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.
There’s a familiar formula to cooperative board games. Call it the Pandemic Formula. Every turn, four problems are added to the board. Your character can easily remove one or two of these problems, perhaps three with great effort. Because you’re always adding more problems than you can subtract, the game has a built-in tipping point, a cascade from which recovery is impossible. Fortunately, there’s a solution somewhere. A cure. When acquired, this will nullify the cascade before it ever happens. So the game becomes a balancing act. Chase the solution while delaying the inevitable.
What Benjamin Farahmand’s Faza asks is, what if instead of adding only four problems, each turn adds ten, chases you with a murder-ship, and irreversibly terraforms a patch of the planet?
The door swings open to reveal a board game critic. Slovenly, pretentious, angry at the world for none of the right reasons. He turns his wild eyes on you. “Hey. Wanna hear my theory about how the important but muted role of Catan’s robber pawn represents the erasure of Narragansett Algonquins from New Englander awareness after King Philip’s War?”
You must choose one option…
Agree: You acquiesce and sit across from the critic. Roll seven Vigor in three attempts to stay awake or lose 2HP.
Evade: Ask if the critic has heard of Monopoly. Begin Close Combat…
Then turn the next chapter card to read on.
In my very first course after changing my major to history, my midterm paper came back with a scrawled note in purple ink: “Good writing, good argumentation, but too polemical.”
Too polemical. I’ve been waiting to drop that one on some unsuspecting victim ever since. You could even say it’s one of the reasons I was so eager to write about Ben Madison’s solo game The Mission, which charts the history of Christianity over its first thousand years. “From the Crucifixion to the Crusades,” as its subtitle goes. Sounds polemical to me! Brace yourself, Ben Madison, for thou art—
Medium polemical? Somewhat polemical? Acceptably polemical? Certainly not polemical enough for “too” polemical. If any “too” should be deployed, The Mission is too preoccupied with being playable. A difficult charge to make stick in court. If it please your honor, The Mission is guilty of being too good to be polemical. First-degree playable, second-degree polemical. And here I’d expected those to be the other way around.