Just when I thought I’d seen everything you could do with the humble battle line game — Schotten-tots, as I prefer to call them — Jon Perry decided it was a good time to drop Air, Land, & Sea in my lap. Rather than going big, bigger, or biggest, Perry has gone the other direction entirely, crafting a devious gem that lands plenty of punches with only 18 cards.
“Is that actually a Command & Conquer board game?” my buddy asked, breathless with curiosity.
“Even better,” I replied, breathless because I’d just run up the stairs. “It’s Commands & Colors!”
This month on Two Minds About…, Brock Poulsen and Dan Thurot are talking about a title from Fantasy Flight Games that’s different with every purchase. No, not Discover: Lands Unknown. We suffered through that one already. This time it’s KeyForge.
Brock: Once in a generation, a game comes along that changes everything. A game so groundbreaking and revolutionary that its light eclipses all competitors, like the sun blinding us to the stars.
Dan: Wow, we’re starting with some real serious business.
Brock: That game was Magic: The Gathering.
I mean, you aren’t wrong.
There’s no mistaking what Escape Plan wants you thinking about when you crack open its box. It quotes its influences right there in the rulebook. Heist, Ocean’s Eleven, The Italian Job, Reservoir Dogs, the old Italian Job, the even older Ocean’s 11. This is a heist gone wrong, it tells you. This is a nobody can trust nobody else type of situation. The police are on your tail and they have an order to shoot on sight.
Then, without irony, it hands you a list of errands. “Swing by the Stop-N-Go for baby Tylenol. Make sure you grab a card and some colorful balloons for Fat Moe’s birthday. Then return this book on money laundering to the library for me. But be at the party by five or it’s lights out for you. Oh, and make sure you don’t turn left too often; the car’s tie rod is out of alignment.”
Welcome to Vital Lacerda’s Escape Plan.
I still remember the birthday in high school when my dad gave me a translation of Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. Don’t let that fool you into thinking I’m a purist. Adding mecha-gorgons and cyber-hoplites to the mix? That sound you just heard was me at fourteen years old, my squeal of delight echoing through time itself.
So why does Lords of Hellas leave me cold?
Look, I know how it sounds when I say “the box is the best thing” about a game. I know. It sounds dismissive. Like I’m saying the game should be jettisoned into space, where it would finally be put to good use as a hostel for tardigrades. Like I’m saying you should buy the game, toss the components and burn the rules, and then display the hollowed-out box on the mantelpiece as a warning to all who enter that they should not buy this game unless they’re connoisseurs of fantastic boxes.
That’s how it sounds. Too bad. The best thing about Tiny Ninjas is its box.
Sorcerer has a great hook. Never mind that it’s also Smash Up’s hook. You take three decks — your identity, magical lineage, and domain — and shuffle them together to form one big wad of acolytes, demons, and spells. One moment you’ll be playing as a necromantic count from deep in a haunted forest. Half an hour later you’ll be mister flameface the shapeshifter of the lunatic asylum. In theory, no two decks will feel quite the same.
Too bad they nearly always blend together like a bowl of soggy oatmeal.
In today’s Patreon-funded essay, we’re dissecting what we talk about when we talk about games — and why we should consider shaking it up.
There’s a reliable conflict in board games, aged about a quarter century, that calls to mind an old feud between noble families, or perhaps a tribal division or a sports rivalry, its root cause lost to the mists of time. Except that isn’t quite true, is it? In this case, we know exactly where the battle-line has been drawn and exactly why.
It’s been a long time since I played the first edition of Ryan Laukat’s The Ancient World. Long enough that the second edition was totally new, like something I’d played in a dream, a game against the gods dissipated into fog upon awakening.
Or maybe it’s just that this second edition is such a vast improvement over the original that it feels entirely new, despite importing wholesale the bones and framework of its former self.
Build walls, flood the land, and ride the lighting; or, the episode in which Brock, Summer, and Dan talk about living gods, life on the reservation, and how Rebecca Roanhorse portrays a post-apocalyptic (but current-renaissance) Navajo nation in Trail of Lightning. Listen here or download here.
Next month, we’re reading Master of Sorrows by Justin Travis Call.