Blog Archives

Social Deduction’s Last Gleaming

The menace was capitalism all along.

Of all the many virtues a board game may hold, brevity seems to be the most dazzling. “It’s Game X but shorter!” we say, breathless at the prospect of compressing each hour of play into forty-five minutes, half an hour, the heartbeat of a hummingbird. It’s like shortening recess for adults.

And hey, I get it. Really. After all, a number of positive improvements are directly connected to time-saving measures. Decreased waits between turns, fewer needless components to fiddle with, decisions spaces that are honed rather than sprawling. It’s easy to confuse the distinction between sharp and slender.

Speaking of which, The Menace Among Us is Battlestar Galactica in forty minutes. Kinda-sorta.

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Literal Abomination: The Frankengame

Actually, she's the one who's broken into his house with murder on her thoughts. That'll teach you to judge.

It’s the Age of the Hybrid. Fair enough. Got a spare mechanism? Cram it in there. Shove something else to the side if you need to make room. When you’re finished, your deck-building set-collection roll-and-move dexterity game won’t only be named everybody’s game of the year, but game of the millennium, going down in history alongside Senet and Chess as the most likely to be extracted from a garbage dump by alien archaeologists.

Except here’s the thing: you’ve got to make it stick. Like stitching together body parts from a dozen “donors” to create a companion for Frankenstein’s Monster, your creation needs to walk and talk and probably shag. And none of that is happening without functioning ligaments and tendons and everything else that puts a body into motion and keeps it from sloughing apart after a handshake.

Want a negative example? There are few finer than Abomination: The Heir of Frankenstein.

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(Un)Match This

I will confess to this tidbit of juvenalia: whenever I see pained expressions on board game boxes, I mentally categorize them into their bathroom states. Medusa seems fine, but Alice has had way too much fiber, and Sinbad is super relieved that his hemorrhoids aren't acting up.

Being in high school during the Prequel Trilogy didn’t remedy my absent appreciation for Star Wars. Nor did it improve my chances of playing that Epic Duels game the other nerds set up in the journalism room. Don’t get me wrong, the problem wasn’t the game. It was my total lack of interest in seeing who would win between Hayden Christensen and that jetpack-wearing space praetorian who defeated himself by flying into a pit. So hip. I can totally see it. No, please don’t explain it to me.

The motto for Restoration Games is “Every Game Deserves Another Turn.” A lovely sentiment! Especially in an age where far too many releases are forgotten within a month. But what I appreciate most about their work is how they’ve given me a first turn at a handful of games I otherwise missed. Unmatched: Battle of Legends is their latest. And although I never got around to playing Epic Duels, it’s already obvious that this is the superior version. No space wizards, for one.

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World War 2 Chest

C'mon boys! The latrines are that way! Surplus army meat taco night won't keep these troopers grounded!

You might recall a game from last year by the name of War Chest. Designed by Trevor Benjamin and David Thompson, War Chest was lavishly produced but fell prey to the same problem that plagues many modern abstract games. Namely, it lost sight of the joys of outmaneuvering an opponent by focusing too heavily on attritional tit for tat.

Undaunted: Normandy, by the same design duo, also tends to dwell on matters of attrition. In some ways it feels like an exploration of the same design space, despite differences of setting and even the lion’s share of its underlying systems. Here is another game by Benjamin and Thompson that features a flexible but finite pool of units, which might eventually become so depleted that they’re left sitting on the board with nothing to do but absorb another hit.

But here’s the thing — Undaunted: Normandy works. In fact, it’s a masterclass in how to put attrition front and center without strangling a game’s momentum.

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Roll Through the Equal Rights Amendment

The Equal Rights Amendment of 476-1492CE basically just says, "Nope."

Matt Leacock may have gained public acclaim thanks to Lunatix Loop and Knit Wit, but I must confess a heterodox belief that Pandemic, Roll Through the Ages, and Forbidden Desert will eventually be recognized as his more influential designs. Consider Era: Medieval Age as a prime example. As a successor to Roll Through the Ages it sheds the system’s slimness for a small hill of plastic, but it also happens to be a near-perfect dice game.

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Captain Doomsday Laser

how dastardly

Looking back over Tim Fowers’ ludography, one encounters titles like Burgle Bros, Paperback, Hardback, and Fugitive. Small games that defy their size by yielding plenty of play. Bite-sized experiences that mingle with your saliva to swell into a wadded sock that leaves your jaw unhinged and your throat blocked. Except in a good way.

And then there’s… this. If not for the distinctive artwork from Ryan Goldsberry, the large unfolding box, plentiful miniatures, and over-the-top production of Sabotage would feel like a symptom of a minimalist recently disabused of his convictions. This is what happens when the Church of Portable collapses into schism, with Fowers playing Luther and Jeff Krause as that little Oecolampadius fellow.

How strange, then, that Sabotage might also be the best game we’ve seen from this little studio thus far.

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Two Minds About Untold

Publishers: When you don't upload a box image, this is what you get. And studies have shown that you sell 15000% fewer copies as a result.

Brock: Do you hear that? On the wind? It’s a whisper, drifting from the remotest corners of tabletop gamedom…

It’s not a gaaaaame.”

This time on Two Minds About, Dan and I take a look at Untold: Adventures Await, from designers John Fiore and Rory O’Connor. Did this box transport us to new worlds? Were we ensorcelled by its rapturous cardboard mendacity? Read on to find out!

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Advancement Tracks

The etymologist in me keeps reading this as "the study of tape."

Genre is a funny thing. What counts as a western, for example? Or noir? Is there a tipping point between horror and action-horror? Do genres inform our artistic decisions, or are they labels we slap onto things to arrange them into tidy boxes?

Even though it hasn’t officially hit retail yet, Jamey Stegmaier’s Tapestry has already proven divisive. Right there beneath its title, it announces its intentions. A Civilization Game, it says, front-loading expectations with a whole lot of history. But if it’s a civilization game, it’s certainly an unorthodox one. Some have called it an evolution. Others seem to consider it a misfire. As someone who’s deeply interested in “alternate” civgames, those that seek to portray the sweep of human experience in ways that haven’t been endlessly rehashed, I’ve picked my side. I’ll put it this way: if civgames were westerns, Tapestry would be Cowboys & Aliens.

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Barker Placement: A Look at The Grand Carnival

This guy is totally going to cannibalize somebody when they're trapped after hours at the carnival.

Back in March I wrote about the seven best prototypes of SaltCon, including my personal favorite, The Grand Museum by Rob Cramer. You might remember Rob as the designer of the very silly wallet game Turbo Drift. Or maybe you don’t, because wallet games are tiny and often overlooked among the slew of big releases that clog up the headlines every month.

Well, fate is a strange thing, and not only because it doesn’t exist. After some retooling and a whole lot of development, The Grand Museum is back as The Grand Carnival, it’s better in nearly every way, and I’m here to tell you about it.

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Hollow Is Right

No idea why the actual box art hasn't been uploaded. Oh well!

As much as I appreciate asymmetry, not every game needs its sides to adhere to different rules. But as long as you’re going for it, there are worse pitches than Skulk Hollow. Basically, it’s man versus monster — except the men are foxes and the monsters are ten-story behemoths reminiscent of Shadow of the Colossus, including the “clamber up their short hairs to stab them in the soft spots” part.

I’ll say this for Skulk Hollow: ambition isn’t its problem.

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