There are perils to self-publishing. Take Renaud Verlaque’s Swords Around the Throne, a sky-high vantage on the Napoleonic Wars that, unlike his earlier published titles Age of Napoleon, The Price of Freedom, and The Big Push, is available only through the Game Crafter. As a consequence, Swords Around the Throne defies ease of entry. Its rulebook is a muddle of misplaced information, details that could have been offloaded to cards or the board are absent, and like many wargames there are exceptions aplenty.
Which is a pity, because somewhere behind a veil of its own devising is a novel portrayal of European upheaval.
The foremost question about Dune: Imperium: Immorality is one of abundance. Does Imperium really need another expansion? It hasn’t even been a year since Paul Dennen gave Dune: Imperium its first big addition, Rise of Ix. At this rate we’ll soon be juggling expansions for the Honored Matres and Fish Speakers. Talk about power creeps.
Speaking of power creep, have you ever heard of the Tleilaxu?
The thesis for John Company is drawn right onto the lid of the second edition box. Two worlds, starkly divided, seemingly incongruent. The first, drawn with affrontive rotundity, features genteel Englishmen and Englishwomen drinking and flirting, debauched in their plumpness, as without care as people ever were. The second, illustrated as angularly as the first image was curvaceous, reveals a fortified seaside factory, sternly defended and given scale only by the many ships gathering beneath the hem of its skirts. Despite their dissimilarity, it’s like the meme says: they are the same picture.
The first time I wrote about Cole Wehrle’s most ambitious title I called it his magnum opus. Later I discussed how it and its sister volume An Infamous Traffic put two dueling economic systems on trial. The third was a preview for this second edition, but the final product hasn’t changed enough to invalidate any of the praise I heaped on it at the time.
But a few things remains to be stated. What follows is less of a review than a statement on why games like John Company are the most essential ludic texts of our day.
In Plato’s description of Atlantis, Critias mentions orichalcum — literally “mountain copper” — a metal second in preciousness only to gold but no longer known except by name. To this day its identification offers a minor mystery to historians. Was orichalcum some bright alloy of gold? Platinum? Remnants of an alien civilization that taught humans how to embed circuitry into the Acropolis? Probably not. A few years back almost forty ingots were recovered from a shipwreck off the coast of Sicily. A gold-hued alloy of copper and zinc, some experts believe these may be our last remnants of the lost metal. They’re on display at the archaeological museum of Gela.
Orichalcum is also a board game by Bruno Cathala and Johannes Goupy. It’s considerably less mysterious than its namesake.
Every year, Amabel Holland designs a freebie game for Hollandspiele’s Hollandays sale. In the past, certain of these freebies have even been among the year’s best.
Watch Out! That’s a Dracula! might be my favorite yet. And not only because it treats Dracula like an absolute doofus.
“Northgard” sounds like a deodorant brand. Probably one that smells of pine needles and draugr leather. Northgard: Uncharted Lands, on the other hand, is the latest adaptation of a video game that happens to be considerably more competent than its bastard offspring. Based on Norse mythology in the loosest sense, players are tasked with leading a clan to preeminence. Mostly this consists of exploring terrain, fighting monsters, fighting other Vikings, fighting the winter, and never once setting foot on a boat.
At times, bits of flint shine through the muck. The rest of the time, it’s gone to mud.
Brock: Can horror exist outside a movie, or a book, or a gaggle of costumed teenagers in a problematic haunted asylum? Does it require one or more draculas?
This time around, Dan and I put on our Two Minds lederhosen to tackle Van Ryder Games’ Final Girl. We wanted to discover just how well a horror movie could be translated to cardboard and dice, and just how small wooden cylinders in a board game could get. Will we make it out alive?
Dan: And I even own real lederhosen!
Ashwin Kamath and Clarence Simpson’s The Wolves comes with a soundtrack. Not on CD or MP3, and certainly nothing officially composed. It’s the compulsive “aroo!” that players belt whenever their pack of noble wolves takes the howl action. I have yet to play a game without somebody launching into that enthusiastic howl.
What about the game? Yeah, that’s pretty good too.
When we talk about “roll-and-writes,” the genre that’s going through a minor renaissance, we’re really talking about two slightly different things. Roll-and-writes, in which you roll dice, and flip-and-writes, in which you flip a card. Generally, both see everybody at the table using those identical inputs on their own board. It’s easy to see the appeal. The action is simultaneous, fast-playing, and highlights why “input luck” doesn’t feel unfair the way “output luck” does. Here’s a random number: put it to good use. (Unlike output luck, which says, Take your action: now here’s the roll to determine its outcome.) As a bonus, everybody gets the same number.
The biggest distinction between the two has everything to do with how that random input is curated. In a roll-and-write, you’re using dice. There’s more wiggle room to its randomness. In theory, an entire game could pass without a certain roll ever appearing. In a flip-and-write, drawing from a deck means you’ll eventually see a selection of possibilities. That’s less randomness, but more predictability. Yes, that can be a weakness. Neither system is inherently better than the other; they just have different ideas about how to best generate their inputs.
James Kniffen’s Twilight Inscription is both a roll-and-write and a flip-and-write. On one level, that isn’t surprising; it’s an adaptation of Twilight Imperium, that famously gargantuan game of stellar conquest. On another, it creatures a leviathan of its own, one that’s spread across four interconnected games.
I occasionally think back on the mudslide of advice I received when Somerset and I got married. There was so much, and we were so inexperienced, that at the time it was impossible to sort into good or bad. Hindsight helps. Some of it has proved apt (“Keep making the choice to love each other”). Other tidbits were stale even at the time (“Always listen to your wife, but as the man of the house you’re the tiebreaker”). And then there were the lines that sounded good until we realized they were soul-crushing (“Never go to bed angry”).
Xoe Allred’s Persuasion is about a brand of holy matrimony not all that far off from the partnership Summer and I entered into — young, rapid, religious, and oh so very Victorian. But where other recent games about the courtship rituals of yestercentury have been drier than hardtack, Allred’s take is viciously seductive. Not because it’s particularly spicy. Oh no. Because it’s so toxic it could break a Geiger counter.