Category Archives: Board Game

Clank! Again!

Yes, it bothers me that Catacombs doesn't also get an exclamation mark. It's just rude. Grammatical inequity is not okay.

I have mixed feelings about Clank! — and that’s a sentence that would sound much less dramatic without the obligatory exclamation mark. When I wrote about it way back in 2017, my stance veered wildly between “This is an approachable and clever hybrid deck-building game” and “This feels deeply artificial, and also there are way too many dead turns.” I haven’t touched its offshoots: no Clank! In! Space!, no expansions, not even the legacy-game version. Ask me what designer Paul Dennen has been up to and I’ll excitedly tell you about Dune: Imperium instead.

In a way, that remoteness gives Clank! Catacombs the air of a reunion. Not a high school reunion, and certainly not a creepy polygamist ancestors reunion. Rather, a reunion with an old friend — more of an acquaintance, really — who’s become way cooler than you remember.

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Or Hog

Pictured: A Viking beard-tip.

Video game board game board games are an odd duck. I don’t mean board game adaptations of video games; I mean board game adaptations of video game board games. It hasn’t been that long since The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt included a ditty called Gwent. It was an absurd thing, impossible within the fiction of the game. Who exactly served as the Continent’s version of Wizards of the Coast? Were tournaments sponsored by Radovid the Stern? Were inks and cardstock imported from Nilfgaard? Did the Lodge of Sorceresses settle issues of power creep? To everybody’s surprise, Gwent had solid bones, perhaps because it drew from superior titles like Condottiere. Now you can play Gwent on its own. It even has two standalone story games.

Orlog goes the other direction. As a dice game, if feels right at home in the world of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. What’s more natural than Vikings rolling some tombstones? Apart from sticking axes into Northumbrian levies or braiding each other’s beards, that is.

Too bad this adaptation is as cynical as they come.

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Ophthalmology Is Not an Option

pictured: my father's house. not featured: my father's career, ophthalmology, which is almost as horrific as making a frankenstein

T.C. Petty III’s My Father’s Work is the sort of game that gets called “thematic.” Shiny with chrome, bursting with colorful verbs and adjectives, and narrated via an app, it’s the latest title to blur the distinction between storybook and plaything.

But it’s also thematic in the more universal sense: that it contains themes. Actual honest-to-goodness themes of obsession, selfishness, generational trauma, and the bewildering hilarity that tends to accompany the macabre. It’s a rare game that strives for commentary; this one could constitute an entire shelf’s worth of literary references.

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Musée de Deckbuilder

The board game formerly known as Promenade. It's not much of a rebranding.

Not every game is about the same thing. Take deck-builders. In many cases, maybe even most cases, deck-builders are about merciless optimization and combo-building. You start with a deck of cards. One by one, you add better cards and prune away the dead weight. Sometimes your final deck will be even leaner than what you began with. At the very least, it will perform to greater heights.

Ta-Te Wu’s Art Decko is a deck-builder, but that doesn’t mean it’s about either optimization or combos. Rather, it’s about process. Flow. The act of shuffling and moving cards, watching those cards grow in value and power, and then shuffling and moving them again. It’s a peculiar sort of deck-builder. It might be too clever for its own good.

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Risa Ascending

Till the one day when the lady met this fellow, and they knew it was much more than a hunch! That this group must somehow form a family; that's the way we all became the Brady Bunch.

I wasn’t expecting to play Star Trek: Ascendancy again anytime soon. We played it last year for my sister-in-law’s birthday. She’s a Trekkie. Or a Trekker. Whichever one won the convention wars. It was a big seven-player session. We counted ourselves satisfied with what in 2016 and again in 2017 I called one of the few games to really understand Star Trek.

Then, out of nowhere, I heard from Gale Force Nine. The last two expansions were coming my way. “This takes the faction count up to ten,” they said. “Time to arrange another massive session with your friends.” They didn’t say that last part. With a game this big, it’s implied.

