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Winterbjorn

Winterborne: Yes, we have four player colors.

There’s a pleasant familiarity to rondels. Around and around your pawns go, their position determining what you’ll be doing this turn. Why do they complete this circuit, this flat circle of time? Are they fleeing or chasing, running toward or running away? Perhaps there is a deeper reason. Perhaps, if they repeat these rotations to satisfaction before the game is concluded, they will come face to face with themselves at last. Then there will be no more running. Only acceptance.

Or maybe it’s only because rondels are an efficient way to narrow a wide range of options to a digestible handful. That’s the case in Winterborne, anyway.

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Five Generations: A Look at Oath

Our people have always been here, according to some. But only some. Don't listen to the honey dripped in your ears. There's no shortage of folk who'll talk foolishness — that the six tribes were descended from sextuplets born of a river so high in the mountains it near meets the sky; that their children were fated together from the moment the cord was cut; that together, we, the children of their children's children, form a union inseparable. A Commonwealth. There's that word. Commonwealth. Its meaning is as old as stones. Older even than some of the legends. But legends are stories that grew too big for their skirts. I'm a history man. We speak only stories that are true. Even when we lie. Especially then.

History is a funny thing. Ask yourself, what era do you live in? The modern age? Postmodern? Information? The Holocene, more specifically the Meghalayan? Or will the historians of far-flung generations assign a designation that doesn’t capture any of the details you personally associate with this moment? Everything our culture has accomplished, compressed by distance and necessity, into the Aluminum Age. At long last, the dead of the Bronze Age will nod in satisfaction at our diminishment.

When I spoke to Cole Wehrle about Oath, he called it a “hate letter” to civilization games and legacy games. It’s easy to see why. Like digging the fragments of a lost civilization from the compacted mass of an ancient trash heap, there are fragments to be found, shards and sherds, enough to make out an unmistakable imprint or two. Oath is a civilization game, but not like any you’ve played before. And it’s also a legacy game, but even less familiar. This is what I think about it. This is also the story of my first six plays. I hope you’ll soon understand why they’re the same thing.

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Best Week 2019! The Index!

Wee Aquinas can't decide if he has facial hair or not.

Another year, another Best Week. Below you’ll find the whole thing, indexed for ease of access. Simply click any of the images to be whisked away to the relevant article. And if you’re desperate for more Best Week but don’t want to wait until 2020, there’s nothing stopping you from reading and rereading these same articles. With some minor memory erasure, each encounter can be like new!

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Best Week 2019! The Corrivals!

Wee Aquinas is amazed that the baby is up so early. Argh.

Righteous fury. It’s what makes me holler and huff at game night. Not very many games can spark it in me, but a few are experts at grinding my competitive side to a razor’s edge.

Today we’re talking about the year’s best games for getting hot under the collar, steamed in the head, and so spanking mad you can hardly see straight. These are the titles that make you drop the f-bomb at that one guy in your game group. They are reminders that we are reasonable beings second, that for uncountable eons before we sat down on the couch to talk it out, our first and original nature was that of tooth and claw. We have incisors and canines for a reason. These games are that reason.

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Best Week 2019! The Conceptualists!

Wee Aquinas thinks of himself as a concept album.

Like a mat of bacteria growing fuzzy on reliable feedstock, it sometimes seems like this industry thrives on imitation. But that’s only possible thanks to a rarer sort of game, those that step beyond assumed limits to create something truly unique. Thus the cycle perpetuates itself: imitation spawns innovation, which breeds further imitation. So shall it continue until sentient life is extinguished by atomic entropy.

Today is for the pioneers, those games that took a chance and, even if they were flawed in some way, managed to stick the landing. The year’s concept albums, in other words.

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Best Week 2019! The Raconteurs!

Wee Aquinas has a story of his own...

It wouldn’t be a good year without at least a handful of games that know how to spin a yarn. Like any good storyteller, these understand that while the destination matters, the journey is the more important portion. Also like a good storyteller, nobody would describe them as “tight.” To be frank, some of these are flabs. Some have sharp edges. They make mistakes some folks argue should have been eliminated from board games centuries ago.

Not me. The joy of these games is found in the stories they tell. Sharp edges? Psh. You know what has sharp edges? Books, baby.

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Best Week 2019! The Aesthetes!

Already Wee Aquinas is warning me that x isn't a good enough game to make this list. The punk.

Another day, another fraction of Best Week come and gone. Gone, too, are countless possible categories. To tell you the truth, the process of sorting these lists is so tricky that I’ve considered defaulting to “prettiest games.” Problem is, have you seen games these days? They’re crazy. Entire mountains of colorful plastic. Louvre-worthy art out the wazoo. One of the handsomest games of 2019 wasn’t even eligible for consideration because it was an unreleased prototype.

Which is why today’s victors are more than merely pretty. These are the titles where visuals are the gameplay. Where your decisions are based largely upon the visual information spread before you. In many cases, the math takes a backseat to the arrangement and spacing of the pieces. And often, this visual shorthand prompts both a synesthetic reflex and unexpected consequences.

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Best Week 2019! The Inveiglers!

Wee Aquinas is already giving me stink-eye for that box rip.

Ah. Welcome. The wheel has turned once again, my friend. Here we stand upon the precipice of a new year. Let us then consider the best games of 2019. There is no better time for looking backward than when we look forward.

Today is a celebration of the charmers, the dashers, the titles you could bring home to mom and not worry about getting asked whether you’ve had your immunizations. It isn’t that they’re soft, although it’s true enough that some of these palms haven’t been worn rough by hard labor. Rather, they’re enticing. These are the games designed to appeal to weathered gamers and pine-scented newcomers alike. They beckon. Oh, how they beckon.

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Making Waves

And then they kiss. With tongue.

Longtime readers may recall my appreciation for the solipsistic hellscape that is human language, the inefficient and ambiguous transfer of information generated by whistling air between slabs of meat, often followed by transcribing those whistles via pigment or pixels, and rarely wholly understood by those on the receiving end. Truly, we are the aliens. See also Dixit, Mysterium, and Codenames for a heightened sense of foreignness within your own skin.

This holiday season I’ve discovered a new inducer of existential angst. Co-designed by Alex Hague, Justin Vickers, and Wolfgang Warsch (best known for it’s-a-game The Mind), this one is called Wavelength. And when I’m pondering the Cartesian isolation of my reasoning mind from the remainder of this universe, my time with it has very nearly approached enjoyable.

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Everything but Luxembourg

Poor Jesus.

If you want a design’s corners sanded smooth, Tom Russell isn’t your man. For a perfect example, look no further than his recent game about the Peace of Westphalia. The version you learned in high school was likely abridged: Westphalia concluded the Thirty Years’ and Eighty Years’ Wars, hammered out the first inklings of international state sovereignty, and upheld that one Latin phrase from the Peace of Augsburg that you forgot by the time the test rolled around. Three points. With an introduction and conclusion, that’s exactly enough for a standard five-paragraph essay.

But Russell isn’t writing a five-paragraph essay. His Westphalia is molded after the complicated historical version of events, the one that featured over a hundred delegations that never met at the same time, yet still wheedled over the table while stabbing each other under it. Why? Because they were terribly in debt. So it goes. This is history with its corners left unsanded. Eight million dead, years of prevarication, and all because everybody’s credit cards were maxed out.

In order to depict this dire state of affairs, Russell doesn’t divide his players into one hundred delegations. He doesn’t even require more than two hours. Instead, he presents a negotiation game that’s both spare and expansive, clunky and elegant. And it all begins with the setup.

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