Category Archives: Board Game

Revenge of the Pinball Nerds

"Ramp It Up!" feels like one of those "How do you do, fellow kids" phrases.

Last year’s Super-Skill Pinball: 4-Cade by math nerd Geoff Engelstein was a probabilities superstructure. What first seemed simple — picking which of two random numbers your pinball would hit next — was in fact a long con of ever-deepening regrets. But in a good way. It was a take-backer’s nightmare, a niggling reminder that the human brain has proved inferior to a rodent’s at assessing basic likelihoods. It also felt weirdly like real pinball.

Engelstein’s second stab at the system, Ramp It Up!, is better than the original in every regard. So instead of describing Super-Skill Pinball at its most elemental, let’s take a look at those four new tables.

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That Magnate Moment

Once again, I struggle to escape from the shade of "Magnates, How Do They Work?" as the best title for anything ever.

James Naylor’s Magnate: The First City is an ambitious opening act, a fact only made more appropriate by its wicked irony. In my preview, I compared it to Monopoly. Plastic buildings, paper money, rents, dice. They even share a setting, focused as they are on unregulated property development. It’s almost as though the entire real estate industry is so shot through with corruption and profiteering that its only natural gamification is get-rich-quick fantasies.

Unlike Monopoly, though, Magnate’s satirical perspective hasn’t been neutered by corporate plagiarism. Instead, it rushes toward a single inexorable conclusion. This will undoubtedly be the game’s most controversial aspect, but to strip it away would be to remove the whole reason Magnate works, both as a plaything and as a statement.

I’m speaking, of course, about that game-ending housing crash.

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Lunacy… on the MOON

What's life like on the moon? Oh jeez, I hope it's not like this.

Being honest upfront, there are very few topics I know so disproportionately much about as lunar colonization. So when I bellyache that Jose Ramón Palacios’s LUNA Capital doesn’t even mention regolith printing, lava tubes, basalt radiation shielding, or the deposits of thorium, titanium, and lunar ice that would be the few resources of value to corporations settling the moon, don’t take it the wrong way. Did I really expect LUNA Capital to take a serious stab at what a real moon colony might look like? No. I’d say I hoped. Hoped forlornly.

But it’s bad practice to write about the game I hoped for rather than the game I got. So instead, I’ll say that LUNA Capital is defined by some excellent set drafting and some very tired tile placement.

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Foucault in the Woodland, Part One: The Small Folk

"Wait, Foucault is behind the whole thing?" "Always was." /.jpg of astronaut shooting another astronaut

Most people would agree that Cole Wehrle did something magnificent with Root. As a game, it’s no mean feat, a sandbox where any number of truly asymmetric factions can interact with surprising fluidity. But that sandbox only scratches the surface. Root is also the most Foucauldian examination of power dynamics ever put to cardboard.

Does that matter? Well, it depends. To somebody looking to ransack a few of the Marquise’s sawmills, maybe not. But as a historical and cultural artifact, Root speaks to so much more than its folksy anthropomorphs might lead you to believe. In this series, we’re going to talk about why.

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When All the Good Routes Aragon…

Them: "Don't you ever get sick of using puns?" Me: "Navarre."

Yesterday we looked at Amabel Holland’s Trans-Siberian Railroad, a cube rails game so stuffed with ideas it had a serious case of stomach cramps. Published only two years later, Iberian Gauge tinkers in similar spaces. This time, however, its appetite and gaze are simpatico.

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Trans-Siberian Gauge

oh gosh a train

I’ve been playing a handful of train games lately. Try not to faint. I’ve suffered through by reminding myself that the trains aren’t the actual focus.

Honestly, I’m glad I did. Amabel Holland’s 2015 Trans-Siberian Railroad recently earned a reprint from Rio Grande Games, which means its winsome self has been trotted out for the enjoyment of a new generation. It’s bursting with ideas. Sometimes in a good way.

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A Monumental Clash

You know, the box isn't as huge as I was expecting. Nor as cramped. These are both very good details for a game subtitled MONUMENTAL EDITION.

Christian Marcussen is a name I associate with Sid Meier, and not only because both of his published games, Merchants & Marauders and Clash of Cultures, could be described as adaptations of Sid Meier’s Pirates! and Sid Meier’s Civilization. More than that, it’s because Marcussen has a way of taking big ideas and making them… well, still big, since both games are long-winded, but more compressed, more digestible. More distilled.

Clash of Cultures in particular is one of the finest portrayals of the rise, rise, rise, and earthquakes that beset ancient civilizations. It now has a Monumental Edition from WizKids that preserves all the highs the lows of the original game and its impossible-to-find expansion — and, in some cases, smooths out the original’s rougher corners.

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Sick Rift, Bro

What is a riftforce? Is it a strike team that hangs around rifts? A force that emanates from rifts? A rift-based form of compulsion?

Longtime readers may recall that I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to location-grabbing horizontal area control games, a.k.a. Battle a-Line-ks, a.k.a. Schotten-tots. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Why, none other than titles such as Omen: A Reign of War, Haven, and Air, Land, & Sea, all of which put their own spin on this simplest of genres.

Now I have a fourth favorite: Carlo Bortolini’s Riftforce. The trouble is that its spin is best expressed via numbers.

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Gravel vs. Puddle

vs Critic

Some tile-laying games are fresh takes on one of board gaming’s oldest genres. And then, for those who want to hear the comment “It’s a lot like Carcassonne, isn’t it?” there’s Jon-Paul Jacques’ Land vs Sea.

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Interior Design for Ghouls

I like this art, and wish it had featured in the game more prominently!

What’s a dungeon without a rack of swords? The odd pile of bones? A tasteful corridor-obstructing sheet of cobwebs? In Jeff LaFlam’s Dungeon Decorators, probably not very many points. Depending on which scoring card you’ve drawn, that is.

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