At long last, it’s here! The Space-Biff! Best Week! is widely recognized by no fewer than eight people as the finest end-of-year list in existence. Five days, five games apiece. All the best.
Today is about revitalization. These are the games that were forged anew — remakes, definitive editions, new seasons, fresh takes on classics. More than the recipients of a fresh coat of paint, today’s victors are ones that perhaps I appreciated, but have been crafted into something better than ever.
The problem with colonialism in board games is that it’s such a good fit. Exploration! Discovery! Conflict! The race between nations! Filling up the world with your chosen color! Heaps of resource tokens and/or cards! Negotiation and trade! Eventually somebody glances longingly at a railroad! No wonder you can hardly enter a game store without tripping over a dozen of the things. European colonialism is basically the Original 4X Game.
Which is why I skipped out on Endeavor the first time around. “Looks like more cardboard colonialism,” I shrugged. Not because cardboard colonialism offends me. But because it’s generally so dull and so carefully purged of anything that might offend. When I use the term “whitewashed,” I mean it in two senses.
Well, mea maxima culpa, because not only is Endeavor a fantastic game about colonialism, it’s a fantastic game about colonialism. And this year’s Age of Sail remolds the original in some exciting new ways.
In October of last year, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly mentioned in an interview on Fox News that “the lack of the ability to compromise led to the Civil War.” Perhaps he was thinking of Henry Clay’s Missouri Compromise of 1820, Compromise Tariff of 1833, and Compromise of 1850. Because, hey, they all had the word compromise in them, and likely postponed the war for years! After all, according to Senator Henry S. Foote, had there been another Great Compromiser like Clay in 1860, the Civil War might have been averted.
Except we’re talking about the same Henry S. Foote who served in the Confederate Congress, which promoted a treasonous war to preserve the enslavement of nearly four million people — a practice that violated human bodies and freedom, abused the rights of citizens and states alike, and turned to violence the instant the tide of public opinion shifted against them. The nation was torn asunder despite decades of compromise. Because that word has dual meanings. Too many compromises and you begin to compromise yourself.
Such is the thesis of Tom Russell’s This Guilty Land, stated without reservation or hesitance: slavery was morally poisonous, any compromise that allowed it to continue was unsustainable, and the American Civil War was inevitable.
So that’s what a moon is for! … nope, we still don’t understand. Join Brock, Summer, and Dan as we discuss magic, social justice, and how cool it is that somebody won the Hugo three years in a row! It’s The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin. You’ll find our conversation down below, or join us over here for a download link.
Next month, we’ll be discussing The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin. For the last time. Yeah, that’s a Broken Earth joke. A bad one.
What’s a rondel? Good question, Geoff. A rondel is usually circular, but not always. It can also be ovaloid. Perhaps an ellipse, if you want to evoke a space theme. Certainly Scorpius Freighter wants to dazzle you with its space theme. You’re a smuggler, it shouts, so go smuggle! Avoid patrols! Buy upgrades! Make sales! Don’t pay attention to how badly we’re abusing these rondels!
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Down below, I’ll explain what a rondel is and talk about Scorpius Freighter. Bonus!
The first thing you notice about Hermetica is its crisp, unadorned aesthetic. Okay, that’s the second thing. The real first thing is its rectangular box, unlikely to fit neatly on even an obsessive organizer’s shelf. Then you peek inside. The springy mat, the suitably blank hexagonal pillars, the bright penny gem pieces glinting sharply against the grayscale landscape — evocative of a field of ash, perhaps, or the formless realm of thought, awaiting a kindling spark. For an abstract game, Hermetica sure knows how to pick a suit.
Then you notice something else. But that’s going to require more of an explanation.
Yesteryear is a feature that reaches into the past and plucks the choicest fruits from the cardboard vine. Some are classics, known and loved but cast aside. Others may have come and gone without notice. Either way, they’re the games we keep hanging onto. This time it’s Brock Poulsen’s turn to harvest from his shelves.
2015 was a wild year for board games. The same could probably be said for several of the last ten or twelve years, but none of those years gave us the likes of Pandemic Legacy, Blood Rage, TIME Stories, and Kingdom Death: Monster. It’s no surprise, then, that a little box like Apocalypse Chaos slipped through the cracks.
If you want to see an example of what a board game can accomplish, while also being something I’d never recommend as a birthday gift, look no further than Erin Lee Escobedo’s Meltwater. It’s unflinchingly brutal and despairingly perceptive both at once.
Brace yourself. I have thoughts about this one.
One of my favorite genres of cardboard is the location-grabber, wherein you and an opponent feud over a line of locations, parceling out cards and strength, engaging in some brinkmanship, and ultimately hoping to nab the best spots when the timing’s right. Picture Omen: A Reign of War, the prematurely strangled Warhammer 40,000: Conquest, the freshly minted Guardians, or granddaddy Battle Line. No, I won’t be strong-armed into naming them Schotten-Tots. I have my dignity.
Speaking of favorites, Alf Seegert has always done yeoman’s work with idiosyncratic designs, especially those that evoke strange worlds and feature smart twists on familiar mechanisms. Heir to the Pharaoh in particular was one of 2016’s most interesting games. A pity nobody’s heard of it.
Well, I’ll be damned if nobody is going to hear about Haven. Illustrated by the preposterously talented Ryan Laukat, this beauty is wickedly smart — and possibly Seegert’s best design yet.
Cute lets you get away with a lot. Think of Root, burying its class struggles and Foucauldian biopower beneath a gloss of skittish mice and adorably malevolent felines. Its revolution is as soggy with blood as they come, but you could miss it for all the awwwing.
Everdell is like that, except its cuteness isn’t a mask. Peel away the top layer and there’s more cuteness underneath. Animals preparing for winter, gathering berries and assembling shelter and establishing hierarchies and forming families. Feuding, but only playfully. Snuggling close when the first frosts appear. Cute all the way down.