Category Archives: Board Game

Class Warfaire

Pictured: More social unrest than Hegemony is actually comfortable presenting.

Hegemony: Lead Your Class to Victory, brought to us by veteran designer Vangelis Bagiartakis and newcomer Varnavas Timotheou, is the sort of game that invites criticism right out of the gate. As a medium, board games have a knack for modeling complex situations and structures. Those models, however, are only as sturdy as a designer’s understanding of the topic under reconstruction. And there aren’t many topics as complicated — or as prone to disagreement, even by very educated people — as class conflict.

Read the rest of this entry

This Trick-Taking Life: The Triumphs

aww! the bee doesn't want to rip his guts out when he stabs somebody!

Why are trick-taking games having such a moment? Last time in this series about my personal journey with trick-takers, I proposed an answer: because the things are so dang simple that learning the rules to one immediately opens the door to a hundred more. But that’s not all! Far from being simplistic time-wasters, there are untold depths and ranges to the system. In fact, one of the best things about cracking open a new trick-taker is that you’re almost certain to discover an approach you haven’t seen before.

Today, though, we’re tackling an aspect of trick-taking that initially put me off the genre altogether. I’m talking about the triumph, also known as the trump, also known to my friend Rob as the “super-suit.”

Read the rest of this entry

Space-Cast! #29. Enduring Snake-Eyes

Wee Aquinas also suffers from low morale when he gets chilly.

What’s the commonality between Shackleton’s voyage to the Antarctic, brain hemorrhages, and the virtue of watching R-rated movies? Today, it’s Amabel Holland’s Endurance, a board game about the strength of the human spirit in the face of abject misery. Join Dan and Amabel as we chat about this game’s difficult development, throwing out historical determinism, and why not every game should have a victory condition.

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

Read the rest of this entry

Taming the Medicean Stars

Yes, Galileo named them the Medicean Stars in honor of the Medici. Those jerks were showing up everywhere in the Renaissance.

It’s been 413 years since Galileo Galilei gazed into the heavens with his telescope, a homemade object fitted with lenses he’d ground himself and that could only achieve twenty-power magnification, and noted three points of light lingering near Jupiter. Contrary to the stars behind them, these points of light, which were soon joined by a fourth, seemed to be moving in the wrong direction, clustered in a straight line about the planet. Within three months, Galileo published The Starry Messenger. Among a few choice insults flung at the moon (“mountainous,” he called it), the treatise described how other celestial objects possessed satellites of their own. The universe was suddenly a lot bigger and scarier.

In the four centuries since, we’ve dreamed of ways to conquer Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. Fortunately, Adrian Hesling’s Galileo Project is all about taking the Galilean satellites down a peg. About time.

Read the rest of this entry


I was told in no uncertain terms that "Vulvarium" would not be the title of this review.

Sometimes when playing a board game, I simply have no idea what’s happening. Not necessarily because the game is complicated — although sure, that happens too — but because the game doesn’t bother to string together its bones with connective tissue.

Take Vivarium by Frédéric Vuagnat, for example. Vivarium is about exploring a hitherto undiscovered continent brimming with amazing creatures, uncategorized plants and minerals, and zero complications from colonialism. In exploring this new land, explorers select their discoveries from a grid by matching dominoes. Why dominoes? I couldn’t tell you. Presumably the publisher had a few extra pallets of dominoes hanging around at the warehouse.

Read the rest of this entry

Stranger than Documentary

Do the pips mean something? Are they, like, Hebrew niqqudim?

Wordle. If you haven’t played it, you’ve definitely been irritated by its scoring rubrics cluttering up your social media pages. Josh Wardle sold his original game to the New York Times for about a billion dollars, but not before it spawned even more imitators. There was even a board game adaptation. It was garbage.

Peter C. Hayward’s version is not garbage. When last we saw Hayward, he was helping us kill our alternate selves via That Time You Killed Me. Now he’s back with Fiction, a version of Wordle that captures the spirit of the original. Rather than slavishly reproducing the thing, he’s transformed it into a game of panicked guesswork, dueling wordsmiths, and some well-placed lies.

Read the rest of this entry

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.

Read the rest of this entry

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.

Read the rest of this entry

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.

Read the rest of this entry

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.

Read the rest of this entry