Category Archives: Board Game

Illuminati House Party


One of the best things about this hobby is the possibility of stumbling across something entirely unfamiliar. Illimat, which was designed by the creator of Gloom and has something to do with a band I’ve never listened to, never fully crosses the line into alien territory. Instead, it steps up to the barrier and then moves sideways, somehow feeling familiar and forgotten both at once. Otherworldly, you could call it, as though it fits within some alternate dimension or half-recalled dream, only penetrating into our world at oblique angles.

That or it’s a card game that knows how to put on a good show. It’s tough to tell.

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Wallets of Galloping Star Pioneers

This is getting too easy. I can predict my verdicts from these covers alone.

Button Shy is at it again. They’ve cornered a particular niche, games squeezed into plastic wallets approximately one-fifth the size of the leather brick I actually lug around. They’re tiny, consist of fewer than twenty cards, and most of them are rather pretty to look at. Good games, though? Let’s break down the most recent trio to find out.

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Graft Company

I considered entitling this review "Auspicio Regis Et Senatus Anglia," but that seemed a tad too obscure.

In many ways, John Company feels like it might be Cole Wehrle’s magnum opus — which is one heck of a thing to say when you consider that it’s only his third published game. It certainly has the scope of a life’s work. Where Pax Pamir and its expansion Khyber Knives dealt with a British Empire willing to do anything to preserve their trading monopoly over India, and An Infamous Traffic got grimy up to its elbows with the business of the drug pushers who would collapse the Qing Dynasty for profit, both might pass as single-action blips in the course of John Company.

It’s appropriate, then, that Wehrle’s tale of the East India Company — the joint-stock enterprise that boasted an army twice as large as the British Army, grazed its grubby fingers over half the world’s trade, and still ultimately squandered its supremacy — should be one of accomplishment, failure, and biding your time. And often all three at once.

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Vaster Than Ever

What, do you think Nightmare Unicorn didn't work on his whinny? His terrible death-whinny?

I dug Vast: The Crystal Caverns back in 2016. More than that, I still dig it. Just a couple weeks back, I called it “the king of wild asymmetry that actually works.” And I stand by that. The beauty of Vast isn’t just that each of its five roles is fiercely different, it’s that they work in near-perfect harmony, breaking apart to pursue their own objectives only to come crashing back into one another’s orbit time after time.

With that in mind, does a game with five asymmetrical roles really need three more? Or worse, six more?

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Empires of the Clutter II

The box is decidedly lovely. Gorgeous all around. But then they had to slap a Red Raven logo in the bottom corner. Come on, fellas, the brand isn't what draws people to a Ryan Laukat game. It's his THIS.

Ryan Laukat’s original Empires of the Void was one of Kickstarter’s early success stories. It was 2011, long before everybody got jaded with underwhelming indie projects and enamored with the latest empty-headed box with miniatures in it. It pulled in somewhere upward of $35,000.

Now it’s 2018, Ryan Laukat has been a staple of the crowdfunding scene for years — long enough to have witnessed “phases” in his career — and now we’ve got a sequel. It made seven times more than the original game during its Kickstarter run. Does that mean it’s seven times more enjoyable?

Yes, that is how I think math works, thanks very much.

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As Alone as a Unicorn Horn

Score: 8/10. Title Score: 3/10.

In recent news, scientists have determined that the worst thing in the world of video games is the escort mission. You know what I’m talking about. For whatever reason, mission command has given you the task of guiding a brain-dead moron from one spot to another, without the necessary equipment or manpower, along a route known to be infested with enemies who have a fanatical hatred of the person or vehicle in your charge.

Unicornus Knights is a two-hour-long escort mission. With her kingdom recently annexed by the neighboring empire, Princess Cornelia has decided to inspire an uprising, march straight across the countryside, and win back her tenuous ancestral claim to other people’s labor. Unlike some of her lesser peers, she’s unperturbed by questions of practicality. How will she keep the troops fed? Trounce the petty tyrants standing between her and the capital? Marshal her troops in battle? It’s safe to say that she really has no idea. Birthright, maybe.

That’s where you come in. As one of the Princess’s trusty knights, it’s your job to — well, to do everything the Princess is too important to do. Like prevent her from suicide-marching straight into an unwinnable fight.

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Alone on a Dark Night

They missed a beat having this be the only available image on BGG. The actual box cover features all twenty-nine heroes. TWENTY-NINE.

Darkest Night was one of the first games I ever played solo. It arrived with a tiny board with jigsaw-puzzle connectors, smoky laser-charred wooden standees, and a napkin for wiping the soot off your fingers when you were done punching everything out. For months it retained that campfire reek, like summers up the canyon, like burning villages, like a necromancer’s grip tightening around a fantasy kingdom’s throat.

It got its grip around my throat as well. With its thickly despairing gameplay, religion-gone-literal subtext, and smoke filling my nostrils, I defeated the necromancer time after time. More often, it was him who did the defeating.

Sadly, Darkest Night was a flawed game, and it fizzled from my table as abruptly as it had flickered to life in the first place. Its central notion — that your heroes were waging a guerrilla resistance and would spend more time hiding than fighting — was undercut by the fact that it was relatively easy to defend a single hero chilling in the corner. This hero could spend every turn searching for keys, which would unlock relics, which in turn would slay evil once and for all. A to B to C to Dead Necromancer, all without leaving the comfort of a single space. So much for guerrilla warriors. More like renegade metal detectorists.

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Two Minds About One Deck Dungeon

One of them can apparently fly. I didn't notice that in-game.

Today on Two Minds About…, Dan Thurot and Brock Poulsen are here to dissect the claim that One Deck Dungeon only contains one deck. Because it totally doesn’t.

Dan: You heard the invisible man. So what’s your take, Brock? One deck or not?

Brock: Is this one of those Zen kōans? Are we going to have some kind of pseudo-intellectual discussion, like when those people argued about whether you can shuffle a single card?

Dan: Well, can’t you? (faint whiffling noise) Never mind, let’s move on.

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New Year, Old Year: 2016 Revisited

Alt-texts for these are so tiresome to come up with, so I think I'll opt out for today.

Accountability. It’s the ability to be honest that, yes, I just used the same intro line as last year. Because introductions are difficult.

Today we’re revisiting my selections for Best Week 2016, the forty games that stood head and shoulders above the rest by my reckoning, and discussing whether they’ve held up over the intervening year. Basically, this is my reality check. Speaking only for myself, these are the games that stuck around, as well as the ones that disappeared from my table. Or worse, my memory.

This is going to be a long one. So if you’d rather skip straight to a particular list, you can take a look at the best overlooked, adorable, iterative, educational, and unique games of yesteryesteryear.

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Haze of Love

Yeah, I dig this sort of thing. Minimalist, but nice.

Look, whether or not we agree with it, we’ve all heard the refrain: why are so many games about war and violence? Why not love? Why not relationships?

Fog of Love is why. This isn’t a ding on Fog of Love, per se — there will be time for that later — so much as it is a statement on just how difficult this love stuff can be. All’s fair in love and war? Baby, war ain’t got nothing on love.

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