Blog Archives

Empires of the Clutter II

The box is decidedly lovely. Gorgeous all around. But then they had to slap a Red Raven logo in the bottom corner. Come on, fellas, the brand isn't what draws people to a Ryan Laukat game. It's his THIS.

Ryan Laukat’s original Empires of the Void was one of Kickstarter’s early success stories. It was 2011, long before everybody got jaded with underwhelming indie projects and enamored with the latest empty-headed box with miniatures in it. It pulled in somewhere upward of $35,000.

Now it’s 2018, Ryan Laukat has been a staple of the crowdfunding scene for years — long enough to have witnessed “phases” in his career — and now we’ve got a sequel. It made seven times more than the original game during its Kickstarter run. Does that mean it’s seven times more enjoyable?

Yes, that is how I think math works, thanks very much.

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As Alone as a Unicorn Horn

Score: 8/10. Title Score: 3/10.

In recent news, scientists have determined that the worst thing in the world of video games is the escort mission. You know what I’m talking about. For whatever reason, mission command has given you the task of guiding a brain-dead moron from one spot to another, without the necessary equipment or manpower, along a route known to be infested with enemies who have a fanatical hatred of the person or vehicle in your charge.

Unicornus Knights is a two-hour-long escort mission. With her kingdom recently annexed by the neighboring empire, Princess Cornelia has decided to inspire an uprising, march straight across the countryside, and win back her tenuous ancestral claim to other people’s labor. Unlike some of her lesser peers, she’s unperturbed by questions of practicality. How will she keep the troops fed? Trounce the petty tyrants standing between her and the capital? Marshal her troops in battle? It’s safe to say that she really has no idea. Birthright, maybe.

That’s where you come in. As one of the Princess’s trusty knights, it’s your job to — well, to do everything the Princess is too important to do. Like prevent her from suicide-marching straight into an unwinnable fight.

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Alone on a Dark Night

They missed a beat having this be the only available image on BGG. The actual box cover features all twenty-nine heroes. TWENTY-NINE.

Darkest Night was one of the first games I ever played solo. It arrived with a tiny board with jigsaw-puzzle connectors, smoky laser-charred wooden standees, and a napkin for wiping the soot off your fingers when you were done punching everything out. For months it retained that campfire reek, like summers up the canyon, like burning villages, like a necromancer’s grip tightening around a fantasy kingdom’s throat.

It got its grip around my throat as well. With its thickly despairing gameplay, religion-gone-literal subtext, and smoke filling my nostrils, I defeated the necromancer time after time. More often, it was him who did the defeating.

Sadly, Darkest Night was a flawed game, and it fizzled from my table as abruptly as it had flickered to life in the first place. Its central notion — that your heroes were waging a guerrilla resistance and would spend more time hiding than fighting — was undercut by the fact that it was relatively easy to defend a single hero chilling in the corner. This hero could spend every turn searching for keys, which would unlock relics, which in turn would slay evil once and for all. A to B to C to Dead Necromancer, all without leaving the comfort of a single space. So much for guerrilla warriors. More like renegade metal detectorists.

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Two Minds About One Deck Dungeon

One of them can apparently fly. I didn't notice that in-game.

Today on Two Minds About…, Dan Thurot and Brock Poulsen are here to dissect the claim that One Deck Dungeon only contains one deck. Because it totally doesn’t.

Dan: You heard the invisible man. So what’s your take, Brock? One deck or not?

Brock: Is this one of those Zen kōans? Are we going to have some kind of pseudo-intellectual discussion, like when those people argued about whether you can shuffle a single card?

Dan: Well, can’t you? (faint whiffling noise) Never mind, let’s move on.

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New Year, Old Year: 2016 Revisited

Alt-texts for these are so tiresome to come up with, so I think I'll opt out for today.

Accountability. It’s the ability to be honest that, yes, I just used the same intro line as last year. Because introductions are difficult.

Today we’re revisiting my selections for Best Week 2016, the forty games that stood head and shoulders above the rest by my reckoning, and discussing whether they’ve held up over the intervening year. Basically, this is my reality check. Speaking only for myself, these are the games that stuck around, as well as the ones that disappeared from my table. Or worse, my memory.

