I never wanted to be an astronaut. Jeff Beck and Jeff Krause’s Intrepid provides a detailed explanation why. Trapped in an aluminum can that’s only staying up because it’s falling one direction faster than it’s falling the other, rubbing shoulders with people who smell like old socks, flicking away nuggets that weren’t properly vacuumed up during your last poop — yeah, living the dream. Have at it, Bezos.
While Intrepid doesn’t cover the mundane events of an astronaut’s daily existence, it does emphasize the biggest problem with living aboard the International Space Station. At any given moment, outer space might decide to murder you.
We made it! Another year, another buncha board games, another Best Week. Below the jump, you’ll find images linking to every day of this hallowed event. May it keep you occupied while I take a week off. And while our parting is sweet sorrow, rest assured—
Space-Biff! will return.
The wheel has turned once more. We’ve heard some good advice about how to keep hold of our fractious sanity. From me, the sage advice-giver. Make something. Learn to rely on each other. Be strong. Reject orthodoxy. And now, last but surely not least…
No, really. Get out. Use a nail wrested from a rotten floorboard to pick the lock. Pry the handle from the rusted door. The billionaires are doing it. Look at them, fleeing into orbit or the depths of digital consciousness. They know where the days ahead lead. So run, run, run into the night. And although the magic circle offers scant protection from the cold, take some solace in the year’s best games of escape and evasion.
Orthodoxy. What is it, anyway? It will surprise approximately zero of my readers that I was raised in an intensely orthodox environment. But one person’s orthodoxy is another person’s heresy, and nothing challenges norms and traditions quite like going through a global crisis. Oh, there’s a way we’ve always done things? Institutions don’t like change? Have a plague.
For one reason or another, this year featured a number of very good games about challenging, rejecting, or otherwise giving orthodoxy a good poke in the ribs. Today we celebrate our hobby’s troublemakers, reformers, and heretics.
Enough of yesterday’s hippie-dippie kumbaya nonsense. Teamwork is great and all, but sometimes you’ve got to stick up for yourself. Pare away your fleshy parts. Make of your heart a stone. Become a creature of iron. Run in one of those mud marathons. Et cetera.
Today we’re celebrating the best games about asserting yourself in the face of irreparable differences. These are the two-player games that require you to plant your feet, lean back, and heave until you either win or tumble into the chasm.
When my first daughter was born, there was a mantra I would whisper whenever she cried out in the middle of the night, when I had chores but felt too exhausted to propel my limbs into motion, when the prospect of reading another history book for grad school felt like climbing Everest. “Nobody’s coming to save you. You have to save yourself.”
Turns out, that same mantra works in the middle of a global pandemic. Today we’re celebrating the games that remind us that we can survive almost anything. Because nobody’s coming to save you. You have to save yourself.
I don’t mean to brag, but after nearly two years of a global pandemic, I’ve become something of a professional when it comes to keeping hold of my waning sanity. So what better categorization for the best board games of 2021 than the five pieces of advice that have kept me afloat?
Take today’s motif, for instance. Need to survive another lockdown? It’s easier if you make something with all that spare time. Model airplanes, a novel, stacks of newspapers bound in twine and arranged into a hoarder’s maze — it doesn’t matter what you make, just so long as you make it. Today is a celebration of the board games that let you do exactly that. These are the makers.
Replaying the Mass Effect remaster brought it all back: the weightlessness as the shuttle dropped through the cloud layer, the sight of the alien landscape for the first time, verdant with unknown plants and creatures. That prickle along the spine. Growing up, Star Trek and frontier adventure books and some hazy pioneer heritage were formative where Star Wars was grating and juvenile. The final frontier, minus the colonialist overtones. Okay, some colonialist overtones. But overtones that are trying to do better.
Marc Neidlinger and Tom Mattson’s Unsettled is a cooperative (and technically solitaire-capable) board game about confronting the unknown, very nearly dying, and then — here’s the important part — rather than taming these wild shores you’ve washed up on, entering into symbiosis with them. There’s not a sentry turret or auto-rifle in sight.
If I’m speaking the parlance of the youngfolk correctly, Brian Boru was a “chad.” Wait, is that supposed to be capitalized? Like an actual name? Chad? Never mind. Point is, the guy unified medieval Ireland through marriages of alliance, splitting Viking skulls, and something to do with the Church.
But that was literally a thousand years ago. Old news. Much more recently, Peer Sylvester has done something even more impossible — he’s made me care about trick-taking.
Dan Bullock caught my attention with No Motherland Without, an examination of national security bogeyman North Korea that was simultaneously thoughtful, gut-wrenching, and possibly the reddest board game ever inked. What impressed me was Bullock’s insistence on making you stare the victims of your geopoliticking in the face. Rather than seeing its people as geography, crowds, or spy-plane images, here was a game that put its humans front and center as elites, escapees, refugees, and prisoners.
Bullock’s 1979: Revolution in Iran is similarly thoughtful. This time, his target is the barbed nature of political allegiance, temporary allies, and changing leadership.