Blog Archives

The Lonely Rhodes Scholar

Nice pose, guy.

The word “wargame,” like most board game genre definitions, is a nebulous thing. Do political sims count? What about games about the weeks and months leading up to war? What about wars by other means? It’s this conundrum that makes me propose an alternative: a wargame is that which contains a rulebook that’s alternately impenetrable, opinionated, and insightful.

Ben Madison’s solo wargame The White Tribe fits at least the last two descriptors. In one sense, it operates in the same headspace as Tom Russell’s This Guilty Land — politically charged, critical of racism and the systems that support it, and deeply conscious of how legislation is passed, employed, and sometimes abused. But if it’s a mirror, it’s an inverted one. Where Russell’s approach was pessimistic, casting the U.S. Civil War as inevitable and compromise as poisonous — a view Russell supports quite well, as I wrote last year — Madison charts a careful course between terrible extremes and concludes that, sometimes, collaboration is the only way to keep from plummeting into the abyss.

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The Crisis Gets Lonely

Bet you couldn't tell I made this header on my own.

Given this hobby’s churn of new releases, it isn’t often that I get to stick with a single game long enough for an expansion to roll around. Wray Ferrell and Brad Johnson’s Time of Crisis is an exception, and has reappeared on my table regularly ever since its release nearly two years back.

Good thing I waited around, because The Age of Iron and Rust may be one of my favorite expansions, adding three modules that transform this into one of my absolute favorite deck-building hybrids — and a considerable solo offering to boot.

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We Meet Again, Cabbagehead

I dreamed it would end this way.

He may be terrifying, but that doesn’t mean Mr. Cabbagehead doesn’t have enthusiasms. Farming his cousins, for example, followed by a village-wide exhibition of their corpses and a pale supper of their crisp flesh. Such is life for a ghastly were-vegetable.

In the three years since I reviewed Todd Sanders’ Mr. Cabbagehead’s Garden, everybody’s favorite sentient leafy green has grown up. Now he’s got a publisher, a posh production, and even a two-player mode. Guess he sufficiently impressed Eudora Brassica after all.

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Extra Pulp, Please

THE HAND! THE HAND!

Life’s full of hard knocks, kid. The sooner you get used to it, the sooner you’ll stop feeling blue. Or, as Raymond Chandler put it, “I was the page from yesterday’s calendar crumpled at the bottom of the wastebasket.”

The first thing you need to know about Todd Sanders’ Pulp Detective is that, like all Todd Sanders games, it has an aesthetic of its own, and it’s nigh-on perfect in the right light and from the right angle. Scratch the box while extricating it from the shrink, and it’ll seep an even mix of blood, rye, and chance. That’s right, chance. Liquid chance. Deep like amber but it makes sticky everything it touches. Pretty like a dame who’s known nothing but trouble, but liable to bring that trouble tagging along wherever she goes. Serious as a priest offering confession, but—

Oh fine, I’ll start the review.

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Alone with 18 Cards

I should be a graphic designer. I used the "paint bucket" at least forty times!

Webster’s Dictionary defines “Sprawlopolis” as “Noun: sprȯl-ä-p(ə-)ləs: An 18-card wallet game published by Button Shy and from the same design trio behind the rather-good Circle the Wagons.”

Huh! Informative and entertaining, Webster! And for once, I’m not going to split hairs. Everything you said is true.

As for the quality of the game, however…

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Alone on the Computer

All computers are neon on the inside.

Now that Netrunner is dead, I’ve been thinking more about those first few months of its existence, before the pro scene and a steady march of upgrades left me standing on the highway watching the dust kicked up by its tires as it left me behind. It was one of those games that briefly captured me, gave me a rough shaking, and then departed forever. Years later I would happen across its obituary and stare, unsure whether I was feeling regret at not playing more or relief that I didn’t stick around until the end.

It’s Renegade that brings back those memories. Not because both games feature body-modded individualists peeling away an oppressive system’s layers of defense, though there is that. But rather because they’re both far cleverer than they first appear.

Oh, and because they both positively drown you in terminology. As in, hands around the throat, bathtub of ice water, drowning you.

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It’s Pronounced “Dragger”

It's Old Norse for "daughter."

It’s a tale as old as time. Boy meets girl. Girl isn’t interested. The town of Stjørdal gets invaded by flesh-hungry undead. Flesh-hungry undead are the only ones who can pronounce “Stjørdal,” so by ancient tradition they now own the town. Boy, with nothing better to do with his misdirected masculinity, loads up on iron stakes and vials of holy water. It’s on.

We haven’t covered anything by prolific print-and-play designer Todd Sanders for a while, but the recent envelope printing of Todd’s solo microgame The Draugr by BoardGameGeek seems like as good a time as any to jumpstart our moldering heart. So listen up, because this one’s lean, gorgeously ugly, and arrives printed on paper you might bring groceries home in.

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The Lonely Stoic

I haven't watched TV in years, but this reminds me of old sinus medicine commercials.

As the last of the Five Good Emperors, Marcus Aurelius was inclined to philosophy over military matters. So much so that he was given the totally unique nickname, “the philosopher.” But sadly for Marcus, his reign was quickly marked by trouble. When Roman soldiers brought home a nasty bout of plague from Parthia, it wasn’t long before Germanic and Sarmatian tribes took advantage of the weakened empire and begin their advance across the Danube and into Gaul. And no quantity of stoicism was going to solve that one.

Robert DeLeskie’s Wars of Marcus Aurelius covers a decade of brutal frontier fighting from 170 to 180 CE. And much like its source material, it’s full of hard decisions, infuriating reversals, and some slogging through the muck to get to the good stuff.

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The Lonely Carolingian

That's how I've appointed my living room as well.

Despite the fact that Charles I spent the majority of his reign warring against one foe or another, it’s hard to imagine how Tom Russell’s Charlemagne, Master of Europe could have been anything other than a solo game. After all, who could stand as a worthy opponent to the Pater Europae? The Lombards, Moors, Saxons, or internal Frankish plotters who ultimately found themselves bulldozed as Charles became king, then king of a second kingdom, then eventually Emperor of the Romans?

Actually, the answer is those dang dice and those dang cups. By the conclusion of a session, it’s apparent that they’re the real enemies of the Carolingian Dynasty.

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The Lonely Degenerate

These eyes weren't doing me any good anyway.

There’s a certain comforting blandness to the usual adventure game setting. Armored heroes. Lithe elves. Hardy barbarians. Green-skinned orcs and soaring dragons and icky spiders. A land of plenty thrown into peril. You know the drill. It’s certainly been the drill long enough.

Dungeon Degenerates isn’t satisfied merely breaking away from this formula. It also needs to smash it with a sledgehammer. After all, as spoken by another notable iconoclast, “When you come at the king, you best not miss.”

I’m going to spill the conclusion of this review right now: Dungeon Degenerates does many things, but miss is not among them.

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