Twilight Iconographies

I witnessed somebody complaining about the space lioness and how weird she looked compared to the original art, and buddy, as a kid I thought the space lion on the original cover was bizarre too.

When we talk about “roll-and-writes,” the genre that’s going through a minor renaissance, we’re really talking about two slightly different things. Roll-and-writes, in which you roll dice, and flip-and-writes, in which you flip a card. Generally, both see everybody at the table using those identical inputs on their own board. It’s easy to see the appeal. The action is simultaneous, fast-playing, and highlights why “input luck” doesn’t feel unfair the way “output luck” does. Here’s a random number: put it to good use. (Unlike output luck, which says, Take your action: now here’s the roll to determine its outcome.) As a bonus, everybody gets the same number.

The biggest distinction between the two has everything to do with how that random input is curated. In a roll-and-write, you’re using dice. There’s more wiggle room to its randomness. In theory, an entire game could pass without a certain roll ever appearing. In a flip-and-write, drawing from a deck means you’ll eventually see a selection of possibilities. That’s less randomness, but more predictability. Yes, that can be a weakness. Neither system is inherently better than the other; they just have different ideas about how to best generate their inputs.

James Kniffen’s Twilight Inscription is both a roll-and-write and a flip-and-write. On one level, that isn’t surprising; it’s an adaptation of Twilight Imperium, that famously gargantuan game of stellar conquest. On another, it creatures a leviathan of its own, one that’s spread across four interconnected games.

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Book-Space! #23. Uprooted

This is the first time New Wee Aquinas has ever held a book. Sniffle. My baby's all grown up.

After a bit of a pause, the Space-Biff! Book-Space! returns to discuss natural magic vs. orderly magic, crusty old wizards vs. vigorous young witches, and Naomi Novik’s Uprooted vs. Brock, Summer, and Dan. Listen here or download here.

Next time, it’s all about translation. That’s right, we’re reading R. F. Kuang’s Babel.

Going to Bed Angry

Yes, this is the extent of my header skills tonight.

I occasionally think back on the mudslide of advice I received when Somerset and I got married. There was so much, and we were so inexperienced, that at the time it was impossible to sort into good or bad. Hindsight helps. Some of it has proved apt (“Keep making the choice to love each other”). Other tidbits were stale even at the time (“Always listen to your wife, but as the man of the house you’re the tiebreaker”). And then there were the lines that sounded good until we realized they were soul-crushing (“Never go to bed angry”).

Xoe Allred’s Persuasion is about a brand of holy matrimony not all that far off from the partnership Summer and I entered into — young, rapid, religious, and oh so very Victorian. But where other recent games about the courtship rituals of yestercentury have been drier than hardtack, Allred’s take is viciously seductive. Not because it’s particularly spicy. Oh no. Because it’s so toxic it could break a Geiger counter.

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Divide and Redivide

You can tell she's sinister because those eyebrows are weapons of mass destruction.

Yesterday, two to five oligarchs divided the planet to make space for their surplus mansion greens and car elevators. After World Splitters, World Exchangers, designed by Romain Caterdjian and Smoox Chen, jumps forward a generation. With humanity under thumb, what’s left for the ultra-rich?

They’re doing it all over again. This time, the stakes couldn’t be higher: for funsies.

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Divide and Tally

At first I thought it was WORLD SITTERS. A cyberpunk spinoff of the popular Baby-Sitters Club series.

At first glance, Tony Chen and Romain Caterdjian’s World Splitters, the latest of two titles from Taiwanese publisher EmperorS4 about the antics of the future uber-rich, looks like a riff on Dots & Boxes. Some have even asked if it might be kin to Android: Mainframe. Now there’s a game that feels much older than six years.

To some degree, yes, World Splitters is Dots & Boxes. That is, if Dots & Boxes featured clever auctions and a horrific tiebreaker system.

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Strangling on Bootstraps

"Is it about the musical?" my wife asked, then laughed, because she already knew it was not.

There’s this adage our mission mom used to tell us. This was prior to 2019, when a mission president’s wife finally became an official calling rather than one inequality among countless others. She didn’t have an official role despite fulfilling numberless functions, among them an ambiguous blend of cheerleader, guilt tripper, and motivational speaker. Every couple of months, dozens of nineteen-year-old Mormon missionaries would crowd into a tiny room to be scolded and encouraged, sometimes in the same breath.

“According to scientists,” she would say, in a voice that made one suspicious she hadn’t conferred with a scientist on the matter, “the bumblebee is so heavy and un-aerodynamic that it’s incapable of flight. But nobody ever told the bumblebee that. Whether you’re a bumblebee, a person out of a job, or a missionary hoping to bring others to Christ, all you need to do is pull yourself up by the bootstraps.”

Steve Dee’s The Rent is an autobiographical microgame about pulling oneself up by the bootstraps. It has a somewhat dimmer outlook on letting the ignorance of bumblebees stand in for economic theory.

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No County for Old Men

Yes, it is apparently PREVIEW WEEK over here. My deepest apologies.

After I declared Mind MGMT my favorite game of 2021, the pressure must have been unbearable for Off the Page Games. All right, all right, I doubt they noticed. Still, Jay Cormier and Sen-Foong Lim’s adaptation of Matt Kindt’s comic series was such a zinger that any follow-up would be swimming upriver.

Case in point, Harrow County: The Game of Gothic Conflict, co-designed by Cormier and Shad Miller as an adaptation of the comic series by Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook, which is on Kickstarter for the next two days — yes, I’m running behind — carries itself with an exerted air. It does so many things in a short span of time. Maybe it should have doubled down on two or three.

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Scry Guys

Squint hard enough and even Wingspan could count as augury.

I know an uncanny amount about divination. Not because I believe in the stuff, mind you. It comes up a lot in my work, both as a practice in ancient religion and as a prominent branch in the history of board games.

So when Chris Chan’s Portents first hit my table, I was fascinated to learn which type of cleromancy it would use. Drawing Roman sortes? The knucklebones and dice oracles of astragalomancy? The fateful archery competitions of belomancy? We haven’t even touched upon the really cool ones. Maybe Portents would let us manipulate shards of coconut, or pour molten metal into water and examine the resultant shape’s shadow, or undertake bean magic. Yes, bean magic. Favomancy. It’s shocking how many forms of geomancy used beans. The possibilities for gamification are endless.

Turns out, Portents is about haruspicy via bird parts. And while any self-respecting haruspex would immediately note that it uses the wrong organs, never fear: this one is about fraudsters trying to out-divine one another.

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Space-Cast! #22. My Father’s Interview

Wee Aquinas holds moral objections to these proceedings.

Have you ever gone mad pursuing a parent’s ambition? That’s the topic of T.C. Petty III’s My Father’s Work, a game of intergenerational trauma, weird science, and scaring off your loved ones. Also an app.

Listen over here or download here. Timestamps can be found after the jump.

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It Also Means Goodbye Earth

Kinda weird how the alien up front is wearing three-lensed sunglasses, but the alien near the rear has two-lensed goggles.

For all their lightness, party games are tough to design. Probably because comedy is hard enough to create deliberately, let alone when you’re helping others create it out of thin air. It isn’t just a matter of setting up jokes. There’s careful timing to good humor, a cadence, empty spaces, gaps. It’s no wonder so many party games stick to mimicking Apples to Apples.

Heather and Christopher O’Neill’s Aloha Earth goes the other direction, and although the result isn’t quite as well-trod as having everybody play a card, the formula is still a familiar one. This time, one player places a prompt on the table. Everyone else tries to get that player to laugh. There’s a little more to it, but not much. That’s both a strength and a weakness.

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