It isn’t often that the story behind a game is more interesting than the game itself. If you don’t believe me, try watching that documentary about Twilight Imperium.
Nyctophobia, though, is one of the few games that comes close. Created by Catherine Stippell as a way to include her blind uncle in the hobby — and possibly even grant him an advantage over those with functioning vision — Nyctophobia casts its players as teenagers fumbling through a darkened wood on a moonless night, navigating purely by touch as they scramble to rescue a friend who’s been bound as a vampire’s familiar.
As far as gimmicks go, donning blackout glasses is dang sexy. As a game? Well, let’s talk.
Every time an undergrad asks What if?, a history professor gets her tenure. Yet there’s an undeniable appeal to that question. What if Hitler had been shrewder about invading Russia? What if the United States had gone all-in on the Pacific rather than entering the European Theater? What if both Axis and Allied powers had teamed up to battle aliens? There’s no way to know, man.
Other than that last one, those are the questions at the heart of Cataclysm: A Second World War, Scott Muldoon and William Terdoslavich’s take on the devastating twentieth-century conflict. And they’re also the questions that arise approximately every two minutes while playing.
The cats are in charge. The noble birds are swooping from their roosts. A gathering of woodland smallfolk agitate in their holes and burrows, whispering, whispering. And a winsome raccoon packs his rucksack and sets out for adventure.
Adorable and ferocious in equal measure, Cole Wehrle’s Root is Redwall by way of A Distant Plain. And it’s both a total delight and the most accessible asymmetric experience Leder Games has produced thus far.
There’s something perfect about the eco-terrorist baddies of Mark Thomas and Pete Ruth’s SEAL Team Flix. Maybe it’s because they’re a throwback to Rainbow Six, a reminder of the tactical shooter’s spy thriller roots. Or maybe it’s because they’re threatening and preposterous in equal measure, a tightrope act between deadly serious and clowning silliness. Much like SEAL Team Flix itself, come to think of it.
Either way, ring the wedding bells and fetch the preacher, because I’m in love.
Ah, the stench of the arena. The sharp bite of steel, the tang of blood, the musk of fur and man-sweat barely concealed by a splash of olive oil. Breathe it in. Breathe it, I said. Because this is serious business, this gladiator stuff. Gladiat-ing has never been for the meek.
Carthage isn’t the first game to sashay into the arena, not by a long shot. But it just might be the first arena-smasher that’s actually a deck-building game. So: thumbs up or down? Let’s find out together.
Some games I appreciate for their elegance. Their brightness. Their sheer go-where-nobody-has-gone-before-ness. Others I appreciate because they’re garbage. Delicious, sugary, make-you-look-like-a-tire-swing-got-wedged-around-a-telephone-pole garbage.
See where I’m going with this?
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.
There’s something about Grant Rodiek’s most recent designs that’s equally bold and foolhardy. Bold, because he’s willing to toy with our preconceptions about tried-and-true game systems to an extreme that most designers would balk at. And foolhardy for, well, pretty much the same reason. Whether you’re drafting somebody else’s cards in Solstice/Imperius or fumbling with the blind wagers and multi-use cards of Five Ravens, you can wager green money that his games will see you doing something familiar in an entirely unfamiliar way.
Enter SPQF. It’s a history pun, standing for the Senatus Populusque Forest — while gleefully disregarding that a Latin forest doesn’t begin with “F.” And it’s a Disney’s Robin Hood’s take on deck- and civilization-building with a Rodiek twist: cute animals, familiar concepts, and one bear of a first play.
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.