Churchill is a game I’ve wanted to write about for almost two years. It takes a sky-high view of World War 2, pitching you as the Big Three in their efforts to break the back of the Axis Powers. Yet it couldn’t rightly be described as a wargame. Rather than emphasizing the strategy or logistics of war, it’s about the interactions between Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt (and later Truman) across multiple conferences as they divide the responsibilities and risks of beating Germany and Japan — and eventually divvy up the world itself. It’s a game of politics, of give-and-take, of hard expediency in the face of crushing reality. It’s about working hand-in-hand with your ideological enemies and hoping you have enough clout to avoid triggering yet another war once the current one is wrapped up. It is, in a word, bold.
Jim Felli always brings me the very weirdest stuff. Remember Zimby Mojo, the game about cannibal tribes warring over a magical crown? You would remember. It was crazy.
Bemused is slightly more muted, if only because it doesn’t see you transforming your tribesmen into hulking zombies. Instead, you’re a jealous muse who can drive your rivals’ artists insane, return your virtuoso from the dead to haunt those who killed her, and generally sow dread and doubt rather than actually, y’know, making art.
Okay, so it’s also bonkers.
Two of my favorite games by Phil Eklund, Greenland and Neanderthal, also happen to be two of my favorite games full stop. One of the reasons is their willingness to employ a particular scope, which in turn gives their subject matters room to breathe. Greenland, for example, takes place over the course of approximately four hundred years. Neanderthal sprawls over four hundred years per turn. Both are about a lot of things, from the way cultures or brains develop in response to environmental pressures to the profound unfairness of how a group might rise or fall into extinction through sheer luck. They’re narrative masterclasses, micro history seminars, and compelling play experiences rolled into one.
Bios: Genesis takes this broad view and stretches it, taking place over the course of, oh, four billion years. That isn’t a typo. Billion. Four of them. This is a game that will cast you as primordial soup, single-celled bacterium, all the way up to the grandeur of sea stars and trilobites. As a next step in Eklund’s “survival” series, it’s a bold one.
It’s also a huge pain in the ass to learn.
Thus far, the best titles in the small-as-a-pack-of-gum Pack O Games — which I only just now realize is a very, very light pun — have navigated the sweet spot between simple and too simple. By presenting a slender set of rules that still gives everyone some latitude in how to behave, games like HUE and GEM seem deeper than their ninety-second explanation would imply, generating tension through the guesswork of who’s in the lead and how to reel them back in.
FLY, on the other hand, is the simplest of the lot. But does that push it into TKO territory?
At some point, I really ought to acknowledge that each of the titles in the Pack O Games consists of only three letters. Speaking as a wordsmith, that alone is an achievement. I picture Chris Handy lying awake at night, struggling to name his latest creation. “GNT? RBY? NYX? DMN?” He furiously blots out the combinations of letters that fill his notepad, then calls out to his wife, rousing her from her sleep. “What’s another word for a bijou?” he asks, wiping away the perspiration on his forehead with the back of his hand.
Meanwhile, GEM is a game about the high-powered world of diamond auctioning.
At long last, Dan Thurot and Brock Poulsen debate the merits of Terraforming Mars, the game that took Argyre Planitia by storm. Is it good? Bad? Will it float? These are the questions that keep philosophers awake at night.
For the duration of the next month, the enormously popular Gloomhaven is back on Kickstarter for a second print run. Perhaps more tellingly, it has blitzed its way onto the BoardGameGeek top ten, currently hovering at number nine. Who does it think it is, Pandemic Legacy?
Personally, I haven’t played enough of Gloomhaven to warrant a review. Even after a dozen-plus hours in its presence, I just haven’t seen that much of it. Some laughs, some battles, some leveling up, some tinkering with character and party builds — yet still only a fraction of the gorilla that is the game’s twenty-pound box. For many games, six plays is easily enough to form an impression. In Gloomhaven, it doesn’t even mean getting your feet wet. Damp, perhaps. Perspiring, maybe. But not wet.
All the same, what follows are ten impressions of those first half-dozen plays. A sort of review-in-progress, as it were.
Easily one of the coolest things about Chris Handy’s Pack O Game has nothing to do with the fact that it’s eight games in one handy-dandy carrying case. Nor that the reception was warm enough to warrant a sequel set. Nor that each of the games has a cutesy three-letter title. Blah blah blah.
No, the coolest thing is that each of these games is literally the size of a pack of gum. And not one of those deluxe gum silos or gum diskettes, or wherever else you commercial teenagers with your ice breath and lack of shirts and easy sex are storing your gum. Rather, one of those tiny cardboard gum boxes that smells of spearmint and gets lost between the cushions. That’s where my real interest lies.
Today, we’re inspecting the opening salvo of the first Pack O Game. Meet HUE.