What’s a dungeon without a rack of swords? The odd pile of bones? A tasteful corridor-obstructing sheet of cobwebs? In Jeff LaFlam’s Dungeon Decorators, probably not very many points. Depending on which scoring card you’ve drawn, that is.
Come Halloween season, I’m always on the lookout for games of the scary variety. Something not only frightening, but filled with building tension and jump scares and moments that will have everyone gripping the edge of the table in apprehension. Something unexpected. Something that will stay with you.
This year, that game is absolutely Neil Kimball’s Sheepy Time.
By some measures, Erik Andersson Sundén’s Whirling Witchcraft is broken right down to its witchy heart. The second time we played — roughly eight minutes after the first time we played — Geoff turned to me and asked, “Is that all? We aren’t doing some tutorial mode?”
Indeed. I can’t even imagine what a tutorial mode to Whirling Witchcraft would look like. Passing cubes without any reason, maybe. But here’s the thing: despite its brevity and its chanciness — because of its chanciness — Whirling Witchcraft has given me a minor epiphany.
In the month since I published Greenwashing History, my examination of how Martin Wallace’s A Study in Emerald and AuZtralia portray certain historical figures as aliens in order to justify their extermination, one question has bobbed to the surface more than any other:
Do I care as much about the ancient Egyptians?
Oh, it could be anyone. Egyptians. Pirates. Ancient Roman slaves. Atlanteans. It isn’t exactly a new question. It’s come up under varying degrees of good faith over the years. One suspects its regularity betrays an agenda. That maybe someone would prefer I shut up about some topic. But since I don’t like to presume, today I’d like to offer, sans the usual degree of snark I’d normally reserve for such a question, the three informal criteria that I use to determine whether I’ll write about a particular historical topic in board games.
The latest trend in puzzle games is to tinker with communication. More properly, limitations on communication. The Mind, The Shipwreck Arcana, Codenames — the last few years have offered plenty of supernal examples. Have the player identify an island in a sea of noise, give them a way to provide limited glimpses of that island to their fellows, and then tell them to shut up. There you go. Puzzle game.
Ben Goldman’s Paint the Roses works in that same space, but according to a rhythm that feels more naturalistic and less constrained than its peers. Behind its pleasing Alice in Wonderland veneer, it just might be one of the finest limited communication games I’ve played.
Everything about Ruination, the post-apocalyptic game of feuding post-apocalyptic maniacs by Travis R. Chance, screams in neon color squiggles that it would be the perfect eccoprotic for a trashy mood. Vibrant colors, thick miniatures, dice. Dice for days. Dice for miles of dusty motorbike trails. This is what the warboys play when Max Rockatansky isn’t helping Imperator Furiosa steal their rigs and breeders.
So why has Ruination left me colder than the wasteland after dark? Witness me as I try to explain.
Ecumenical councils aren’t exactly the topic everybody stays awake for, but there’s a good chance you’ve heard of the Council of Nicaea. Flush with success after unifying the Roman Empire, the Emperor Constantine had made himself the patron of Christianity, a major turnaround after the persecutions of Emperor Diocletian only a decade earlier. But Constantine’s fledgling religious program faced one major problem: rumblings of controversy in Alexandria over the nature of Christ. To avert potential embarrassment — or worse, schism — Constantine convened his council in 325 CE, leading to the first sweeping statement of orthodoxy in Christian canon.
That’s the part you probably know. Less publicized is the base political nature of the outcome, all those long-held and supposedly sincere doctrinal positions wilting in the face of the Council’s pronouncements. Although the attending bishops began almost evenly split, in the end only three out of three hundred refused to side with the majority and retain their privileges and positions. A miracle, perhaps. Or maybe, just maybe, ambition and cowardice played as much a role as they always do.
So begins Amabel Holland’s Nicaea, an irreverent, boisterous, and gleefully blasphemous assault on the entire concept of orthodoxy. Expect some ruffled feathers and you won’t be disappointed.
There’s a pair of reasons why I’ve never written about Mac Gerdts’ Concordia. First, it’s already been reviewed four thousand times, and the odds I’ll slip something worthwhile between the cracks is slight at best. Second, and perhaps more importantly, I’d never played the thing. Trading in the Mediterranean? That’s as novel as settings come, but I’ve been busy tackling such rare beasts as vikings and zombies.
In any case, in light of tomorrow’s release of Acram Digital’s, er, digital edition, I’ve finally learned how to play Concordia. And let me tell you something nobody else has mentioned: it’s quite good.
There’s something dangerous in those bushes over there. A sabre-tooth tiger? A handful of poisonous berries? Nope, it’s designer Peter Rustemeyer, here to chat about the origins, development, and history of Paleo, 2021 winner of the prestigious Kennerspiel des Jahres.
I’ve been playing a game about Anabaptist martyrs getting burned at the stake. I’m resisting the urge to call John Ratigan’s Martyr: Bloody Theater 1528 “metal,” although it practically begs for the descriptor. The gilt artwork, paused somewhere between reverential and an iconoclast’s pasticcio. Its sole resource, your stolen final breaths. A transparent disc indicating the Holy Spirit, drifting among onlookers. Even the sweetish wood smoke smell of the Game Crafter’s laser cutter, like some theme park’s attempt at “four-dee” entertainment, slathered so thick with verisimilitude that it kicks down the sauna door on bad taste.
What is this thing? And why does it remind me, more than anything, of a prayer spoken in an unfamiliar tongue, clumsy and unaware and maybe even vaguely offensive, but so earnest that it demands a clemency of its own?