Category Archives: Board Game
Adapting a video game to cardboard isn’t easy. As I’ve written in the past, the difficulty isn’t limited to replicating the game’s visuals, its characters and events, or even its systems. The hard part is capturing its feel. Its flow. How it operates when you’re at the controls and everything is running smoothly. That’s why making a game about pushing buttons misses the point. That’s like adapting a board game into the digital sphere and carefully modeling the jitter of your fingers and your posture at the table. Those things matter, but only as inputs, not the essence of the game being played.
So it goes with cardboard versions of the MOBA. As a genre, Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas seem like the perfect fit for adaptation. You have a bounded space, clear goals, characters doing cool combo-driven things, and things like cooldown timers that practically beg to be codified as turns. The top-down perspective even mimics the way we view a board and its many counters. So why is Battle for Biternia the first one I’ve played that’s gotten it right?
This one is going to take some explaining.
Our story begins with Alexander the Great. If he were the archetype of a Civilization player, he was the guy who scouts and attacks in only one direction, conquering much of three continents while leaving his capital city way back in the rear. Upon his death, it was unfathomable that anyone could administrate a kingdom that stretched from Macedon to India, so his generals spent the next forty years warring over the pieces. Alexander’s empire was fragmented, but his successors spread Greek culture and language and warfare across the known world. The Hellenistic Period was now in full swing.
Jump forward a century. One of Alexander’s many acquisitions had been Judea, claimed during his war against its former overseer the Achaemenid Empire. The encroachment of Hellenistic culture chafed at the Judeans, but they managed to endure the oversight of one Greek successor state (the Ptolemaic Kingdom) until a second state (the Seleucid Empire) claimed their suzerainty during an invasion of the former. The Judeans were now under the rule of Seleucid King Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who took a somewhat more liberal view of his rights within their territory, including the capacity to dictate local religious practices. When ordered to sacrifice to the Greek gods, a priest named Mattathias expressed his disagreement rather sharply by stabbing the king’s representative. This act of disobedience sparked a general rebellion under Mattathias’s son Judas Maccabeus, a years-long conflict that concluded with Judean victory and the founding of the Hasmonean Dynasty.
That revolt against the Seleucids is where the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah comes from. Less importantly but more relevantly, it’s also the topic of Robin David’s Judean Hammer.
As has become a February tradition around these parts, it’s time to rewind a whole year and a month to Best Week 2019. But this is no warmhearted jaunt down memory lane. Oh no. This is an interrogation. This is when we take a look at the titles I proclaimed the best of the year and discuss whether I was right, wrong, or somewhere in between.
Sometimes a single idea elevates an entire design. Take Fabio Lopiano’s Merv: The Heart of the Silk Road, for instance. Viewed from a distance, it might look like a boilerplate modern euro design, crammed full of bells, whistles, and intersecting means of accumulating points. It isn’t until you dig into its heart that the truth becomes apparent. It’s still a boilerplate modern euro crammed with bells and whistles. But it’s a boilerplate modern euro with one heck of an action selection system.
Era: Medieval Age has staying power. Since reviewing it a year and a half ago, it’s been on constant rotation at our home. Now it’s received a major expansion and a few collector sets. Rather than write the same thing all over again, this seemed like an appropriate time to instead pen thirty-two mini-reviews of every building in the game.
Why? No idea. This just happened.
Imagine with me, if you will, a game about gnomes wrestling atop a redcap mushroom, in which the gnomes are discs that push each other across said mushroom. Like a dexterity game, but without any dexterity. Not flicking, just… lightly nudging. Not even shoving. Like the world’s lowest-contact contact sport.
That’s the pitch for Redcap Ruckus. Apparently somebody at WizKids heard it and exclaimed, “I dreamed of this exact moment! Sign this contract right now, before I think better of this decision.”
Last week I had the pleasure of sitting down with Cole and Drew Wehrle and Travis Hill for a (digital) play of the latest build of John Company’s second edition. I’m not prepared to discuss any details; the game isn’t finished, and anyway the version I played was a departure from the build Cole had shown before, even among playtesters. Drew and Travis were as unprepared as I was for what happened over the next two hours.
But with both John Company and An Infamous Traffic soon to receive new editions — and given Cole’s tendency to revisit the statements made by his work, as discussed in my examination of Pax Pamir’s two editions — this seems like a good time to sit down and crystallize a few thoughts about what his games argue and how they argue it.
John Clowdus is best known for his sharp two-player designs, including gems such as The North, Bronze Age, and the big one, Omen: A Reign of War. Instead of sticking to the script, his latest effort is a solitaire game that fits into your pocket. Even a small pocket will serve. How does it stack up? Let’s take a look.
My favorite moment of our most recent play of Sidereal Confluence arose from one of the game’s weaknesses. Namely, that TauCeti Deichmann’s game of haggling aliens operates best when played with the right sort of person. What sort is that? The sort who embraces asymmetry while still calling the resource cubes by their colors instead of using setting-appropriate titles like “culture” and “life support.” The sort who doesn’t mind parsing large quantities of information while on the clock. The sort who’s willing to negotiate.
Of those three, you’d think the last would present the lowest barrier. Doubly so when playing a negotiation game. That isn’t how it was shaking out. One of us wasn’t interested in trading away his yellows — pardon me, his energy cubes — no matter how favorable the bargain. We offered him everything. Colonies, stacks of cubes, even a rule-breaking couple of victory points, just to see if he would bite. Offer after offer was rejected.
At last, Geoff broke. With all the pent-up fury of a spurned capitalist, he roared through his mask, “Haven’t you read The Wealth of Nations?” By way of reply, our energy hoarder stared at him with glassy eyes. The realization came to everyone at the table in an instant. Not only had he not read Geoff’s Holy Bible, but he also had no idea what sort of game we were playing.
You’ve got to admire the confidence of anyone who slaps “episode one” on their box. That isn’t even the most confident thing about Serge Macasdar’s Seeders from Sereis: Episode I: Exodus. Set in a sci-fi universe that will apparently warrant a total of ten episodes, an impending disaster has forced your people to construct arks to escape to the stars. Each ark is represented by a tableau of cards. Not too unusual. How those cards are acquired, however, is more of a twist.