Look, it isn’t that I don’t have the utmost faith in Seattle design collective Prospero Hall. I do. It’s just that their best games, titles like Horrified and Jaws, have been pitch-perfect distillations of licensed topics. Even How to Rob a Bank had its cartoony heist vibe going for it. Pan Am, on other hand? Since the airline’s bankruptcy in 1991, who’s passing out that license? I suppose there’s a solid probability that the answer is Disney. But why now? Is 2020 the year the Pan Am image needed a boost? Or has someone at the collective been holding onto their sweet Pan Am idea for decades?
Never mind. There are two main takeaways from this one. First, Pan Am is a graceful blend of worker placement, bidding, and stock hoarding. And second, it’s very nearly a commentary on the zombie-like nature of twentieth-century capitalism.
I appreciate any game that makes an argument. Even — perhaps especially — if I don’t agree with that argument. Even rarer is a game that makes multiple arguments for the price of one. All the better if some of those arguments are at odds with its other arguments, like a hydra snapping at its own throats.
Cole Wehrle’s Pax Pamir is one such game.
Across two editions and an expansion, Pax Pamir makes three distinct arguments from two separate authors. Those arguments have been both criticized and applauded, sometimes fairly and sometimes reflexively. Because this is the internet, both the critiques and the celebrations have often been painfully simplified. It would require an essay apiece just to deconstruct them fully. Rather than doing so, I want to touch upon all three so as to examine something tangential to their specific stances on the subject of the Great Game in 1823-1845 Afghanistan — namely, how differences of framing prompt divergent readings of Pax Pamir as a cultural artifact and historical argument.
Today marks the 500th anniversary of the conclusion of the 1520 summit between King Henry VIII of England and King Francis I of France. The purpose of this summit was nothing less than the leveraging of the scales of power in Europe. Long story short, Francis was the sovereign of one of two European superpowers — the other being Charles V of the Hapsburg Empire — and as such, he hoped to recruit the up-and-coming Henry VIII as an ally. Instead, they feasted and jousted and showed off fancy clothes for over two weeks, caused the site in Balingham to be named Camp du Drap d’Or, and, after frittering away unthinkable wealth, failed to produce an alliance when England hopped into bed with the Hapsburgs anyway.
Tom Russell’s The Field of the Cloth of Gold is an appropriate commemoration. Unlike the actual summit, this outing is a trifle, a game designed briskly and minimally. Yet its frivolousness is all the more fitting for the real event’s excesses, a chuckle at the peacocking its sovereigns would undertake in the name of an alliance that never materialized.
In other words, this is a wonderful send-up of the absurdities of Medieval gift-giving — and also point-salad game design. Different epochs, perfect bedfellows. And Russell has his tongue firmly embedded in his cheek as he officiates the marriage.
You’ve probably heard of Cole Wehrle. But have you heard Cole Wehrle arguing? On today’s episode of the Space-Biff! Space-Cast!, join Dan and Cole as we talk about argument and simulation in board games, explore a few deeply accusatory questions about second editions, and settle the conundrum of how Rome fell. Or did it?
I love the gentle irony of Unmatched becoming the flagship property of Restoration Games. You know, the company dedicated to remaking older titles. Yes, yes, I’m aware that Unmatched is a quasi-remake of Star Wars: Epic Duels, but come on — that “quasi” is doing some world championship lifting.
Lest you assume I’m being sarcastic, I can assure you that my affection is genuine. The initiatory set, Unmatched: Battle of Legends, was one of the best games of 2019. My only complaint was that it was a mite too basic. With so many titles passing through every month, I wanted to see Daviau & Co. put their best foot forward. Show us the weird stuff! Go crazy with your characters! There’s no guarantee of any property surviving even a few weeks, let alone long enough to justify additional releases.
Well, I’m happy to eat my fedora, because Unmatched is still kicking. Better yet, Cobble & Fog is easily the most confident set in the series thus far.
Woe is me. I have let too many previews pile up, and now the reaper is coming to collect his due. What follows are three games that I’ve played only in limited fashion — digitally, in prototype, with unfinished components or rules — but certainly enough to get excited about. In other words, it’s fun to be enthusiastic, but be warned that the final game might be totally different from what I actually played.
Cool? Cool. Here we go.
My grandfather was a bomber squadron commander in the Army Air Corps in WWII. I went most of my childhood without knowing that. He didn’t speak of his time in the Pacific until late in his life, and then only sporadically, quietly, with great effort. He saw friends die and planes fall. His own plane fell. He spent months in recovery before resuming combat missions. The first I heard of his service was at a family gathering. My cousin loaded up a flight sim, undoubtedly rudimentary but photorealistic in my memory. Grandpa watched, hands on hips, frowning in disapproval. One of my uncles told us to turn it off. That it was bothering grandpa.
Grandpa jabbed a finger at the screen. “No, that isn’t it. It’s all wrong. You don’t hit a bridge there. They’d rebuild it in a week. And you need to approach from a wider angle. Out of the sun.” And then he told some stories. Just the silly ones. Running alcohol, almost crashing into a mountain, the fellow squadron commander who died to “friendly fire” for always assigning his own plane in the lead position. The ones that haunted him would wait until we were older.
And then there’s solo wargame Skies Above the Reich by Mark Aasted and Jeremy White. Guess I should probably talk about that.
In my review of Trevor Benjamin and David Thompson’s Undaunted: Normandy, I noted that it could be the beginning of something truly special. To some degree, that original box already contained plenty of special in its own right. Where I had expected deck-building and squad tactics to make an uncomfortable pairing, Undaunted nudged them together like old friends. The rules were streamlined, the decisions meaningful, the odds of landing a shot were long but not too long, and if it occasionally became a little too tit for tat in its exchange of fire, well, I’m sure there were plenty of infantrymen outside Caen who felt the same way.
Undaunted: North Africa is Benjamin and Thompson’s second take on the Undaunted franchise, and I couldn’t be more pleased that they’ve opened a second front. From the very first mission, it’s apparent that this is an improvement in nearly every regard.
Mitch Turck’s Origin might as well be a game without an origin. See what I did there? Snark aside, it’s true. After much searching — there are a lot of games with “origin” in the title — I came across a page on BoardGameGeek that repeated the blurb on the back of the box. Apart from that, there was nothing. No box image, play images, comments, forum posts, nothing.
Which raises the question: while playing Origin, if I reveal an origin card that mentions “The origin of the game Origin,” what is the actual origin of that origin card?
Deep Vents is certainly the bluest game of the year. Or is it the purplest game?
Coming as a surprise from Ryan Laukat and T. Alex Davis, Deep Vents plunges into territory I haven’t yet seen explored in cardboard. Can you guess the setting? Nope, not bay fishing. Nor is it about oil rigging. Rather, Deep Vents is about creating a flourishing ecosystem around a deep vent. Bet you didn’t see that one coming.