Category Archives: Board Game
I’ve been playing a game about Anabaptist martyrs getting burned at the stake. I’m resisting the urge to call John Ratigan’s Martyr: Bloody Theater 1528 “metal,” although it practically begs for the descriptor. The gilt artwork, paused somewhere between reverential and an iconoclast’s pasticcio. Its sole resource, your stolen final breaths. A transparent disc indicating the Holy Spirit, drifting among onlookers. Even the sweetish wood smoke smell of the Game Crafter’s laser cutter, like some theme park’s attempt at “four-dee” entertainment, slathered so thick with verisimilitude that it kicks down the sauna door on bad taste.
What is this thing? And why does it remind me, more than anything, of a prayer spoken in an unfamiliar tongue, clumsy and unaware and maybe even vaguely offensive, but so earnest that it demands a clemency of its own?
For a while there, Darin Leviloff’s States of Siege system was a big deal for solitaire gaming. The concept was brilliantly simple: what if, rather than sprawling hex maps and proviso-laden movement priorities, conflicts were portrayed as tug-of-wars along lanes? The inaugural title in the series, Israeli Independence, was more a proof of concept than a full-fledged game, but it quickly drew imitators and iterators. Before long, the series stepped into many of history’s overlooked corners. Zulus on the Ramparts. Ottoman Sunset. Hapsburg Eclipse. Mound Builders.
The best entry in the series, however, gamified the under-publicized zombie invasion of Farmingdale. I’m speaking, of course, about Hermann Luttmann’s Dawn of the Zeds.
One of the things I value about the COIN Series, which stepped onto the scene back in 2012 with Volko Ruhnke’s Andean Abyss, is its ability to fill in the gaps of history. The Finnish Civil War was a bloody three-month conflict that left lingering scars for decades, yet it’s one of those wars that’s usually only mentioned in passing, more notable for how it impacted the foreign policies of its larger neighbors, especially Germany and Russia, rather than for the sovereign republic it ultimately birthed.
No longer! As the tenth volume in the Coin Series, All Bridges Burning is the first published design by VPJ Arponen. Never mind that. His confidence with the subject matter is evident in the game’s finest details. I’d even go so far as to call this one of the series’ most radical entries.
Nobles is a snack. Like John Clowdus’s Pocket Galapagos, it’s a bite-sized solo game preoccupied with the movement of cards from one place to another. Unlike that game, Nobles also taps into the joy of putting things into their proper arrangement, even when — perhaps especially when — it doesn’t feel much like a game at all.
One of the oft-unacknowledged talents of designer John Clowdus is his ability to evoke a complete world in the most compact format possible. I’m not only talking about Omen: A Reign of War, although my affection for that card game has been documented and documented again. Clowdus is also responsible for the messy prehistory of Neolithic, the undying carnival that is Hemloch, the collapsing Bronze Age, and, more recently, the chilly The North. His games are transportations in miniature, showing a cross-section of a world that stretches far beyond the limitations of the small boxes he crams them into.
The same is true of Dirge: The Rust Wars. Returning to Aaron Nakahara’s dilapidated style from The North — with additional contributions by Liz Lahner of Bronze Age — Dirge evokes biomechanical vultures picking over the last scraps of bone in a world that’s fallen apart and won’t be put back together again.
I’ll confess, I agreed to play Roll Camera! on the strength of its title pun alone. Because it’s about filmmaking, you see, and also it’s a dice game. Brilliant. Now you know the secret. Hook me with a next-level pun and your foot is already in the door.
Thank goodness Malachi Ray Rempen didn’t stop there. He also happens to have created a game that on more than one occasion made me exclaim with delight at its subtle moments of clever design.
Like everyone else, I’ve been playing a buttload of Regicide, designers Paul Abrahams, Luke Badger, and Andy Richdale’s game of royal assassination that can be played with any old deck of 52 playing cards.
Also like everybody else, I’m slightly smitten.
Not every game reinvents the wheel. Some games instead go to pains to sand down their felloes, shore up their spokes, and slap on a rubber tire in place of a steel band.
Those are all the wheel terms I know, and they all have to do with wagon wheels. But the metaphor is sound. Brew, designed by Stevo Torres, isn’t here to do something new. It’s here to do something old with the assurance of careful iteration.
[Content Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that the following article contains images of people who have died.]
Back in June, the Utah Board of Education delivered five pages spelling out exactly what educators could (and could not) teach on the issues of race and racism. The inciting topic in the Utah Senate was — surprise, surprise — Critical Race Theory. The debate had been perfunctory. One side was staffed by professional historians and veteran educators. The other consisted of angry parents who insisted they’d heard firsthand accounts of teachers berating white children.
After producing neither any berated children nor a definition of Critical Race Theory — “It’s like a gas,” one sponsor noted — the Senate determined that the theory was probably anti-American. “We need fact, not theory,” insisted one signatory.
An admirable sentiment! Apart from the pesky detail that those supporting the resolution not only lacked a definition for the theory they were determined to blacklist, but also didn’t have a definition of history. Because while history collects many facts, history has never itself been a fact. History also brims with theories, but is not quite a theory.
History is a war.