Blog Archives

The Guild of Guilt-Free Explorers

How my brain reads this: "Guild the of merchant explorers."

Despite containing no pencils, dry-erase pens, pads of paper or laminated cards, Matthew Dunstan and Brett Gilbert’s The Guild of Merchant Explorers is as much a flip-and-write game as any other. It’s the feel that counts. A single card is flipped. Everybody uses that card to fill in spaces on their personal map. Everybody suffers or profits together. At least initially. After a few cards, whether any given flip helps or hinders your expansion is a function of planning and foresight rather than mere chance.

What sets this title apart from its peers, though, is the way it resets between eras.

Read the rest of this entry

One Through Nine

I read it to the beat of Bill Nye the Science Guy's theme song. The part near the end. "TEN! TEN! TEN! TEN!"

Every so often a publisher will send me a game out of the blue. I try to take a look at every title I’m sent, but when I’m working through a backlog twenty boxes deep, I’ll confess it isn’t beyond me to judge a game by its lid. Eternal shame, I know. But look at this thing. TEN? That’s the name of your game? TEN? With that epileptic seizure of colors passing for box art? I only knew Shawn Stankewich, Robert Melvin, and Molly Johnson from Point Salad, but, uh, I’m not especially fond of Point Salad. Onto the pile of giveaways it went.

And then something funny happened. TEN got nominated for a Golden Geek. My curiosity was piqued. It was sitting right there, after all. How much opportunity cost could it represent? At worst, it would take fifteen minutes to learn and play. Fifteen lousy minutes. It’s a rare game night if we don’t chat about Geoff’s fashion sense for at least twenty. Might as well give it a try.

Since then, we’ve hardly hosted a game night without playing a round or two of TEN. It’s phenomenal.

Read the rest of this entry

Sheepy for GOTY

(help)

Come Halloween season, I’m always on the lookout for games of the scary variety. Something not only frightening, but filled with building tension and jump scares and moments that will have everyone gripping the edge of the table in apprehension. Something unexpected. Something that will stay with you.

This year, that game is absolutely Neil Kimball’s Sheepy Time.

Read the rest of this entry

Whirling B-Word Craft

I'm not saying that anybody needs to seek out the license. I'm just saying that I would definitely play Whirling VVitchcraft.

By some measures, Erik Andersson Sundén’s Whirling Witchcraft is broken right down to its witchy heart. The second time we played — roughly eight minutes after the first time we played — Geoff turned to me and asked, “Is that all? We aren’t doing some tutorial mode?”

Indeed. I can’t even imagine what a tutorial mode to Whirling Witchcraft would look like. Passing cubes without any reason, maybe. But here’s the thing: despite its brevity and its chanciness — because of its chanciness — Whirling Witchcraft has given me a minor epiphany.

Read the rest of this entry

Roll and Move

In New French Extremity horror film The Cubitos Inevitability (2021), an innocent hitchhiker is forced by a disgraced doctor to undergo experimental surgery, transforming him from man into cheese cube thing. Tomatometer: 11%.

In this age of remote plays and digital implementations, it’s sometimes easy to forget that board games are pieces as much as they’re rules or settings or half-filled boxes hogging up more than their fair share of shelf space. Take John Clair’s Cubitos, for example. The absolute best part of Cubitos is handling its massive handfuls of dice. That isn’t faint praise. Cubitos knows what it does best. Which is why you’ll throw so many handfuls of dice that you place yourself at elevated risk of repetitive strain injury.

Read the rest of this entry

The Patron Saint of Empty Spaces

There's nothing quite like opening a game box after putting it off for a few weeks only to discover it's not only a different game than you were expecting, but a much better one.

In one sense, Santa Monica isn’t anything new. Apart from its sun-bleached palette and laid-back setting, this hobby is full of perfectly serviceable tableau-builders. Bonus points if those tableaux are tiered; I’m thinking of offerings like 51st State, Imperial Settlers, or even Wingspan. Three rows of cards, each with different but complementary functions. Santa Monica only has two rows of cards. Two is fewer than three. Isn’t that a step in the wrong direction?

Nope. If anything, Santa Monica has produced some of the freshest tableaux I’ve ever laid on my table. And it has everything to do with how it goes about the process of establishing its setting.

Read the rest of this entry

Rise of Ecosgustus

There it is. The first continent. Just a nub.

Because it is the ken of board game critics to reduce every design to “It’s just this one game plus this other thing,” it would be easy to dismiss John Clair’s Ecos: First Continent as just Paolo Mori’s Rise of Augustus plus a map. That would be doing it a disservice. For one thing, although Augustus and Ecos share a heritage that stretches all the way back to Adam and Bingo, in practice there’s enough consanguinity between them to make their intermarriage technically legal in at least three states. You do you, you crazy lovebirds.

The real issue, however, is that Ecos is so damnably playable. If I were in a bad mood, I might almost call it cynical. Instead, let’s go with insidious.

Read the rest of this entry

Perambulating in Burano

BRAG: I've been to Burano.

Every so often, a game comes along that makes you say, “Well, that was charming.” Maybe that sounds like faint praise. Fair enough. Often it is.

Not in Walking in Burano, designed by Wei-Min Ling and illustrated by Maisherly Chan. This thing walks the line between charming and chewy just enough that I’ll forgive its first player marker being a cat standee.

Read the rest of this entry

The Emergence of Shy Space Base

Every ship deserves racing stripes.

For a dice game, Space Base doesn’t arrive with very many dice. You’ll find no chunky handfuls here. Two dinky dice is all you get. And those two are cursed, I’m certain of it, prompting my group to pull out the dice bowl so that we can roll something other than 4s and 5s for once. Guess we’re rolling chunky handfuls after all.

But curses aside, Space Base knows how to put its dice to good use. How to get crazy with them. How to make rolling 2d6 more exciting than they have any right to be.

Read the rest of this entry

Teensy Towns

note: no mice included

I’m not sure there’s a title that makes my eyelids droop more than Tiny Towns. The back of the box only deepens my fatigue. Colorful cubes, check. Little woodcut buildings, cute. A blank 4×4 grid for each player, groan. Pastoral scenes of golden farms and thatched granaries and unkempt almshouses — credit where it’s due, there’s a cure for insomnia here.

But as Socrates said, “Don’t judge a scroll by the gross animal veins in its parchment.” So too it is with Tiny Towns. Although this isn’t the sort of game that gets my heart pounding, it’s no soporific.

Read the rest of this entry