Category Archives: Board Game

Reconstructing the Original Space Biff

This robot has aircraft carriers for arms. Do I know why? No. Do I need to know? No.

As the foremost authority on the matter, a “space biff” is when a robot, preferably a giant robot mech, punches one of its peers in the jaw. Why do these robots have fists? Why jaws? Nobody knows. I certainly don’t. But there they stand, with their fists and jaws. Sometimes accident or fate brings them into collision.

I never watched Robotech. It, uh, aired before I was born. On those grounds, I’m the absolute worst person to measure whether it’s a suitable adaptation. Instead, my expertise lurks around an unexpected corner: as an avid player of the COIN Series.

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Milk’s Favorite Board Game

alt title: "Is That a Volcano Steaming up the Place, Oros It Me That's so Hot?"

There are certain missteps freshman designers struggle to avoid. Take Oros, the first title from Brandt Brinkerhoff. Set on an archipelago bristling with demigods and volcanoes, Oros leans into its first-timer gaminess right away, offering upgrade tracks that don’t always feel fully-baked, complex interactions between its shifting islands and floes of lava, and persnickety rules that are guaranteed to slip through the cracks. It’s as scattershot as its shattered seascape.

For all that, it’s also as refreshing as a sea breeze. Let’s pick into why that is.

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I’m an Asclepiad, Jim, Not an Ocularius

I'm tempted to explain the title joke, but... you know what? I don't think I will. So there. Ten space pennies to whichever reader first responds with the proper explanation. Because the best jokes are also riddles, right?

Medical history is one of my favorite topics. As an undergrad I was fortunate to work with a second edition of Andreas Vesalius’s De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem, that revolutionary tome that contested and updated Galen’s anatomical observations from over a millennium earlier.

This shouldn’t be taken as a criticism of Galen. Unlike his far-removed successor, the Roman prohibition on human dissection forced guesswork on his part. If anything, the anatomists led remarkably parallel careers. Both challenged received wisdom, ran afoul of their period’s traditions, and eventually escaped into self-imposed exile. Where Vesalius drew fire by concluding that men didn’t have fewer ribs than women, a detail that clashed with the Catholic Church’s belief that Adam’s rib had formed Eve, Galen threaded an awkward middle ground between the dominant dogmatist and empiric schools of medicine, drawing ire and threats of poisoning when he spurned their guiding philosophies.

Galenus, designed by Harry-Pekka Kuusela, steps into the testy waters of Galen’s poison-laced Rome. It’s a fascinating setting. If only it provided more of a deep dive than a shallow wade.

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Space-Cast! #25. Nonsense Words

"I know how that feels!" says Wee Aquinas, making the entire theophilosophical world blink twice and wonder what he could be talking about.

What’s the difference between a puzzle and a game? Heck if we know. Today’s Space-Cast delves into two puzzle titles by designer Blaž Gracar: the 18-card microgame All Is Bomb and the pen-and-transparent-sheet game LOK. Listen in as we discuss both games, the value of nonsense words, and share some of our favorite puzzle recommendations.

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

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Tube of Treachery

tube!

As popular as it is to make games about war, more and more I’m drawn to those that investigate peace. Specifically, those fraught peacetimes that can be lost as surely as war, that can demolish a country, a people, a future more surely than any cannonade.

John Hague’s forthcoming The Last Summit is one such examination. Like many of our cultural landscape’s speculations for the day after tomorrow, The Last Summit presumes the collapse of civilization and the advent of apocalypse. Unlike its peers, however, it also presumes that we’ve somehow waded through to the other side. Humanity’s leaders have come together to negotiate the shape of the new world. It’s a chance to work together to quell the excesses that pushed the globe over the brink — or to capitalize on everybody’s exhaustion to seize power for yourself.

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Gussy Galore

I have been informed that gorillas are apes, not monkeys, despite being housed at my local zoo's monkey house. I will write a sternly worded letter as soon as I'm finished here.

Gussy Gorillas calls itself a negotiation game. That might be a function of marketing. Please note, that isn’t the same as calling it false advertising. True to its word, it features both trading and negotiating. Further, it’s double-billed with Zoo Vadis, the Reiner Knizia negotiation game we examined last week. They’ll appear together on Kickstarter later this month, less an Abbott and Costello pairing than, I dunno, Abbott and Franz Liszt.

Maybe you can see what I’m getting at. Side by side, there’s very little connective tissue between Zoo Vadis and Gussy Gorillas. Unlike its sister title, this is a negotiation game the way chimps with typewriters are Shakespeare. Not nearly as elegant or timeless, but much louder and messier, and, depending on the day (and the theater troupe), more interesting to watch. That’s because Gussy Gorillas isn’t really about negotiation. It belongs to that most cacophonic genre, the “hollering game.”

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Quo Vadis, Zoo Vadis?

Let's see if I can write this thing without explaining any Latin, detailing any apocryphal early Christian texts, or bogging down in the remake's horrific realization that animals are far more sentient than our palates would prefer.

I’ve never played Quo Vadis?, Reiner Knizia’s long out-of-print cult title that, to my great surprise, is not actually about Jesus appearing to Peter on the Appian Way to egg him into martyrdom. Instead, it’s a catty perspective on the Roman cursus honorum. Way to commingle your Latin references, Doc.

Here’s the thing. I might have teased Quo Vadis? back in the ’90s. I might have even chuckled at the game’s new setting. But this remake is so pristinely crafted, so sharp in its social undertaking, that I really can’t do anything other than bask in its warmth. I love it when a good game gets a second chance. Even better when its second go-round is superior to the first. To commingle some references of my own: It is risen.

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See Spots Roll

I'm already in love.

If there’s any criterion we can count on Jon Perry to include in his next design, it’s that it’ll be nothing like anything else he’s ever done before. Spots, co-designed by Perry, Justin Vickers, and Alex Hague, is a delightful press-your-luck dice game. Its one commonality with Time Barons, Scape Goat, and Air, Land, & Sea is that it’s deceptively simple.

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Bios:Bugs

... ew.

My daughter wants to be an entomologist. Normally we’d chalk it up to passing whimsy — she’s only eight, after all — but that’s been her consistent answer to “What do you want to be when you grow up?” for something like four years now. She loves the things. Potato bugs, caterpillars, earthworms, she’ll dig ’em out of the ground and care for them, but only for a while before insisting they need to be returned home lest they perish in a mason jar.

Bios: Mesofauna, designed by Phil Eklund (yes, that one), acts as a sister title to Bios: Megafauna, this time focusing on bugs rather than ten-meter sloths. It treats its insect playthings with significantly less gentleness than my kid.

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Best Week 2022! The Index!

We do this for posterity. Presumably, posterity will care very much about which board games we liked best each year.

Below the jump you will find links to each day of Best Week 2022. It was an excellent year, filled with games that were playful, meaningful, intriguing, and (ugh) fun. Here’s to another. May it be brighter and more rewarding than the last.

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