I’m picky when it comes to dueling games. To be clear, not every two-player game is what I’d call a “dueling game.” To qualify, it needs to be snappy, brutal, and not overly enamored with Magic: The Gathering. For years, my preferred favorite has been John Clowdus’s Omen: A Reign of War. Now a stranger has wandered into town: Daniel Piechnick’s Radlands. And while it’s far too early to call this particular duel for one side or the other — ask me again in a couple of years — for the time being, this relationship has reached the puppy love phase.
It’s a rare game that can make me laugh out loud. Alf Seegert’s The Road to Canterbury managed it no fewer than a half-dozen times. The setting shoulders plenty of that load. As medieval pardoners, it’s your task to earn some coin from pilgrims as they journey to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket — except you happen to be the most miserable brand of fraud alive. Everything about you is a fake. Your certificates of pardon, the “sins” you’ve convinced the pilgrims burden their immortal souls, and certainly the furball of Saint Felix you’re passing off as a holy relic. Appropriately, the only score that matters is how many shillings you’ve bilked.
When last we looked at Andrew Looney’s latest production of his pyramid system, the results were spotty. Of the four games included in the introductory Nomids set, only one put the system to good use. The rest relegated their pyramids to glorified counters. Better to heed the advice of Sir Benjamin Wyatt: “It’s all about the ‘mids.”
How does the second set fare? Fifty-fifty. But to put that in context, that’s double the score!
Every so often we encounter a game with objectives that feel totally disconnected from its play. Finicky victory checks, unexpected scoring criteria, weird tiebreakers — more an exercise in deciphering a designer’s intentions than sitting down to compete against some friends.
Glenn Cotter’s Fickle is the polar opposite. Your goals are always crystal clear. More than that, everybody else’s goals are clear, too. The trick is keeping your cards in place long enough to attain them. Talk about appropriate titles!
In this age of remote plays and digital implementations, it’s sometimes easy to forget that board games are pieces as much as they’re rules or settings or half-filled boxes hogging up more than their fair share of shelf space. Take John Clair’s Cubitos, for example. The absolute best part of Cubitos is handling its massive handfuls of dice. That isn’t faint praise. Cubitos knows what it does best. Which is why you’ll throw so many handfuls of dice that you place yourself at elevated risk of repetitive strain injury.
Let’s begin with a question. Imagine two different board game settings. The first is a goofball portrayal of piracy, complete with silly names, outrageous violence, and plenty of plunder. The second is a goofball portrayal of colonialism, complete with silly names, outrageous violence, and plenty of plunder.
Which bothers you more?
There’s something remarkable about holding an illuminated manuscript. It isn’t just the work itself, the artistry, the history leafed onto the pages. It’s the additional histories that crowd around the first. The scribbled notes. The stain of a fingerprint. The places where the paint has worn thin from dozens of fingers brushing the image of Jesus, or where a self-righteous fingernail has censored Eve’s privates.
Or the killer rabbits warring in the margins.
In true dedication to the apostils of history, Alf Seegert’s Illumination is about the latter. Two monks, one upstanding and the other irreverent, passing the days via the mortal contest of ensuring that their illustrations will endure for an age. How do they conduct this contest? By pitting rabbits against monks, squirrels against hounds, demons against angels. Naturally. How else?
It’s not that I’ve forgotten Flotilla exists. I’ve just forgotten what you do in it. Something about diving for resources and then trading them? Ships that hold barrels? Colors without meaning?
Apart from its wallpaper, Seastead doesn’t have much to do with Flotilla. It wasn’t even designed by the same duo. Jan Gonzalez and Ian Cooper are on the job, and they’ve gone out of their way to make this foray into Flotilla’s waterlogged world more memorable than the last. They even assigned names to the resources.
It’s no secret that my favorite part of Ryan Courtney’s Pipeline was the pipe-laying. Scoring, automation, loans — no thanks. Give me Donnelly nut spacing and cracked system rim-riding grip configurations using a field of half-seized sprats and brass-fitted nickel slits. The McMillan way. That’s all it takes to make me happy.
Curious Cargo is Courtney’s follow-up to Pipeline, although its shaky proximity to its predecessor has me doubting the term “follow-up.” As before, piping is a major feature. More so, even, than in Pipeline. But despite that similarity, it’s very much its own thing, right down to the husk nuts bolstered to each girdle jerry.
The wheel has turned. Below you’ll find links to every day of Best Week 2020, which despite the year’s expectations has hosted some of the finest games ever featured here on Space-Biff! Simply click the image to be transported to the relevant page.
See you on the other side, friend.