Category Archives: Board Game
Here’s a riddle for you: how can you tell when a board game’s setting has been wallpapered over the top of an economic engine?
Flotilla blurts out the answer without even raising its hand. By giving everything a name — phases, card suits, scoring tiles, resource movers, tile bags, dice, tracks, discs, and even the little hexagons on certain tiles that appear so rarely you’ll forget they had names in the first place — except for the actual resources. You know, the things you’ll handle more regularly than any other component. In Flotilla these resource cylinders are red, green, blue, and yellow. Not medicine, food, oil, and tech. Not blood transfusions, seaweed, fresh water, and plastic. Not sneakers, fishing rods, blue raspberry bubble gum, and frequent flyer mile cards. Nor anything else with some remote connection to the game’s waterlogged setting. Red, green, blue, and yellow. Constant reminders that when you aren’t pushing cubes, you’ll be pushing cylinders.
There’s a pleasant familiarity to rondels. Around and around your pawns go, their position determining what you’ll be doing this turn. Why do they complete this circuit, this flat circle of time? Are they fleeing or chasing, running toward or running away? Perhaps there is a deeper reason. Perhaps, if they repeat these rotations to satisfaction before the game is concluded, they will come face to face with themselves at last. Then there will be no more running. Only acceptance.
Or maybe it’s only because rondels are an efficient way to narrow a wide range of options to a digestible handful. That’s the case in Winterborne, anyway.
History is a funny thing. Ask yourself, what era do you live in? The modern age? Postmodern? Information? The Holocene, more specifically the Meghalayan? Or will the historians of far-flung generations assign a designation that doesn’t capture any of the details you personally associate with this moment? Everything our culture has accomplished, compressed by distance and necessity, into the Aluminum Age. At long last, the dead of the Bronze Age will nod in satisfaction at our diminishment.
When I spoke to Cole Wehrle about Oath, he called it a “hate letter” to civilization games and legacy games. It’s easy to see why. Like digging the fragments of a lost civilization from the compacted mass of an ancient trash heap, there are fragments to be found, shards and sherds, enough to make out an unmistakable imprint or two. Oath is a civilization game, but not like any you’ve played before. And it’s also a legacy game, but even less familiar. This is what I think about it. This is also the story of my first six plays. I hope you’ll soon understand why they’re the same thing.
Another year, another Best Week. Below you’ll find the whole thing, indexed for ease of access. Simply click any of the images to be whisked away to the relevant article. And if you’re desperate for more Best Week but don’t want to wait until 2020, there’s nothing stopping you from reading and rereading these same articles. With some minor memory erasure, each encounter can be like new!
Righteous fury. It’s what makes me holler and huff at game night. Not very many games can spark it in me, but a few are experts at grinding my competitive side to a razor’s edge.
Today we’re talking about the year’s best games for getting hot under the collar, steamed in the head, and so spanking mad you can hardly see straight. These are the titles that make you drop the f-bomb at that one guy in your game group. They are reminders that we are reasonable beings second, that for uncountable eons before we sat down on the couch to talk it out, our first and original nature was that of tooth and claw. We have incisors and canines for a reason. These games are that reason.
Like a mat of bacteria growing fuzzy on reliable feedstock, it sometimes seems like this industry thrives on imitation. But that’s only possible thanks to a rarer sort of game, those that step beyond assumed limits to create something truly unique. Thus the cycle perpetuates itself: imitation spawns innovation, which breeds further imitation. So shall it continue until sentient life is extinguished by atomic entropy.
Today is for the pioneers, those games that took a chance and, even if they were flawed in some way, managed to stick the landing. The year’s concept albums, in other words.
It wouldn’t be a good year without at least a handful of games that know how to spin a yarn. Like any good storyteller, these understand that while the destination matters, the journey is the more important portion. Also like a good storyteller, nobody would describe them as “tight.” To be frank, some of these are flabs. Some have sharp edges. They make mistakes some folks argue should have been eliminated from board games centuries ago.
Not me. The joy of these games is found in the stories they tell. Sharp edges? Psh. You know what has sharp edges? Books, baby.
Another day, another fraction of Best Week come and gone. Gone, too, are countless possible categories. To tell you the truth, the process of sorting these lists is so tricky that I’ve considered defaulting to “prettiest games.” Problem is, have you seen games these days? They’re crazy. Entire mountains of colorful plastic. Louvre-worthy art out the wazoo. One of the handsomest games of 2019 wasn’t even eligible for consideration because it was an unreleased prototype.
Which is why today’s victors are more than merely pretty. These are the titles where visuals are the gameplay. Where your decisions are based largely upon the visual information spread before you. In many cases, the math takes a backseat to the arrangement and spacing of the pieces. And often, this visual shorthand prompts both a synesthetic reflex and unexpected consequences.
Ah. Welcome. The wheel has turned once again, my friend. Here we stand upon the precipice of a new year. Let us then consider the best games of 2019. There is no better time for looking backward than when we look forward.
Today is a celebration of the charmers, the dashers, the titles you could bring home to mom and not worry about getting asked whether you’ve had your immunizations. It isn’t that they’re soft, although it’s true enough that some of these palms haven’t been worn rough by hard labor. Rather, they’re enticing. These are the games designed to appeal to weathered gamers and pine-scented newcomers alike. They beckon. Oh, how they beckon.
Longtime readers may recall my appreciation for the solipsistic hellscape that is human language, the inefficient and ambiguous transfer of information generated by whistling air between slabs of meat, often followed by transcribing those whistles via pigment or pixels, and rarely wholly understood by those on the receiving end. Truly, we are the aliens. See also Dixit, Mysterium, and Codenames for a heightened sense of foreignness within your own skin.
This holiday season I’ve discovered a new inducer of existential angst. Co-designed by Alex Hague, Justin Vickers, and Wolfgang Warsch (best known for it’s-a-game The Mind), this one is called Wavelength. And when I’m pondering the Cartesian isolation of my reasoning mind from the remainder of this universe, my time with it has very nearly approached enjoyable.