Here’s a scenario for you. The Princess slumbers in her bed. Soon she will awake. What will she want for breakfast? Since she’s a bit of a, well, princess, she will neither wait to be served nor accept anything other than what her rumbly tummy desires most. You summon the breakfast prophets to foretell the proper meal. Except they’ve gone missing. A dozen other matters also consume your attention.
Also, everything is a bomb.
I suffer from panic attacks and poor health.
How’s that for an opener? I’m normally reserved about sharing personal details like that. But there it is: I’ve suffered from health complications my entire life, a handful of which have necessitated serious corrective surgeries and lengthy periods of recovery. Heading Forward, the solitaire game designed by John du Bois, makes sharing those details easier, or at least less frightening. Maybe those are the same thing. Empathy isn’t the first emotion I would expect to feel when playing a board game, but this demonstrates exactly how to express something deeply personal via a handful of cards and some punchboard spoons.
The story of the Spanish Maquis is a long one, laden with setbacks, betrayals, and defeats. First formed as a guerrilla force in the waning years of the Spanish Second Republic’s fight against the junta that propelled Francisco Franco to power, the resistance was soon displaced to France. There they spent time in Vichy concentration camps, fought alongside the French Resistance, and eventually returned to their homeland only to be abandoned yet again when the Allies declined to finish the job of rooting out fascism. The Maquis continued to wage a losing war for years to come, buoyed only, as cartoonist and onetime soldier Josep Bartolí i Guiu put it, the possibility of “Republic, socialism, humanism.”
Resist!, co-designed by David Thompson, Trevor Benjamin, and Roger Tankersley, is a solitaire game about the brave men and women who strove to retake Spain. I’m tempted to declare it the best portrayal of a resistance movement ever put to cardboard. Here’s why.
For a while there, Darin Leviloff’s States of Siege system was a big deal for solitaire gaming. The concept was brilliantly simple: what if, rather than sprawling hex maps and proviso-laden movement priorities, conflicts were portrayed as tug-of-wars along lanes? The inaugural title in the series, Israeli Independence, was more a proof of concept than a full-fledged game, but it quickly drew imitators and iterators. Before long, the series stepped into many of history’s overlooked corners. Zulus on the Ramparts. Ottoman Sunset. Hapsburg Eclipse. Mound Builders.
The best entry in the series, however, gamified the under-publicized zombie invasion of Farmingdale. I’m speaking, of course, about Hermann Luttmann’s Dawn of the Zeds.
Nobles is a snack. Like John Clowdus’s Pocket Galapagos, it’s a bite-sized solo game preoccupied with the movement of cards from one place to another. Unlike that game, Nobles also taps into the joy of putting things into their proper arrangement, even when — perhaps especially when — it doesn’t feel much like a game at all.
Like everyone else, I’ve been playing a buttload of Regicide, designers Paul Abrahams, Luke Badger, and Andy Richdale’s game of royal assassination that can be played with any old deck of 52 playing cards.
Also like everybody else, I’m slightly smitten.
Across the span of 1700 to 1875, the Comanche carved an empire into the American southwest roughly the size of modern-day Texas. Their instruments were both legendary and notorious: open-handed trade, remorseless warfare, unparalleled horsemanship. “Comanche” means “the people.” To outsiders, it came to signify “the lords of the plains.”
Comanchería, as their empire was called, would not survive. Between outbreaks of smallpox and cholera, the extermination of the great herds of buffalo, and continued incursions, the Comanche gave ground, then dwindled, then accepted the treaty that consigned them to a reservation. Far from the cataclysmic fall of a great empire, it was a succession of small cuts, gnawing infections, and inflicted indignities.
Joel Toppen’s Comanchería: The Rise and Fall of the Comanche Empire captures every excruciating detail. It is one of the finest historical games I have ever played. It also represents one of the hardest gaming experiences of my adult life.
John Clowdus is best known for his sharp two-player designs, including gems such as The North, Bronze Age, and the big one, Omen: A Reign of War. Instead of sticking to the script, his latest effort is a solitaire game that fits into your pocket. Even a small pocket will serve. How does it stack up? Let’s take a look.
By this point, Tomas Uhlir’s Under Falling Skies has some minor history to it. Originally the winner of the 9-Card Nanogame Print & Play Design Contest, it was later developed and released by Czech Games Edition during the early weeks of social distancing. At the time I was taking advantage of my newfound loneliness to wrap up a few other solo titles. Put simply, I missed out. Now that CGE has given it a full release, I’m rectifying my omission by shouting the truth from the rooftops:
This is one of the finest solitaire games I have ever played.
Maxime Rambourg and Théo Rivière’s The Loop has a great sense of humor. It just isn’t my type of humor. Take the name of its time-traveling villain, Dr. Foo, and spitball the easiest jokes that come to mind. Lots of puns? Naturally. Foo Fighters? Certainly. Mr. T references? So many. Super underpants? That has nothing to do with “foo,” but sure.
Don’t take this as a slam. If anything, The Loop is so committed to its Saturday morning cartoon wackiness that it wins me over. A little bit. Not all the way. But enough to get past the candy colors and invest in the game’s quickly deteriorating timelines. Poo on you, Dr. Foo.