Blog Archives

Abstracts Get Political: Paco Šako

This is the sort of header I'd expect from a watchmaking company.

Here on Abstracts Get Political, our primary interest is abstract games that make an ideological point despite being, well, abstract games. But we’ve always (both times) looked at games about injury and strife. Suffragetto loosed jiu-jitsu-ing suffragettes upon the police, while Guerrilla Checkers was about — you guessed it — the horrors of modern asymmetrical warfare. Where are the games that give peace a chance?

Look no further than Paco Šako. Even its name carries a message of harmony. After all, it’s Esperanto for “peace chess.” You don’t get much more peaceable than that.

Or do you?

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I Am Totes a Crook

With the aid of a cracked mirror, Nixon examines the inherent contradictions of personhood.

A game about investigating the President of the United States for obstruction of justice? How far-fetched.

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Hapless Mortals

Yeah, okay. You have my attention.

When it comes to blurbs, Campy Creatures knows how to pitch. You’re a mad scientist, see? Hoping to do eeeevil experiments, right? So your plan is to kidnap as many mortals as possible, m’kay? Except there are other mad scientists also capturing mortals, and they also have a similar roster of campy creatures doing their bidding, so you need to make sure your campy creatures outperform their campy creatures, ya dig?

Sure thing, Campy Creatures. I dig.

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Forward to the Past

With deepest apologies to Derek Yu for my intro joke. Spelunky is my most-played game ever. Don't hate me.

There’s an old adage I just made up about how you shouldn’t play a favorite designer’s games in reverse, as the process will only result in disappointment. After being totally smitten by Jon Perry’s Air, Land, & Sea, I was immediately drawn to his previous game, Time Barons. Perry co-created this one with Derek Yu, whose name you might recognize from I’m O.K., in which you murder and urinate on video game designers in order to poke fun at anti-game crusader and huckster attorney Jack Thompson. If only Yu’s lesser-known Spelunky had been his defining work instead.

Anyway. I’m happy to announce that my old adage isn’t worth beans. Time Barons rules. With some considerable provisos.

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Let’s Solve a Mystery (Wizard)

Ah, the interrobang, my old friend.

Have you heard of GMT Games’ P500 Program? Imagine Kickstarter before Kickstarter was a twinkle in its grandpappy’s eye. Every so often GMT releases a list of games, all of which are up for preorder. If a game gets enough orders — I’ll give you one guess how many — it goes into production and eventually springs forth fully-baked, minus errata and countersheet errors.

“Wait, wait,” I hear you saying. “Doesn’t GMT Games pretty much just do wargamey stuff? That header doesn’t look wargamey. Not even a little bit.”

Very astute of you to notice! That’s because Mystery Wizard, by Aiden Giuffre, Jackson Warley, and Zachary Eberhart is indeed the most incongruous thing to ever appear on GMT’s P500 list. Unsurprisingly for a publisher focused on entirely different fare, it’s hovering at a mere 300 orders. I’m here to tell you why that number should jump forward.

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Flick That Fleet

I decided against my original title. For one thing, it sounded like I didn't like the game. For another, dropping the f-bomb in a game review strikes me as ungraceful.

Every so often a game fully realizes the dual promise and limitations of Kickstarter. Ambitious, but not overly so. Weird, in that there isn’t anything quite like it. Underbaked, in that it never really received much of a look from anyone outside of the project, at least nobody whose actual job is to advise why certain elements needed extra polish. Visionary, because the game’s creators might have ignored such advice had it been given in the first place.

Jackson Pope and Paul Willcox’s FlickFleet is that game. And I’m smitten.

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Park Yourself Down

Say it with me: d'awww

My favorite moment in Parks is when I decided to collect only the parks I’ve actually visited. Turns out, I’ve been to a lot of national parks. My family was like that: big SUV, too-small travel trailer, a desire to “rough it” without nailing down a single tent peg. So I quit picking the easiest of Parks’ parks and started grabbing only those I recognized from personal experience. My home state alone permitted a wide array — Arches, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Zion. Farther afield I grabbed Mesa Verde, Yellowstone, Badlands, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Haleakalā. Not enough that it was easy. Just enough to provide a challenge.

If it sounds like I’m damning Parks with faint praise, you’re darn tootin’.

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Shadows of Malic and Tannin

take that, shadow. i think.

Longtime followers of Space-Biff! will know that I have a thing for Jim Felli. His designs are weird, wild, and so unlike everything else that “unique” is an understatement. Shadows of Malice was Jim’s first design to see publication. Now it’s getting a second printing. And if I assigned scores, it would land squarely on either a nine or a five.

Let’s talk about that gap.

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Satyagraha: The Board Game

For some reason I really like the shade of tan they use on this box.

The ninth volume of the long-running COIN Series, Bruce Mansfield’s Gandhi: The Decolonization of British India, steps into a setting that likely needs no introduction. What may need clarification is the ways in which it stands apart from the remainder of the series — and how it remains locked in orbit.

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Alone in the Arena

"It is not the critic who counts!" Teddy Roosevelt galumphed at me. "The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming." I nodded at his passion and asked, "But what if the woman in the arena has a dragon?" Then Teddy Roosevelt socked me in the nose.

You may have read Teddy Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena.” It’s a paragraph about how critics are quivering simpletons compared to the brave souls who actually produce or perform, which of course means it’s my favorite thing ever written. I have a cousin who posts it to my social media timeline at least twice a year. Not sure why. He’s a professional consultant. That’s a fancy way of saying he’s a critic who gets paid. Not sure why you’re beefing on me, cuz.

Anyway. That’s what I kept thinking about while playing Proving Grounds, a solo game about a literal woman in a literal arena.

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