Black Mirror‘s “Nosedive” is the sort of thing certain people might call “relevant.” A kinda-sorta utopian state with an ugly undercurrent, check. Suspicion of how much trust we invest in social media, check. The assumption that score aggregators will ruin everything about our society, oh yes I am so with you. Never mind that Community‘s “App Development and Condiments” did the same thing (and far more joyously) over two years earlier. No really, don’t worry about it. The more we’re complaining about social media, the happier this duck gets.
And now there’s a board game, published by Asmodee but currently without a listed designer or artist — which is oddly appropriate, given the game’s roots in dystopian fiction. Also appropriate is that, in direct parallel with the social media hellscape “Nosedive” was caterwauling about, the game is total and absolute poo.
With its pedigree, you’d think Secrets would stand out as one of the finest creations ever put to cardboard. Bruno Faidutti stands at one end, with hits like Citadels, Mission: Red Planet, and Mascarade in his pocket, while Eric Lang inhabits the other. And if you don’t know who Eric Lang is, might I recommend Blood Rage or Chaos in the Old World? A social deduction by those two seems like a no-brainer.
But as it would turn out, no brains isn’t the right way to go for a social deduction game. At least not unless you’re content making a merely okay one.
Everybody’s heard of Carcassonne, right? No, not the French city, smart-ass. The board game. That’s all we talk about here. Catch up.
Anyway, it’s perfectly pleasant. Put down some tiles, build some roads and castles, maybe there’s the occasional chapel. When you put down your little meeple guys, they earn points from all those cheerful little features of geography. Now imagine that but in real-time, everyone rushing to put tiles down, fumbling over themselves to fill in an open space, while still coming up with a coherent strategy. It sounds like madness, yeah?
Well, sure, it is a bit bonkers. But since this is a game from Christophe Boelinger, creator of Archipelago, it somehow works like a charm.
As a kid, I was never any good at those Choose Your Own Adventure books. For one thing, I wanted to see every twist and ending the book had to offer, even the ones where my character died a grisly death or suddenly woke up and realized the whole thing had been an elaborate dream. Unless I read every single page, I didn’t feel like it had been worth it. The problem was that I wanted to accomplish this without having to reread anything. And so I dog-eared those books until there were more pages bent-down than in their original shape, and kept my fingers wedged at crucial junctures, and eventually resorted to drawing crazy-person diagrams with arrows pointing between important decisions. Anything to keep from reading even a single page over again.
Years later, T.I.M.E Stories has earned the distinction of being the first board game to prompt the resurgence of my childhood neurosis.
We number one shy of a dozen, dressed to the nines and seated around the heavily-grained table of Hotel Nacional’s grand ballroom. Through the high windows, propped open to let in the cool salt air, I can see Havana Harbor, smell it, taste it. Smoke curls over the dance floor, points of light glowing as made men chew the ends of their cigars. Motionless along the back of the room, hands clasped and suits crumpled from previous victims putting up a fight, the godfather’s men stand, faces unreadable.
“Don Daniel,” the godfather says, rolling his pig’s eyes in my direction. His mouth is turned down in a frown so deep it’s almost comical. Would be comical if it didn’t mean he might be about to order those crumpled men to drag me down to the harbor, wingtips kicking gravel and fists punching the salt air. Just like he had done with Don Alberto minutes before. The diamonds from the godfather’s enameled cigar case tickle at my breast, itching to be let out. “Don Daniel,” the godfather repeats. “Empty your pockets.”
I’m no particular fan of any period of American history other than the Roaring Twenties, but even I know the broad strokes of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Ah, to venture into the great unknown-to-white-man! Ah, to journey alongside John Ordway and Patrick Gass! Ah, to name Old Faithful after the latter’s dependable flatulence!
Yes yes, I realize that the Lewis and Clark expedition skirted around Yellowstone by a hair. However! It was later “discovered” by John Colter, a member of the expedition who went on to become the first genuine mountain man. When he saw that there geyser, it reminded him of his old friend Patrick Gass, and thus a legend was born. And there’s no way to disprove that.
Our more astute readers will likely note that I already reviewed Colt Express back in January. But — bonus! — I’ve now reviewed it all over again down at The Review Corner, so if you somehow missed my first try at explaining precisely why I keep robbing the same old train, just mosey on over and I’ll do my best to explain.
There’s something both magical and terrifying about Dixit. And I mean that in a far more literal sense than usual.
Communication is tough, as anyone who’s been in a regular human relationship can attest. Our attempts often fall short. Too much, too little, too vague — even too precise. With effort, you can get better at it. Refine it. Figure out when to use it and what type and how much, maybe even realize that sometimes you shouldn’t use it at all. But even then, you can’t ever quite get there. To the point that everyone will know exactly what you’re talking about, I mean. Sure, they’ll hear the words that are coming out of your mouth, assembled from a limited set of vowels and consonants, but how often will they understand, really understand, what you’re trying to say? Sometimes, maybe. But not as often as we’d like to think.
Well. That’s what Dixit is about.
What’s the Western really about? Glad you asked. That’s one of my favorite questions. Ahem. Picture, if you would, the friscalating dusklight, making pillared shadows from a ghost town’s boot hill; the rich purples and scattershot crimsons of the evening silhouetting the lone stranger, Winchester thrown over his shoulder and horse led by a braided cord long worn smooth, the—
What’s that? You don’t have the time for this?
Well then. Fine. Colt Express it is.
I’ll come out right and say it: Hyperborea isn’t actually hyper-boring. That was just too good a pun to pass up.
Rather, Hyperborea is interesting. Interesting and also, unfortunately, a disappointment to its mother. She tells people it’s an investment banker.