One of the big questions in wargame design is how one ought to simulate the range of possible outcomes. Take the Battle of the Bulge. Should a designer concede to playability by pretending that the German Ardennenfront could turn aside the Allied advance? Or should they instead presume that German victory could only be measured by some other metric, such as days or weeks of delay? Press a little deeper and you get questions about balance and historical determinism. Maybe, just maybe, we can rethink what it means to “win” in the first place.
That’s exactly what Amabel Holland has done with Endurance. Right from the outset, her rulebook warns that the survival of Ernest Shackleton and the twenty-seven members of his crew is not a historical given. Their escape, in her words, was “a fluke.” It shouldn’t have happened. It nearly didn’t happen. Roll the dice a hundred times in a hundred parallel simulations and it might never happen again.
That’s the first thesis behind Endurance, but it isn’t the most essential of them.
Space-Cast! #23. Watch Out! That’s an Amabel!
Once again we’re joined by Amabel Holland. This year, we discuss her forthcoming freebie game Watch Out! That’s a Dracula!, along with legacy games, textually queer games, and a transition in the tone of her work.
Listen over here or download here. Timestamps are after the jump.
Draculas, Frankensteins, Woofmans
Every year, Amabel Holland designs a freebie game for Hollandspiele’s Hollandays sale. In the past, certain of these freebies have even been among the year’s best.
Watch Out! That’s a Dracula! might be my favorite yet. And not only because it treats Dracula like an absolute doofus.
Siege of Manatee
Sometimes I wonder why I play games. Not in a terminal sense. I’m not about to kick the habit. Rather, in the sense that certain games, in particular those about warfare or politics or society, are more than mere playthings. They’re possibilities for illumination. I play for enjoyment as much as the next person. But I also play to explore ideas and history.
Amabel Holland’s catalog is rife with such explorations. It’s also full of trifles. That isn’t meant as dismissive. Sometimes, though, the line is blurry, scattering my expectations into disarray. So it is with Siege of Mantua, Holland’s first block wargame, which zooms in on a crucial slice of Napoleon Bonaparte’s campaign to break the first coalition’s efforts against the fledgling French Republic.
Of Aglets and Eyelets
I’ve always been jealous of people who could transform knotted shoelaces into elaborate cat’s cradles. Or, frankly, people who could tie their shoes without them coming undone five minutes later. There’s a reason I’m a socks-in-Birkenstocks kind of guy.
Amabel Holland’s Eyelet is a game for those folks. For me, it’s closer to therapy.
When All the Good Routes Aragon…
Yesterday we looked at Amabel Holland’s Trans-Siberian Railroad, a cube rails game so stuffed with ideas it had a serious case of stomach cramps. Published only two years later, Iberian Gauge tinkers in similar spaces. This time, however, its appetite and gaze are simpatico.
I’ve been playing a handful of train games lately. Try not to faint. I’ve suffered through by reminding myself that the trains aren’t the actual focus.
Honestly, I’m glad I did. Amabel Holland’s 2015 Trans-Siberian Railroad recently earned a reprint from Rio Grande Games, which means its winsome self has been trotted out for the enjoyment of a new generation. It’s bursting with ideas. Sometimes in a good way.
Space-Cast! #16. A Nicaea Conversation
Nearly seventeen hundred years ago, a bunch of theology nerds were called together to answer one simple question: what is the nature of God? Their answer has shaped the way we’ve thought about the divine ever since. That’s the topic of Amabel Holland’s Nicaea, plus an irreverent twist or two. Today, Amabel joins us to chat about orthodoxy, heresy, and the politicking that happened in between the extremes all those years ago.
Listen over here or download here. Timestamps can be found after the jump.
Nicaea, Now I Don’t
Ecumenical councils aren’t exactly the topic everybody stays awake for, but there’s a good chance you’ve heard of the Council of Nicaea. Flush with success after unifying the Roman Empire, the Emperor Constantine had made himself the patron of Christianity, a major turnaround after the persecutions of Emperor Diocletian only a decade earlier. But Constantine’s fledgling religious program faced one major problem: rumblings of controversy in Alexandria over the nature of Christ. To avert potential embarrassment — or worse, schism — Constantine convened his council in 325 CE, leading to the first sweeping statement of orthodoxy in Christian canon.
That’s the part you probably know. Less publicized is the base political nature of the outcome, all those long-held and supposedly sincere doctrinal positions wilting in the face of the Council’s pronouncements. Although the attending bishops began almost evenly split, in the end only three out of three hundred refused to side with the majority and retain their privileges and positions. A miracle, perhaps. Or maybe, just maybe, ambition and cowardice played as much a role as they always do.
So begins Amabel Holland’s Nicaea, an irreverent, boisterous, and gleefully blasphemous assault on the entire concept of orthodoxy. Expect some ruffled feathers and you won’t be disappointed.