This is going to be a long one. So if you’d rather skip straight to a particular list, you can take a look at the best overlooked, adorable, iterative, educational, and unique games of yesteryesteryear.

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Haze of Love

Yeah, I dig this sort of thing. Minimalist, but nice.

Look, whether or not we agree with it, we’ve all heard the refrain: why are so many games about war and violence? Why not love? Why not relationships?

Fog of Love is why. This isn’t a ding on Fog of Love, per se — there will be time for that later — so much as it is a statement on just how difficult this love stuff can be. All’s fair in love and war? Baby, war ain’t got nothing on love.

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An Old Game About the New Thing

This image makes me hungry.

Modern Art is about so much more than just modern art. Oh, it’s about that too, and CMON’s latest edition of Reiner Knizia’s 1992 classic is lavishly produced with work by genuine artists, each with their own distinctive style that makes the identifying colors on each piece’s header almost unnecessary. Does it matter that Rafael Silveira is the orange artist when his portraiture is so unsettling? Or that Ramon Martins is designated by green when he has such a slick take on Asian traditionalism?

Maybe. Especially when Martins defies his oeuvre with something from left field. That’s the thing about Modern Art. It’s a game about maybes and could-have-beens and taste-making and guessing the value of a thing before it’s a Thing.

It also happens to be a sublime merger of play and theme.

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Playing Forever with Charterstone

See that ominous cloud? That's the realization that your six sessions mean you're only HALF DONE with a legacy game. A *short* legacy game.

Even though it remains a fledgling subgenre, I think I can safely anoint myself a legacy game veteran. I’ve played ’em all. Like, all of them. Basically, I’m sick of legacy mechanisms at this point. The sole upside is that my time in the trenches has endowed me with Opinions.

The first commandment of legacy games is simple. No, I mean that literally: the first commandment is simple. Be thou simple. If possible, build on something that was already there. Which is why Risk Legacy and Pandemic Legacy were so breezy to learn, while SeaFall was one learning game after another until you gave up and played its hidden game, which was opening all the boxes early and laughing with wild abandon while you sorted the pieces into recyclables and garbage.

Charterstone is the simplest of them all. And when you get right down to it, it’s the legacy game that I’ve enjoyed the most.

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A Study in Squamous: A Look at AuZtralia

Zombies?

AuZtralia is not a zombie game, despite that big blocky Z in the middle of its title. Rather, it’s something far better: a sequel to Martin Wallace’s near-perfect A Study in Emerald. Or, fine, perhaps a sequel to that game’s inferior second edition.

Do your utmost to keep pace: After the extraterrestrial Great Old Ones conquered the world back in the 12th century, the restorationists — the plucky rebels under the leadership of Sherlock Holmes and Emma “Grumpface” Goldman — eventually tossed bundles of dynamite into all the right carriages, leading to regime turnover in 1888. Now humanity is venturing out into the portions of the world that were hitherto off-limits, and have discovered a fresh continent ripe for colonization. Except, uh oh, it turns out the Old Ones never fled Earth, instead taking refuge in the Outback of Australia. Now the allied nations of humanity must expand across the continent, employing modern armies to blast Old Ones and their thralls, including, yes, the occasional zombie horde.

And how will they go about this expansion? By rail, of course.

No. Oh no. Trains. My most ancient nemesis. Dammit.

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Dinosaur Island, Uh, Finds a Way

Jur-acid Park

There’s an undeniable allure to the prospect of running your own dinosaur park, sure. Electrified paddocks packed with jumping velociraptors, automated cars humming past jungle exhibits, the occasional goat bleating its location to a beverage-rippling T-rex.

But right away, Dinosaur Island makes one crucial misstep that sends it hurtling into a ravine filled with hungry compsognathus. Because you see, it’s not merely that we want to operate a dinosaur park. It’s that we want to operate a dinosaur park while it’s teetering on the edge of full-blown chaos theory meltdown.

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