Category Archives: Board Game

Watching You Watching You Watching You

oh no it's a phobia I didn't know I had: clock face faces

When we talk about theme in games, we’re usually talking about the wallpaper. I’ve deadened plenty a pixel ranting on that point, which is perhaps why Daniel Newman’s Watch struck me with such force. Watch is a game about stealing office supplies. It’s almost irrelevant that these office supplies happen to be pocket watch parts and surplus WWII munitions. That it takes place on a literal clock face plunges it into the realm of fever dream. One doesn’t need to work in a Soviet factory to feel like a cog waiting to snap.

Now this is theme, adumbrated through a dozen minute details.

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Chits Around the Table

Hey, you! Yeah, you! We're gathering our swords. Yes, our swords. I dunno why. Something about holding them around the throne. The throne. That one. I don't know. This war seems very silly to me sometimes.

There are perils to self-publishing. Take Renaud Verlaque’s Swords Around the Throne, a sky-high vantage on the Napoleonic Wars that, unlike his earlier published titles Age of Napoleon, The Price of Freedom, and The Big Push, is available only through the Game Crafter. As a consequence, Swords Around the Throne defies ease of entry. Its rulebook is a muddle of misplaced information, details that could have been offloaded to cards or the board are absent, and like many wargames there are exceptions aplenty.

Which is a pity, because somewhere behind a veil of its own devising is a novel portrayal of European upheaval.

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Dunc: Immorality

Needs more colons.

The foremost question about Dune: Imperium: Immorality is one of abundance. Does Imperium really need another expansion? It hasn’t even been a year since Paul Dennen gave Dune: Imperium its first big addition, Rise of Ix. At this rate we’ll soon be juggling expansions for the Honored Matres and Fish Speakers. Talk about power creeps.

Speaking of power creep, have you ever heard of the Tleilaxu?

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The Anarchy Comes Home

The thesis for John Company is drawn right onto the lid of the second edition box. Two worlds, starkly divided, seemingly incongruent. The first, drawn with affrontive rotundity, features genteel Englishmen and Englishwomen drinking and flirting, debauched in their plumpness, as without care as people ever were. The second, illustrated as angularly as the first image was curvaceous, reveals a fortified seaside factory, sternly defended and given scale only by the many ships gathering beneath the hem of its skirts. Despite their dissimilarity, it’s like the meme says: they are the same picture.

The first time I wrote about Cole Wehrle’s most ambitious title I called it his magnum opus. Later I discussed how it and its sister volume An Infamous Traffic put two dueling economic systems on trial. The third was a preview for this second edition, but the final product hasn’t changed enough to invalidate any of the praise I heaped on it at the time.

But a few things remains to be stated. What follows is less of a review than a statement on why games like John Company are the most essential ludic texts of our day.

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Mountain Copper

Ah, deities, just how I like them: clear and present dangers to our survival.

In Plato’s description of Atlantis, Critias mentions orichalcum — literally “mountain copper” — a metal second in preciousness only to gold but no longer known except by name. To this day its identification offers a minor mystery to historians. Was orichalcum some bright alloy of gold? Platinum? Remnants of an alien civilization that taught humans how to embed circuitry into the Acropolis? Probably not. A few years back almost forty ingots were recovered from a shipwreck off the coast of Sicily. A gold-hued alloy of copper and zinc, some experts believe these may be our last remnants of the lost metal. They’re on display at the archaeological museum of Gela.

Orichalcum is also a board game by Bruno Cathala and Johannes Goupy. It’s considerably less mysterious than its namesake.

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Draculas, Frankensteins, Woofmans

foot fetish freaks, eat your hearts out

Every year, Amabel Holland designs a freebie game for Hollandspiele’s Hollandays sale. In the past, certain of these freebies have even been among the year’s best.

Watch Out! That’s a Dracula! might be my favorite yet. And not only because it treats Dracula like an absolute doofus.

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A Deodorant for Excessively Hairy Men

Too-soon charted lands.

“Northgard” sounds like a deodorant brand. Probably one that smells of pine needles and draugr leather. Northgard: Uncharted Lands, on the other hand, is the latest adaptation of a video game that happens to be considerably more competent than its bastard offspring. Based on Norse mythology in the loosest sense, players are tasked with leading a clan to preeminence. Mostly this consists of exploring terrain, fighting monsters, fighting other Vikings, fighting the winter, and never once setting foot on a boat.

At times, bits of flint shine through the muck. The rest of the time, it’s gone to mud.

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Two Minds About Final Girl

I empathize more with the thousand-yard-stare final girl than the resolute final girls.

Brock: Can horror exist outside a movie, or a book, or a gaggle of costumed teenagers in a problematic haunted asylum? Does it require one or more draculas?

This time around, Dan and I put on our Two Minds lederhosen to tackle Van Ryder Games’ Final Girl. We wanted to discover just how well a horror movie could be translated to cardboard and dice, and just how small wooden cylinders in a board game could get. Will we make it out alive?

Dan: And I even own real lederhosen!

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that's one powerful tapetum lucidum to reflect a whole image like that

Ashwin Kamath and Clarence Simpson’s The Wolves comes with a soundtrack. Not on CD or MP3, and certainly nothing officially composed. It’s the compulsive “aroo!” that players belt whenever their pack of noble wolves takes the howl action. I have yet to play a game without somebody launching into that enthusiastic howl.

What about the game? Yeah, that’s pretty good too.

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Twilight Iconographies

I witnessed somebody complaining about the space lioness and how weird she looked compared to the original art, and buddy, as a kid I thought the space lion on the original cover was bizarre too.

When we talk about “roll-and-writes,” the genre that’s going through a minor renaissance, we’re really talking about two slightly different things. Roll-and-writes, in which you roll dice, and flip-and-writes, in which you flip a card. Generally, both see everybody at the table using those identical inputs on their own board. It’s easy to see the appeal. The action is simultaneous, fast-playing, and highlights why “input luck” doesn’t feel unfair the way “output luck” does. Here’s a random number: put it to good use. (Unlike output luck, which says, Take your action: now here’s the roll to determine its outcome.) As a bonus, everybody gets the same number.

The biggest distinction between the two has everything to do with how that random input is curated. In a roll-and-write, you’re using dice. There’s more wiggle room to its randomness. In theory, an entire game could pass without a certain roll ever appearing. In a flip-and-write, drawing from a deck means you’ll eventually see a selection of possibilities. That’s less randomness, but more predictability. Yes, that can be a weakness. Neither system is inherently better than the other; they just have different ideas about how to best generate their inputs.

James Kniffen’s Twilight Inscription is both a roll-and-write and a flip-and-write. On one level, that isn’t surprising; it’s an adaptation of Twilight Imperium, that famously gargantuan game of stellar conquest. On another, it creatures a leviathan of its own, one that’s spread across four interconnected games.

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