What does a hive mind do when it’s no longer a hive mind? Rent a helicopter, of course. Join Brock, Summer, and Dan as we discuss Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, and chat about colonial empires, undying rulers, and pronouns. Listen here or download here.
Next time, we’ll be talking about A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine.
Each Monday, I share a list of the past week’s played titles on social media, along with a few short details and a picture of each. When it came to sharing a snapshot of Wes Erni and Ben Madison’s solo wargame Nubia: Egypt’s Black Heirs, I suffered from a rare moment of hesitation. Like the last of Madison’s games I covered here, The White Tribe: Rhodesia’s War 1966-1980, Nubia is frank about the racial dynamics of its topic. Unlike The White Tribe, Nubia might not be sturdy enough to shoulder that weight, at least not quite as levelly. To examine why, we need to talk about slaves — both the broad history and the in-game tile.
Two articles by yours truly appeared on Ars Technica over the weekend. The first is a list of thirty games to play while surviving a global pandemic. Since I wrote only six of the thirty entries, it’s a good thing we’re not currently stuck at home with nothing but the list’s flimsier offerings. Which six did I write about, you ask? Good question. I’ll give you an easy clue: the best six.
The more substantive piece focuses on a handful of titles that are good picks for Earth Day. These are my favorite games for learning about this little blue marble we all happen to share, the interconnectedness of its climate and inhabitants, and our responsibility for its well-being. The first few titles are familiar family fare, but props to my editor for letting me include the last third, which consists of games you usually don’t see discussed on more mainstream sites. I hope someone picks up the Bios trilogy and goes cross-eyed at the lexical carpet bombing that is Phil Eklund’s principal mode of communication.
For today’s Space-Cast!, Dan Thurot speaks with a new friend in the form of Tom Chick, veteran reviewer of video and board games alike. They discuss the state of games criticism, dirty words that should never appear in a critique, and some of the lessons Tom has learned about writing reviews and writing in general.
In one sense, Santa Monica isn’t anything new. Apart from its sun-bleached palette and laid-back setting, this hobby is full of perfectly serviceable tableau-builders. Bonus points if those tableaux are tiered; I’m thinking of offerings like 51st State, Imperial Settlers, or even Wingspan. Three rows of cards, each with different but complementary functions. Santa Monica only has two rows of cards. Two is fewer than three. Isn’t that a step in the wrong direction?
Nope. If anything, Santa Monica has produced some of the freshest tableaux I’ve ever laid on my table. And it has everything to do with how it goes about the process of establishing its setting.
Continuing from last time, PBEM Forever is a series about the best play-by-email games that aren’t merely digital board games. Although today’s entry is remarkably close to a board game in its own right…
Here at least
we shall be free; th’ Almighty hath not built
here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
here we may reign secure, and in my choyce
to reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav’n.
—Satan, Paradise Lost
Words are weird. I still remember in the second grade when my father insisted I refer to a particular bodily function as “urination,” while my friends called it “going pee.” When I inverted those terms, both groups became upset at me for being gross. The meaning was unaltered. Neither word was particularly crass. But there I stood, excoriated for my choice of vocabulary. My lifelong terror with linguistic solipsism had begun.
Following up on our previous conversations about the meanings and importance of negativity and criticism, today we’re looking at three more concepts. This time, however, these are the broadest possible traits that should be found in any critique — the bare minimums, you could say. Although as you’d expect, we’re peddling in ambiguities.
Somewhere underneath the dudes-on-a-map genre lurks an even more specific subgenre, the dudes-on-a-map-beseech-the-gods-for-aid genre. For short, the “god-botherer.” You know the type. Cyclades, Kemet, Blood Rage, Rising Sun. They’re an excuse for ordinary plastic molds to genuflect and summon something far greater. Those little dudes are going about their business when — blammo — here comes a table-trembling hulk of sculpted muscle and claw. The elder plastic.
At first glance, John Clowdus’s Mezo is another god-botherer. It has dudes. It has gods. It has the appropriate gap of scale between said dudes and said gods. But because Mezo was designed by John Clowdus, his first-ever title that isn’t a Small Box Game, it’s anything but a ripoff or an homage or just another god-botherer. If anything, it’s probably best described as “three or four bidding games at the same time.”
I don’t know if you’ve noticed anything different, but many of us are getting our pandemic on. With everybody stuck inside, it seems like a good time to talk about something a little different — that particular strain of video games that are like board games, including how they can be played asynchronously with friends and loved ones. In fact, these games were built from the ground up with that very feature in mind. PBEM Forever is about these titles, the finest play-by-email games that aren’t merely video board games.
In action, Frozen Synapse looks like a real-time tactics game. Little men in green and red — yellow, too, if you’re playing the solo campaign — gliding across the neonscape with all the fluidity of bits of data sliding into their proper places. When they stop, it’s to aim and squeeze the trigger, sending lashes of gunfire or ping-ponging grenades across the field. When struck, they spiral and spill, native color leaching to gray. If anything, it looks like a pain in the ass to control, even when you’re only commanding a small handful of units.
But what you’re witnessing isn’t actually Frozen Synapse. Oh, it’s part of it. But this is the resolution, no more “the game” than the numerical outcomes on a combat resolution table are “the game” compared to the units pushed across a board. Rather, all your decisions come before, orders delivered in five-second increments. An entire battle in less than half a minute. In resolution-time, that is. How long you actually spend deliberating over your turns is entirely up to you.
As the world is ravaged by toilet paper shortages, Dan Thurot is joined by Erin Lee Escobedo to discuss the ins and outs of tactical starvation in her game Meltwater, how its spiritual grandparents would make for history’s oddest couple, the artificiality of some of gaming’s biggest narrative choices, and the difficulty (but value) of conceding defeat. Cheery stuff for the second episode of the Space-Biff! Space-Cast!