At first glance, you might assume that Level 99’s forthcoming dueling game — coming to Kickstarter later this week — was the brainchild of D. Brad Talton, Jr. After all, Talton is one of modern gaming’s undisputed champions of two-player punch-’em-ups, with both the BattleCON and Exceed systems in his corner.
Instead, Temporal Odyssey appears courtesy of up-and-coming designer Chris Solis. But don’t let Solis’s newcomer status dissuade you, because this is one of the slickest two-player duels I’ve witnessed in a long time.
Ah, yes, those social deduction dollars. Even a company like Plaid Hat cannot resist their allure.
Crossfire — and we aren’t talking about that silly 1970s ultimate challenge commercial, nor the Shadowrun game — is the sort of title that’s going to have to justify its seat at the high table, especially now that higher-profile offerings like Secrets have wet their pants in public. Social deduction is tough, and for a genre about pulling the wool over your friends’ eyes, it seems there’s not much chance of fooling players into embracing a lesser option.
But here’s the weird thing. For a game that doesn’t even seem like it even wants to succeed, I’m actually a tiny bit enamored with this one.
One of the things I appreciated most about Geoff Engelstein’s board game rendering of The Expanse was the way it took the venerable Twilight Struggle’s very serious, very wargamey card system and bolted it over the top of something that had nothing to do with real-world history or politics. It was, if you want to be dramatic about it, a democratizing move. Where any quantity of board gamers might shy away from engaging with “serious” topics in their leisure time, The Expanse boasted a deeply smart card system layered over a fictional world, right down to its dumber-than-a-bucket Captain James Holden. If the hero doesn’t bust his noggin over political statements and colonial implications, why should you?
Now, in a surprise alliance between political-game veteran Cole Wehrle (Pax Pamir, An Infamous Traffic, the forthcoming John Company) and one of the industry’s freshest publishers of asymmetric buffoonery Leder Games (Vast: The Crystal Caverns), we’re witnessing what just might shape up to be the next step in the process of bending the branch of wargame-style gameplay into reaching distance of a more general audience.
The game in question is Root. It’s still in playtesting, likely won’t be out for a good long while, and details are still subject to change. But my impressions of an early build have been almost entirely positive.
When it comes to board game settings, I’m about as energized by the appearance of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu as by anything featuring zombies — as in, yeah, they’re overdone, but at least they’re easy to design around. Just as zombies provide baked-in behavior (walk and bite, walk and bite), the presence of Cthulhu & Co. means you know what you’re getting yourself into. Hooded cultists, the coastal hamlets of New England, encroaching madness, and the Arkham that isn’t associated with Batman. It’s thematic shorthand for “watch your health and sanity meters.”
It might be possible to say that Fate of the Elder Gods does the setting a service by letting you don the robes of the cultists themselves as you strive to summon your chosen mind-flaying monster, but it’s hardly the first to do so. Instead, we’ll have to settle for celebrating the fact that it’s a surprisingly good screw-your-buddies affair.
There’s something insecure about the title of 878: Vikings — Invasions of England, as though the creators weren’t sure they’d sufficiently clarified their intent. It’s set in the year 878, check. Also there are Vikings, sure. And they’re invading England, right. The only missing elements are motive, opportunity, and outcome.
Clunky title aside, 878: Vikings is a successor to Academy Games’ Birth of America series, which featured the rather-good 1775: Rebellion. And for the most part, it’s as fun as being on the pitching side of a monastery raid.
I’m a huge fan of Joseph Fatula’s Leaving Earth and its expansion Outer Planets. They’re messy in some ways, but that’s precisely why I like them — much like actual space exploration, they’re a cross between careful preparation and outrageous risk-taking, between brute-forcing the math and forgetting to take a heat shield on your trip to Venus. Back to the drawing board you go, again and again, until you get it right. Or somewhere closer to right than you were before, anyway.
Leaving Earth’s second expansion, Stations, feels like a microcosm of the whole thing, and not just because it’s all about adding a ton of extra depth to the exploration of the inner planets. Rather, in between offering new toys, new objectives, and new wonders to uncover, it still can’t seem to shrug off its former messiness, and even seems insistent on adding a few new problems.
At first glance, I gave Downforce a pass. After all, of Restoration Games’ opening catalog of refurbished games from times past, my interest was more piqued by Stop Thief! and Indulgence, in part because I’ve never been partial to racing games.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. Downforce is not only the best of the three, it’s also hardly a racing game at all. Instead, it’s a game about being the biggest jerk on the track and coming away filthy rich.
Mistborn: House War is a bit of an odd duck. Based on Brandon Sanderson’s much-loved series, it sees you taking command of Vin, Kelsier, and the rest of those scrappy rebels as they seek to topple the rapacious Final Empire.
Except, oops, it isn’t about that at all. Instead, House War’s protagonists are the first book’s sub-baddies, the Great Houses who squabble, gossip, and often lend that “rapacious” an uncomfortable edge. And they’d very much like to kill off the heroes of the books.
OK Play isn’t the usual sort of thing I write about, but… um…
All right, look, I don’t have an excuse. Deep down, all we’re doing in this hobby is playing with toys, and OK Play looked like it would be fun to play with. Not necessarily by following its rules, but just by clicking it around. It’s sixty little squares of plastic attached to four prongs that are connected to a carabiner. And yeah, it’s a lot of fun to goof around with. I basically use it like a stress ball or fidget spinner. Clickety clack clickety clack. 10/10.
Sentient is a bit of a weird one. By plugging robots into your mainframe — and doing your best to keep things orderly when their growing awareness starts to kick back — you hope to position your company at the forefront of the sentient revolution. It sounds like the first act of a robot uprising story, not a game designed around basic algebraic operations.
It doesn’t help that the game’s setting is about as substantial as chalk dust. As a thought experiment, my gaming group redesigned the whole thing on the spot to be about trying to persuade our pal Geoff to do us a favor, wherein his mental states — things like “playing Angry Birds right now” and “has another question about the rules” — might begin to affect our collective mood. It worked just fine.
But that’s where Sentient sets itself apart, because in spite of its insubstantial fluff and algebra-based gameplay — or perhaps thanks to it — it’s a surprisingly excellent filler.