Dan is the only human being of his generation to never watch a single episode, read a single comic, or do a single anything else Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles related. Not even one thing. Let that sink in. Not one. Which is why we’ve brought in our resident TMNT expert — yes, we have one of those, our staff is huge — to go head to head with Dan. Give a warm welcome to Brock Poulsen as he debates the merits of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shadows of the Past.
I’m not a math guy. This isn’t to say I can’t do math, just that I probably won’t, not voluntarily. If I’m waiting in a long line I might calculate my sales tax in advance, but that’s just because I’d rather not continue standing in a long line. Other than that, I’ll cheerfully cop to being terrible at knowing the odds.
Leaving Earth bills itself as “a tabletop game of the conquest of space,” but that’s a little bit like calling Columbus washing up in the Caribbean “the conquest of the New World.” This isn’t a game of conquest. It’s a game about the first tentative steps of discovery. Probes, surveys, launching a man into orbit, bringing him home. Most of all, though, it’s a game about the grace and sophistication of solving complicated math problems.
One of the great difficulties in creating any work of game-as-history is the sheer potential bulk of the thing, where the subtle complexities of real-world conflicts must be modeled as rules, endowed with appropriate exceptions, and tested for some semblance of balance. Take the Battle of Sekigahara, for instance. Set in the autumn of 1600, this was the final step in a years-long campaign by Tokugawa Ieyasu to bring the warring daimyos of Japan under his thumb. During the course of this seven-week campaign, clans and generals swapped sides, cobbled highways and back-country fortresses alike played important strategic roles, firearms and cavalry disrupted the usual order of battle, and some dude held a fortress against all odds through the sheer weight of his respectability.
The beauty of Sekigahara: The Unification of Japan — and I don’t use that word lightly — is that it’s perhaps one of the least demanding games I’ve ever played from GMT, somehow managing to capture the drumming tension of its subject matter without ever once sacrificing depth for simplicity or simplicity for depth.
If I were forced to list three things that I have a history of disliking about board games, I would arbitrarily choose the following: Firstly, “pure” deck-building games, because the era of the hybrid is upon us. Secondly, cooperative games. And thirdly, fixed market pools in deck-building games, as opposed to the “river”-style markets of games like Ascension. Give me some variety! Some uncertainty! Some drama!
Aeon’s End, designed by Kevin Riley and published by Action Phase and Indie Boards & Cards, is a cooperative deck-building game with a fixed market pool. If I were a keeping-track man, that would make three strikes, and if I understand baseball correctly that means it’s time to pick up another chili dog and head to the car before the second inning starts. Fortunately, I’ve never counted past two in my life, because Aeon’s End has quickly become my latest obsession.
Sometimes, usually while showering, I think about how the eusociality of the insect order Hymenoptera — ants, wasps, bees, and so forth — is very possibly the pinnacle of feminism.
But enough about that. Let’s talk about March of the Ants. Who doesn’t love ants?
I can’t help but crack a smile whenever I hear somebody complain about how luck hindered one of their plans, as though plans were the most sacred thing in the world. Well, yeah. That’s what luck does.
Take Gorechosen as one of the brashest examples of the delightfully fickle nature of chance. Just a few days ago, while commanding Redarg Bloodfane — a horned warrior who sports a codpiece that bears an uncanny resemblance to one of the Polokus masks from Rayman 2: The Great Escape — I had carefully positioned myself behind Heldrax Goretouched by weaving around pits of searing magma and opposing fighters. With a sinister grin, I got lucky on my initiative draw, then continued getting lucky by having the right card in my hand. I tossed it onto the table the way people do in movies about poker games. BACKSTAB, it read. I took up my hand of dice, everyone’s breath trapped in their lungs, and sent them spinning across the table. Misses, all.
Luck. It treats plans with about as much respect as you showed that last Kleenex.
It’s been a good couple of years for Mars. Between a pair of high-profile board games, Matt Damon getting rescued at long last, and people finally deciding that maybe life on a barren wasteland dirtball even farther from the sun would be preferable to remaining on Earth, everything’s coming up rosy for Mars. And yes, that was a Red Planet pun.
But instead of focusing on what things will be like when we get there, how about a board game that’s all about getting there in the first place? No, no, not the flight, silly. Not being an astronaut. Not space-walks and solar sails and solving unforeseen problems and telling Houston to stuff it, you’re going to save your favorite crewman no matter what they say. But rather, being the administrative cog tasked with oiling the production of space modules, getting vendors on the phone, and hiring other cogs to also oil the wheels of progress. How’s that sound?
For a few years now, Omen: A Reign of War from Small Box Games has been one of my favorite card games. With all the subtlety of a Spartan dory to the gut, its primary strength rested in its outright meanness, allowing a skilled player to leverage his cards into terrifying combos that won battles and robbed an opponent of options.
Thus, the announcement of Omen: Edge of the Aegean, no mere expansion but a follow-up, a sort of parallel development of the Omen system, got me nearly as misty-eyed as Odysseus. And for anyone who doesn’t quite understand that reference, the hero of the Iliad and the Odyssey is a huge crybaby. Like, huge. The guy can’t stop himself. When he hears a bard sing a jingle about his tricksy victory over Troy, he weeps. When Calypso, hottest nymph in the isles, decides to invite him over for a feisty sex-party, it’s waterworks time.
I, on the other hand, was merely on the verge of weeping, for I am a manly man compared to whiny Odysseus.
First of all, the thing about id Software’s New Doom — which shall henceforth and forever be portmanteau’d as Noom, because it makes me giggle — is that it was actually, against all odds, an incredible shooter. It was frantic and controlled in equal measures. It boasted a tempo that shrieked between exploration and violence. It was good. Which was a tremendous surprise, considering how uninterested id seemed to be in making good games anymore.
Perhaps even more improbably, Fantasy Flight’s new board game rendering of Noom is also good, and largely for the same reasons.
Volko Ruhnke’s COIN Series represents one of the best board game systems ever designed. But don’t take my word for it — wait, no, that’s exactly what I’d like you to do. Head over to the Review Corner, where I’ve outlined every volume in existence thus far, pick out whichever one sounds most compelling to you, and dive in. Whether they’re featuring the war for control of post-Escobar Colombia, the Cuban or American Revolutions, or even the military campaigns of a little-known dude named Julius Caesar in Gaul, these are some of the best simulations of complicated conflicts on the market.