It’s a rare game that can make me laugh out loud. Alf Seegert’s The Road to Canterbury managed it no fewer than a half-dozen times. The setting shoulders plenty of that load. As medieval pardoners, it’s your task to earn some coin from pilgrims as they journey to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket — except you happen to be the most miserable brand of fraud alive. Everything about you is a fake. Your certificates of pardon, the “sins” you’ve convinced the pilgrims burden their immortal souls, and certainly the furball of Saint Felix you’re passing off as a holy relic. Appropriately, the only score that matters is how many shillings you’ve bilked.
There’s something remarkable about holding an illuminated manuscript. It isn’t just the work itself, the artistry, the history leafed onto the pages. It’s the additional histories that crowd around the first. The scribbled notes. The stain of a fingerprint. The places where the paint has worn thin from dozens of fingers brushing the image of Jesus, or where a self-righteous fingernail has censored Eve’s privates.
Or the killer rabbits warring in the margins.
In true dedication to the apostils of history, Alf Seegert’s Illumination is about the latter. Two monks, one upstanding and the other irreverent, passing the days via the mortal contest of ensuring that their illustrations will endure for an age. How do they conduct this contest? By pitting rabbits against monks, squirrels against hounds, demons against angels. Naturally. How else?
One of my favorite genres of cardboard is the location-grabber, wherein you and an opponent feud over a line of locations, parceling out cards and strength, engaging in some brinkmanship, and ultimately hoping to nab the best spots when the timing’s right. Picture Omen: A Reign of War, the prematurely strangled Warhammer 40,000: Conquest, the freshly minted Guardians, or granddaddy Battle Line. No, I won’t be strong-armed into naming them Schotten-Tots. I have my dignity.
Speaking of favorites, Alf Seegert has always done yeoman’s work with idiosyncratic designs, especially those that evoke strange worlds and feature smart twists on familiar mechanisms. Heir to the Pharaoh in particular was one of 2016’s most interesting games. A pity nobody’s heard of it.
Well, I’ll be damned if nobody is going to hear about Haven. Illustrated by the preposterously talented Ryan Laukat, this beauty is wickedly smart — and possibly Seegert’s best design yet.
There’s a certain enchanting quality to Alf Seegert’s latest, Rival Realms. Set in a sort of pocket dimension of Seegert’s wonder-realm of Fantastiqa — and literally sliding into a large pocket, how’s that for appropriate? — and expounding upon the card-laying system he first crafted in Musée, it’s an otherworldly experience, as though its players have left their concerns hanging in the wardrobe and stepped straight into Narnia.
One of the things I most appreciate about Alf Seegert’s work — at least across the slight handful of his games I’ve played — is how he takes very relatable and approachable concepts and transforms them into something more. Take Dingo’s Dreams, for example. It’s bingo, the very same one your grandma plays for day-glo pens with puffy feathers sticking out the end, yet in Seegert’s hands it becomes one of the breeziest light titles of the year. Or Fantastiqa, a deck-building game that embraces its whimsical side with such abandon that it’s hard not to like it.
Heir to the Pharaoh is Doc Seegert’s latest game, and also his greatest by a significant margin. So let’s talk.