More Vaster, Less Vastish


What I most appreciated about Vast: The Crystal Caverns was its improbable intermarriage of two ideas. The first was its dungeon, generated in roguelike fashion from a generous stack of tiles, producing a sprawling cavern filled with perils and plunder. The other idea was deep, even idolatrous asymmetry. Far more than the possibility of the multiple heroes offered by so many other dungeon crawls. Rather, it was an all-inclusive medley of characters and play styles. The knight versus the dragon, but also the sneaky thief, a pack of suicidal goblins, and even the haunted cavern itself, all working at cross-purposes.

Just as Vast beget Root, Cole Wehrle’s more approachable take on rabid asymmetry, so too does Patrick Leder’s Vast: The Mysterious Manor emerge from a paradigm established by Root. Which is really just a fancy-pants way of saying that this is a kinder, friendlier Vast — when it comes to learning the rules, at least.

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Four Cutting Boards

aka "Treatment Department." Yeah, effective translation AI is a ways off.

One of the hallmarks of abstract games is their low barrier of entry. Easy to learn, difficult to master, as you nerds love to say.

Manolis Vranas and Jamie Sajdak’s Shobu — which Google Translate informs me means “processing unit,” although I have no idea how they got that from the kanji for “victory” and “defeat” — is so easy that its three rules are printed on the back of the box. How delightfully brazen! Which is why, although I’m usually loathe to list a game’s rules, I’m going to teach you how to play Shobu right this instant.

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Perambulating in Burano

BRAG: I've been to Burano.

Every so often, a game comes along that makes you say, “Well, that was charming.” Maybe that sounds like faint praise. Fair enough. Often it is.

Not in Walking in Burano, designed by Wei-Min Ling and illustrated by Maisherly Chan. This thing walks the line between charming and chewy just enough that I’ll forgive its first player marker being a cat standee.

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nice foreheads, my bros

Working my way through the recent catalog of design collective Prospero Hall — including the rather good Jaws and How to Rob a Bank — I’ve been struck by just how different each title is from its peers. Until Horrified. In this one, the spin is that each play features two or three of the game’s six unique monsters, resulting in dozens of possible combinations and interactions. You know, much like last year’s Villainous.

Except when you get right down to it, Horrified is its own beast. For one thing, it’s a cooperative game. For another… well, let’s talk.

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Theodolite Not Included

"Happy accidents," he says, scrawling a billion flesh-hungering orcs into proximity near the helpless village.

If you’re anything like me, your attitude toward the roll-and-write genre has charted a course from, “Oh, this is neat, and we can all play at the same time!” to “Hm, is this a way of tricking me into showing my work on my seventh-grade algebra homework?” to “Okay, that’s enough of these things.” At first I wondered how long a pad of 100 sheets could possibly last. What a fool I was to think it would stop there.

That said, Cartographers may be the first R&W since Welcome To that hasn’t driven me to mindless groaning.

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I love this.

There’s a well-known quandary in wargames where designers grapple with the accuracy of their own simulations. How closely should a game hew to its historical outcome? Should both sides be equally able to win a conflict, or should the same historical inevitability that ruled yesteryear also rule the game sitting before you on the table? Which better captures the spirit of an event, its true outcome or the uncertainty that rattled within the heads of its actors?

Unless your name is Jake Peralta, Die Hard isn’t history. Still, its cardboard adaptation, Die Hard: The Nakatomi Heist: Board Game, raises similar questions.

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Two Minds About Super Punch Fighter

Hexes. Like Catan!

Did you know that Brock Poulsen and Dan Thurot originally bonded over their shared love of Plaid Hat Games’ Summoner Wars? It’s true. Which is why this month’s Two Minds About… is such a meeting of the minds. Welcome to Super Punch Fighter, one of the latest titles from Plaid Hat.

Brock: Tabletop gamers are an opinionated bunch. Ask a group of us our favorite things about the hobby, and you’re likely to hear a lot of tactile answers: The riffle of a deck of cards. A well-written rulebook. The fresh cardboard smell of a new game.

Occasionally, though, this celebration gets weaponized as proof that board games are better than video games. It’s a silly war for which the stakes could simply not be lower. Yet Super Punch Fighter, from Robert Klotz and Plaid Hat Games, tries to bring peace to those warring factions.

Dan: Because it’s a board game of a video game of a fighting game?

Brock: Right. So maybe they’re bringing pain, rather than peace? You’ve reviewed a few fighting games on Space-Biff, including BattleCON and my personal favorite, EXCEED. What do you think are key factors to make a brawler successful?

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How to Pepper Spray a Mall Cop

This header image represents my finest work yet.

I don’t often talk about how much a game costs. There’s a reason for that. Essentially, a game’s cost is so subjective — and variable — that nearly anything I could say wouldn’t actually be about the game, it would be about my economic circumstances. Which, sure, might tip you off to the fact that Kingdom Death: Monster is a scooch beyond my price range.

I picked up How to Rob a Bank at Target for ten dollars. It’s silly, quick, and colorful. For ten dollars. And you can bet your butt that’s going to impact how I think about it.

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The Enburgling: A Look at Burgle Bros 2

I want that shirt.

I enjoyed Burgle Bros despite some caveats, even though my fondness dimmed somewhat with time and repetition. Still, there weren’t many moments as memorable as when Brock brought back Burgle Bros after keeping hold of it for a few months. Say that five times fast: Brock brought back Burgle Bros.

Well, this time he won’t need to. Last week, I sat down with Tim Fowers for a look at his and Jeff Krause’s sequel, Burgle Bros 2: The Casino Capers, on Kickstarter now. And while anything and everything is subject to change — the perils of a preview, unfortunately — here are the three things that rekindled my affection for this heist simulator.

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Talking About Games: Making an Example

Wee Aquinas has a bee in his halo.

Continuing our Patreon-funded discussion on the vocabulary of board games criticism, today we’re talking about one of my favorite positive examples.

Welcome back! Once again we’re talking about the need to form a new vocabulary for board games criticism! In part one, we talked about the theme/mechanics divide, which is both as prevalent as a head cold and approximately as useful. In part two, we introduced five categories: setting and theme, components and mechanics, and feedback — an “ephemeral glue,” in Evan Clark’s words — which is where we can begin talking about the coherency or elegance of a game, especially once it enters that interactive space on the table.

Buckle up, because today we’ll be applying those categories to a game you’ve probably played. Its identity will shock you.

Is that click-baity enough?

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