So that’s what we did. Out of nine possible seats, we filled eight. With some fast-forwarding of the early turns, and minus lunch, the whole thing lasted six hours. And while we had a grand time (for the most part), it felt not unlike watching the last episode of The Next Generation as a kid again. A fitting sendoff, and all the more bittersweet for it. There will be other Star Treks. But this one is finished. Let’s talk about the finale.

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Gentlemen of Fortune

And yet not even one seagull can be added to your crew. Curious.

Pirates are all the rage. Something must be in the water. Brine. Rum. Scurvy.

Dead Reckoning is John D. Clair’s attempt to leach the lemon juice from our water supply. Don’t take that as an insult. It’s a scurvy joke. Because scurvy is caused by vitamin-C deficiency. To keep their gums from becoming bleeding pits, sailors would drink lemon juice. It’s also where we get “limey,” because the British Navy forced its sailors to drink lime juice, except lime juice doesn’t have enough vitamin-C to offset scurvy, so ha ha, the British Navy was drinking lime juice for nothing.

What were we talking about? Oh, right. Dead Reckoning.

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Fluss und See: A Look at Weimar

LBeimer

Even as a prototype, Matthias Cramer’s Weimar is a sprawling work. Taking cues from Mark Herman’s Churchill and covering the entire span of the short-lived Weimar Republic, how could it not be? This is history that shaped everything about the following century. Few have bothered to learn anything about it.

Before we begin, it should be noted that I’ve played Weimar all of once. Normally my policy is three plays before I’ll write anything, even for previews. With only eleven days left on its crowdfunding clock, its six-hour playtime and four-player complement mean that won’t be possible. These thoughts are only halfway formulated. It’s entirely possible I’ll get something wrong. Still, I want to tell you about it.

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Truth Universally Acknowledged

Men. Men of MYSTERY. Ladies. Ladies of OPENNESS.

There’s a terrific irony at the heart of A Universal Truth, Patrick Einheber’s strategic game of courtship. Jane Austen did a number on us with Emma and Sense & Sensibility and all the others. The Regency didn’t even last a decade, but it might as well represent an eternal summer, flushed with evening balls and surprise elopements, chilled by spurned advances and declined proposals of marriage, and above all marked by the triumph of true love over the tightly laced bodice of propriety.

A Universal Truth is… not that. If anything, it rears back to give the laces an extra heave.

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Sneaking Around Adaptation

Squint closely. You’ll see we’re looking at Sniperboy’s crotch.

It isn’t often that a board game lets me play a video game as “research.” Not that I usually need the excuse. Please, would somebody design Deus Ex: The Board Game. I’m already reinstalling it.

The first clue to David Thompson and Roger Tankersley’s Sniper Elite is that subtitle. You don’t put “The Board Game” on your game unless you’re adapting some other source material. In this case, I knew the material well: Sniper Elite, a video game franchise that’s sophisticated enough to have multiple entries, but trashy enough to have a zombie army spinoff and a slow-mo cam that X-rays enemy bodies while your bullets penetrate and shatter their brains, lungs, and testicles. Don’t fret. They’re Nazis.

Never mind that the principal violence is done to the player’s soul. I’ve now spent twenty-five hours playing Sniper Elite 5, which translates to perhaps twenty minutes of kill-cams in aggregate. My life is not richer for having viewed these snippets, although I’d be lying if I didn’t confess my professional satisfaction for every combination ghost kill / sound mask / eyeball shot that left some Wehrmacht draftee puddling into the grass and his companions none the wiser.

But before we get into Sniper Elite, and what The Board Game does to adapt it, we first need to talk about adaptation itself.

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Becoming Mary King

Since I was a kid, I wanted a scary dead white eye.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Jim Felli brings me the weirdest stuff. That should be read in the most positive sense possible. Whether it’s a cannibalistic football match, embittered artists, crumbling great houses, or mile-high frogs, nobody in the hobby is doing anything quite like him.

The same is true of The Mirroring of Mary King. It’s about a woman, Mary King, who is being possessed by a spirit, also named Mary King. Like everything else that passes through Felli’s touch, it feels like a relic from a parallel dimension.

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