Yesterday, two to five oligarchs divided the planet to make space for their surplus mansion greens and car elevators. After World Splitters, World Exchangers, designed by Romain Caterdjian and Smoox Chen, jumps forward a generation. With humanity under thumb, what’s left for the ultra-rich?
They’re doing it all over again. This time, the stakes couldn’t be higher: for funsies.
At first glance, Tony Chen and Romain Caterdjian’s World Splitters, the latest of two titles from Taiwanese publisher EmperorS4 about the antics of the future uber-rich, looks like a riff on Dots & Boxes. Some have even asked if it might be kin to Android: Mainframe. Now there’s a game that feels much older than six years.
To some degree, yes, World Splitters is Dots & Boxes. That is, if Dots & Boxes featured clever auctions and a horrific tiebreaker system.
There’s this adage our mission mom used to tell us. This was prior to 2019, when a mission president’s wife finally became an official calling rather than one inequality among countless others. She didn’t have an official role despite fulfilling numberless functions, among them an ambiguous blend of cheerleader, guilt tripper, and motivational speaker. Every couple of months, dozens of nineteen-year-old Mormon missionaries would crowd into a tiny room to be scolded and encouraged, sometimes in the same breath.
“According to scientists,” she would say, in a voice that made one suspicious she hadn’t conferred with a scientist on the matter, “the bumblebee is so heavy and un-aerodynamic that it’s incapable of flight. But nobody ever told the bumblebee that. Whether you’re a bumblebee, a person out of a job, or a missionary hoping to bring others to Christ, all you need to do is pull yourself up by the bootstraps.”
Steve Dee’s The Rent is an autobiographical microgame about pulling oneself up by the bootstraps. It has a somewhat dimmer outlook on letting the ignorance of bumblebees stand in for economic theory.
After I declared Mind MGMT my favorite game of 2021, the pressure must have been unbearable for Off the Page Games. All right, all right, I doubt they noticed. Still, Jay Cormier and Sen-Foong Lim’s adaptation of Matt Kindt’s comic series was such a zinger that any follow-up would be swimming upriver.
Case in point, Harrow County: The Game of Gothic Conflict, co-designed by Cormier and Shad Miller as an adaptation of the comic series by Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook, which is on Kickstarter for the next two days — yes, I’m running behind — carries itself with an exerted air. It does so many things in a short span of time. Maybe it should have doubled down on two or three.
I know an uncanny amount about divination. Not because I believe in the stuff, mind you. It comes up a lot in my work, both as a practice in ancient religion and as a prominent branch in the history of board games.
So when Chris Chan’s Portents first hit my table, I was fascinated to learn which type of cleromancy it would use. Drawing Roman sortes? The knucklebones and dice oracles of astragalomancy? The fateful archery competitions of belomancy? We haven’t even touched upon the really cool ones. Maybe Portents would let us manipulate shards of coconut, or pour molten metal into water and examine the resultant shape’s shadow, or undertake bean magic. Yes, bean magic. Favomancy. It’s shocking how many forms of geomancy used beans. The possibilities for gamification are endless.
Turns out, Portents is about haruspicy via bird parts. And while any self-respecting haruspex would immediately note that it uses the wrong organs, never fear: this one is about fraudsters trying to out-divine one another.
Have you ever gone mad pursuing a parent’s ambition? That’s the topic of T.C. Petty III’s My Father’s Work, a game of intergenerational trauma, weird science, and scaring off your loved ones. Also an app.
For all their lightness, party games are tough to design. Probably because comedy is hard enough to create deliberately, let alone when you’re helping others create it out of thin air. It isn’t just a matter of setting up jokes. There’s careful timing to good humor, a cadence, empty spaces, gaps. It’s no wonder so many party games stick to mimicking Apples to Apples.
Heather and Christopher O’Neill’s Aloha Earth goes the other direction, and although the result isn’t quite as well-trod as having everybody play a card, the formula is still a familiar one. This time, one player places a prompt on the table. Everyone else tries to get that player to laugh. There’s a little more to it, but not much. That’s both a strength and a weakness.
Yesterday we looked at €uro Crisis, a sharp-toothed economic game from Doppeldenkspiele with one heck of a political system and a jaw-unhinging dose of satire. Despite some reservations, I appreciated its unexpected edges and depth of play.
Its follow-up title, Claudio Bierig’s Plutocracy, rockets the financial power plays into the far reaches of the solar system. Unfortunately, despite being given infinite wiggle room, it largely sticks to one corner.
There’s this devastating moment in one of my favorite shows of all time, Mr. Robot. This character, a banker, describes the day he and other high-level executives decided to cover up evidence that one of their factories was leaking toxic chemicals. Speaking to the daughter of an employee who died from leukemia caused by that leak, this banker details how rather than going public with the information, the company decided to stash some money for a possible future lawsuit. Any settlement today would be paid from a fraction of the interest earned on that investment.
In a show packed with bombastic conspiracies, it’s an understated moment. This particular coverup wasn’t about controlling the world. It was the banality of regarding human beings as risks to be managed, item lines to be balanced, expenditures to be weighed against other expenditures.
€uro Crisis, whose designer only goes by “Galgor,” and published by Doppeldenkspiele — to give you some sense of what’s to come, that translates to “Doublethink Games” — also isn’t about controlling the world. It’s about financial crises and the people who profit from them. And it cranks the banality up to eleven.
Longtime readers know my blind spots. Trick-taking is a big one. My wife grew up with trick-takers. They were a regular family activity, so she learned their rhythm: the subtle tells, the contrasting modes of pressure and conservation and cooperation, the possibility of someone running away with a hand. When we try a new trick-taker, it doesn’t matter how different or innovative or oddball it happens to be — she settles back in like it’s the same game she’s played a hundred times before.
Shamans, the trick-taking game by Cédrick Chaboussit, falls into the oddball category. But despite a few departures from the normal template, it’s the first time I’ve slipped into the trancelike mindset of the trick-taker.