online battle arenas (MOBAs) to the tabletop, a tall order for a genre that takes full advantage of its processing power and leans on reflex for good play. Despite the limitations of the medium, a handful of attempts have been noteworthy. Even excellent.

Compared to the best of them, Guards of Atlantis II is on a whole ‘nother level.

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If Books Could Kill

Fun fact: "Paperback Adventures" is an anagram of "paapdverebnatcurkes"

It’s hard to go even one minute in the presence of Paperback Adventures, the latest word game by Skye Larsen and Tim Fowers, without drawing comparisons to Slay the Spire — specifically, the original digital game by Anthony Giovannetti and Casey Yano, not the forthcoming cardboard adaptation by Gary Dworetsky. At this point, a Mormon genealogy project would struggle to detangle its heritage. Slay the Spire spawned entire crowds of imitators, but it was also a successor in its own right, drawing on both roguelikes and the tabletop deck-building craze. It’s been almost a decade since Fowers’ original Paperback, itself a deck-builder. Now it’s back after some liberal cribbing from Slay the Spire. Trace that lineage and you get a time paradox.

Here’s the crazy part: Paperback Adventures is possibly the finest title Fowers has produced. It might even be superior to Slay the Spire. Hear me out.

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Space-Cast! #28. Land and Conversation

Wee Aquinas feels as though the world has left him behind.

The politics of the Spanish Civil War are complicated — which only makes it all the more impressive that Alex Knight’s Land and Freedom distills them so elegantly into a three-player scrum for control of the Second Republic. Today, Alex joins us to discuss the genesis of his game, including how he solved the semi-cooperative problem with a silk bag, evolving the card-driven formula so popular in wargames, and the factional politics behind the gameplay.

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

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The Jaunty Mattanza

a postcard of Sicily's famous burning manors Vespa tour

La Famiglia: The Great Mafia War, the latest design by Maximilian Maria Thiel, has caused a minor stir thanks to its subject matter, the Sicilian mafia wars of the 1980s. Sometimes called the Mattanza — the slaughter — this conflict claimed thousands of victims, including bystanders, police officers, and civil servants, and included acts of violence that crossed borders and oceans.

When it comes to board games, it’s hard to find a setting that will unsettle me. I’m less interested in a game’s proposition than its execution. Playing La Famiglia, however, it’s hard to escape the niggling feeling that this isn’t the most canny handling of a sensitive topic.

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