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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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As Alone as a Unicorn Horn

Score: 8/10. Title Score: 3/10.

In recent news, scientists have determined that the worst thing in the world of video games is the escort mission. You know what I’m talking about. For whatever reason, mission command has given you the task of guiding a brain-dead moron from one spot to another, without the necessary equipment or manpower, along a route known to be infested with enemies who have a fanatical hatred of the person or vehicle in your charge.

Unicornus Knights is a two-hour-long escort mission. With her kingdom recently annexed by the neighboring empire, Princess Cornelia has decided to inspire an uprising, march straight across the countryside, and win back her tenuous ancestral claim to other people’s labor. Unlike some of her lesser peers, she’s unperturbed by questions of practicality. How will she keep the troops fed? Trounce the petty tyrants standing between her and the capital? Marshal her troops in battle? It’s safe to say that she really has no idea. Birthright, maybe.

That’s where you come in. As one of the Princess’s trusty knights, it’s your job to — well, to do everything the Princess is too important to do. Like prevent her from suicide-marching straight into an unwinnable fight.

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Alone on a Dark Night

They missed a beat having this be the only available image on BGG. The actual box cover features all twenty-nine heroes. TWENTY-NINE.

Darkest Night was one of the first games I ever played solo. It arrived with a tiny board with jigsaw-puzzle connectors, smoky laser-charred wooden standees, and a napkin for wiping the soot off your fingers when you were done punching everything out. For months it retained that campfire reek, like summers up the canyon, like burning villages, like a necromancer’s grip tightening around a fantasy kingdom’s throat.

It got its grip around my throat as well. With its thickly despairing gameplay, religion-gone-literal subtext, and smoke filling my nostrils, I defeated the necromancer time after time. More often, it was him who did the defeating.

Sadly, Darkest Night was a flawed game, and it fizzled from my table as abruptly as it had flickered to life in the first place. Its central notion — that your heroes were waging a guerrilla resistance and would spend more time hiding than fighting — was undercut by the fact that it was relatively easy to defend a single hero chilling in the corner. This hero could spend every turn searching for keys, which would unlock relics, which in turn would slay evil once and for all. A to B to C to Dead Necromancer, all without leaving the comfort of a single space. So much for guerrilla warriors. More like renegade metal detectorists.

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Alone Beneath the Sea

Fabulous beard? Yeah, I'd follow that guy against the colonial powers too.

It’s rare enough that a game gets a second chance, let alone when it’s a niche solo title. Based on Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Nemo’s War held a formidable reputation for its brutal difficulty, constant barrage of dice rolls, and tangible sense of setting. It’s Nemo and his Nautilus against an entire world of colonial powers. And, tipping my hand right now, its polished second edition is easily one of the slickest solo games ever crafted.

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