Go with the Flow

Half of the potential jokes about "flow" are sort of gross.

Not enough games choose “quiet contemplation” as their intended emotional response. Maybe all it takes is putting the phrase on the box. Then, like a snap of the fingers, Space Alert is no longer about frantic survival, but instead the stillness of accepting one’s fate. Even when that fate involves hot laser death.

Kawa, by Singaporean design studio The Aerie Games, lists quiet contemplation among its attractions. An accurate claim, provided that one of the topics under quiet contemplation is how many points you’re handing to your opponents.

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Considering The Cost

I was going to title this article "$95+S&H," since that's how much The Cost costs on the BGG Store, but that seemed a little *too* inside-jokey.

Message games. There’s a loaded term. It’s a given that games can be more than “fun.” They can also be interesting, educational, enlightening, distressing; any number of things. But to hear some people talk, a game can do only one thing well. Either it will be good in the traditional sense — as a game, a plaything, no more thought running through its head than how to function as a toy — or it can carry a message. At which point it will be dour and lifeless, something to be experienced once and then consigned to a shelf to gather dust.

The Cost, designed by Armando Canales and co-authored by Lyndon Martin and Brian Willcutt, is a fistful of sand flung into the face of that assumption.

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Project Polyomino

I have no idea why it's called "Project L" when polyominoes start with P. Is it because a common polyomino shape is the L? Or maybe it's a reference to the little "lattice animals" made by polyominoes, as they're called by, uh, the website I looked up polyominoes on?

Polyominoes are all the rage. Or at least polyominoes up to a certain size are all the rage, which usually only includes monominoes, dominoes, trominoes, tetrominoes, and sometimes pentominoes and hexominoes.

But where most polyomino games boil down to “polyominoes plus something,” where the “plus something” is the substance of the game, Project L by Michal Mikeš, Adam Španěl, and Jan Soukal is all about the polyominoes, full stop. And the instant I’m done writing about it, I’m never typing the suffix -omino ever again.

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Talking About Games: Portrayal vs. Endorsement

Wee Aquinas is no puritan. He wants you to know that.

Morality has become a strange notion. Part of the problem is the mental imaging it tends to conjure: at odds with science and ethics, possibly relative, very likely handed down from Mount Sinai on stone tablets, definitely something to do with a scarlet letter. The term seems anachronistic, a throwback to a simpler age. And by “simpler,” I mean either “more enlightened” or “more backward,” depending on one’s assumptions about history.

Let’s set those images aside. Instead, I want to talk about morality as a function of art, and the role of both artists and critics in crafting and evaluating moral statements. In this regard, morality deserves a hopelessly hand-wavy definition of its own — that it’s preoccupied with the well-being of individuals and societies. Vague! Don’t worry, we’ll return to this.

At a more specific level, today we’re talking about one of the crucial delineations in evaluating board games on moral terms; namely, the difference between portraying and endorsing. And it all begins with a brief pamphlet entitled Histriomastix.

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Colonial Struggle

The box cover is a real bummer. It looks like the cover of a boring PC game about imperial trade from 2004.

Jason Matthews and Ananda Gupta’s Imperial Struggle is a challenging game. In two senses, really. As a successor to the famous Twilight Struggle, it has significant boots to fill. As a meditation on the colonization of the wide world for the sake of empire — well, that’s a taller order in 2020 than in 2005, for better and for worse. It’s the sort of game that might easily spark a hundred think-pieces.

For my part, those dual challenges, heritage and setting, are the clearest lenses for framing what Matthews and Gupta have accomplished.

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When the Frogs Knock Over the Trees

Check out these uncomfortably attractive frogs in their sex poses.

Chaos. The whispered curse. When a game is labeled as capricious, we hardly expect further explanation. “Too random,” we say, like that’s answer enough, like there’s no difference between types of chance, like nobody could appreciate a game for the chaos it flings in our faces. It’s the leprosy of the modern board game scene.

I’ve already written about Jim Felli’s Cosmic Frog. Now that it’s finally here, my thoughts on the matter haven’t transformed. Like the rest of Felli’s work, Cosmic Frog is distinctive: an offbeat setting, messy rulebook, reasonably straightforward play, and a social space that relies on the investment of its players to mark the line between an unremarkable slog and one of the weirdest competitions in recent memory. Its finished incarnation isn’t all that different from the preview version, either. The main change is a variant that adds even more chaos.

That’s its defining element, what will float or scupper it with audiences, what marks it as worthy of investigation: chaos. So let’s take a look at the many ways it handles chance, and why this particular pile-on gives it such flair.

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Last of the Loner Romans

Those eyes... they follow you around the room! No matter where you go!

Poor Rome. No matter how many centuries fly by, her problems remain the same. When last we spied the immortal city — or at least the version found in Robert DeLeskie’s solo wargame Wars of Marcus Aurelius — the Marcomanni, Quadi, and Iazyges were harassing the frontiers. Now it’s the Goths, Vandals, and an upstart general named Constantine III who’s decided he’d rather call the shots for a change. Thank goodness for loyal half-barbarian Stilicho, ready to defend the young Emperor Honorius from all comers.

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Space-Cast! #7. This Critical Land

Wee Aquinas *likes* being caned. Ew, Wee Aquinas. TMI.

Today on the Space-Biff! Space-Cast!, Dan is joined by Tom Russell, who answers questions about his controversial title This Guilty Land, discusses research and responsibility in crafting board games, and answers the two most difficult questions of them all: what is your favorite dinosaur, and what is art?

Listen over here or download here. Timestamps can be found after the jump.

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Knizia Gets Hooked on Netflix

Man, there is so much bad TV on right now.

I don’t have much free time for TV these days. Except for Tiger King. I’m sitting on a dozen solid Netflix recommendations from trusted sources who’ve never led me astray, and I blitzed through that garbage in under a week.

Victor Melo’s Streaming gets it. More importantly, this is one of the finest auction games I’ve played in a good long while. I’d even go as far as to call it Knizian.

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Massless Rod, Massive Bob

IN A WORLD OF PENDULUMS, EVERYBODY IS EITHER A MASSLESS ROD OR A MASSIVE BOB. BUT ONE DAY, BRIAN DECIDED HE WOULD BECOME A FRICTIONLESS PIVOT.

Real-time games are tricky, both to design and play. It’s an inherent conundrum. Most of our hobby lets us take things slow, examine the playing field from a sky-high vantage, and make decisions based on data rather than reflex. For a real-time game to work, it’s necessary to shift the player’s headspace into overdrive without cooking it altogether. Along the way, there are hurdles aplenty to consider.

Pendulum almost clears them. But the thing about hurdles is that almost clearing them still leaves you chewing rubber. Let’s talk about how it misses that final crucial inch.

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