In my review of Trevor Benjamin and David Thompson’s Undaunted: Normandy, I noted that it could be the beginning of something truly special. To some degree, that original box already contained plenty of special in its own right. Where I had expected deck-building and squad tactics to make an uncomfortable pairing, Undaunted nudged them together like old friends. The rules were streamlined, the decisions meaningful, the odds of landing a shot were long but not too long, and if it occasionally became a little too tit for tat in its exchange of fire, well, I’m sure there were plenty of infantrymen outside Caen who felt the same way.
Undaunted: North Africa is Benjamin and Thompson’s second take on the Undaunted franchise, and I couldn’t be more pleased that they’ve opened a second front. From the very first mission, it’s apparent that this is an improvement in nearly every regard.
Mitch Turck’s Origin might as well be a game without an origin. See what I did there? Snark aside, it’s true. After much searching — there are a lot of games with “origin” in the title — I came across a page on BoardGameGeek that repeated the blurb on the back of the box. Apart from that, there was nothing. No box image, play images, comments, forum posts, nothing.
Which raises the question: while playing Origin, if I reveal an origin card that mentions “The origin of the game Origin,” what is the actual origin of that origin card?
Deep Vents is certainly the bluest game of the year. Or is it the purplest game?
Coming as a surprise from Ryan Laukat and T. Alex Davis, Deep Vents plunges into territory I haven’t yet seen explored in cardboard. Can you guess the setting? Nope, not bay fishing. Nor is it about oil rigging. Rather, Deep Vents is about creating a flourishing ecosystem around a deep vent. Bet you didn’t see that one coming.
Deep breath. Let’s talk about something controversial.
If you’re a hobbyist board gamer, there’s a good chance you’ve heard about Tom Felber’s farewell article, “Tom Stops! 10 (Not Just Nice) Things He Wants to Say at the End.” It’s sparked plenty of angry words, both in support and in repudiation, some defensive and others thoughtful. It probably doesn’t help that the original is in German (Felber is Swiss), which, as those of us who speak the language can tell you, tends to come across more frankly than English, especially in translation.
What do storybooks, Crossroads events, digital apps, worker placement, countdown timers, skill checks, and Mad Libs have in common? They all appear in Forgotten Waters by J. Arthur Ellis, Isaac Vega, and Mr. Bistro, the latest title from Plaid Hat Games! And although that might sound like the setup to a crack about how too many ingredients makes for one nasty porridge — especially after their last Crossroads game, Gen7, was such a bust — it turns out that Forgotten Waters is more than the sum of its parts.
One of the things I appreciate most about John Clowdus is the way he peppers his games with moments of thematic coherence, when systems and setting enter into alignment to create an intuitive shorthand for what the game is asking you to do. In Omen: A Reign of War, these moments revolved around mythological beasts upending both the rules of nature and the rules of the game. In The North, it was sparse actions reinforcing the sense that you were renovating long-dormant machines. Even Mezo spun a cosmology in which the gods were always peering around the corners of reality, inspiring as much as directly intervening.
And in Bronze Age, this coherence has everything to do with the collapse.
John Clowdus is best known for his small designs. And, naturally, in today’s episode of the Space-Biff! Space-Cast!, he’s willing to talk to Dan Thurot about small games old and new, including which of his titles he prefers to Omen: A Reign of War. But now Clowdus is also a bona fide big-box game designer thanks to Mezo. Listen in as he spills the beans about the challenges and advantages of designing a game that can’t fit into your pocket.
Pirates are this year’s Cthulhu. That isn’t a complaint. If anything, piracy as we popularly portray it is a democratizing force, the revenge of the have-nots against the haves. Never mind how the have-nots somehow got their yo-ho-hoing mitts on a frigate in the first place. Forced redistribution was never so soaked in rum. Or so gleefully vicious.
And then there’s Plunder: A Pirate’s Life, which is about as gleeful as watching your frigate get pulled apart plank by plank by a whirlpool. At least it understands that pirates and board games are both meant to look good.
It has often been said that you can learn a lot about an era by how they portray Rome in its heyday. To the historians of the British Empire, the eternal city was both pomp and melancholy manifest, a promise of what could be accomplished with well-drilled lines of soldiery, but also a lingering reminder that the lights of empire would inevitably wink out. To the fascists of Italy and Germany, it was a city of racial hierarchies, Nordic masters overseeing Mediterranean laborers. For a time Americans regarded it as both an exemplar of civic duty and a suitable antagonist, that great subsumer of individuality and Jesus Christ alike. Later it became the dingy city of corruption and gang rule, populated by kleptocrats stuffing their pockets while sending children to die on foreign soil. I’ll leave it to you to guess which era thought of it in those terms.
The Ragnar Brothers (Gary Dicken, Steve Kendall, and Phil Kendall) aren’t quite striving for that degree of granularity with their latest game, The Romans. Nor do they seem to be evaluating Rome as anything other than a sequence of shifting boundaries. Even so, at some level, The Romans beholds all those contrasting interpretations and seems to query, Why not all of them?
But to make sense of that statement, first we need to talk about parallel universes.
I’m terrified of and fascinated by blindness. On more than one occasion, driving along a stretch of Montanan highway with no cars in sight, I would close my eyes and see how long I could last before my nerves peeled apart and my sight restored itself through sheer reflex. Another time, walking to class, the same experiment caused me to turn my ankle so violently that a moment later I awoke on some very uncomfortable pebble landscaping, pain alight from foot to pelvis, shoe braced tight from the swelling. I’ve since learned better than to flirt with the abyss.
Blindness seems like the perfect target sensation for a genre that so often resorts to flipping cards at random. Yet apart from performative pieces like Nyctophobia, not many games have toyed with the concept of not being able to see what’s right in front of you. At least until Sensor Ghosts, Janice and Stu Turner’s sequel to their first published game, Assembly. Having escaped a contaminated orbital platform, you’re blasting your way back to Earth through a micrometeorite storm. Except the sensors on your ship are throwing up all sorts of noise. The result is profoundly evocative — and more than a little shaky.
Then again, perhaps those are two ways of saying the same thing.