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Brave Little Borby

Check out that Brave Little Belgian.

Brave Little Belgium, about the violation of Belgian neutrality by Germany at the outset of World War I, positions itself as an entry-level wargame, perfect for teaching newcomers the ropes of this rich — and often intimidating — sublevel of the board games basement. Beginners can expect to learn:

  • The basics of point-to-point army movement and the value of scouting.
  • How chit-pull activation works.
  • That more seasoned wargamers will laugh when you complain about paper maps.
  • Precisely what qualifies as “solitaire suitability” among grognards.

Not bad! Let’s evaluate how well it succeeds.

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The Emergence of Shy Space Base

Every ship deserves racing stripes.

For a dice game, Space Base doesn’t arrive with very many dice. You’ll find no chunky handfuls here. Two dinky dice is all you get. And those two are cursed, I’m certain of it, prompting my group to pull out the dice bowl so that we can roll something other than 4s and 5s for once. Guess we’re rolling chunky handfuls after all.

But curses aside, Space Base knows how to put its dice to good use. How to get crazy with them. How to make rolling 2d6 more exciting than they have any right to be.

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False Messiah

Just me doin' me, but I'd stand OUTSIDE those creepy sleeping god fingers.

In one sense, True Messiah is the poster boy for why Kickstarter exists. It was funded independently of any major publisher, it’s a little oddball, it stands well beyond the usual circles, and happens to be designed by a newcomer with some digital game design experience but no name in tabletop. A passion project, in other words, and one that likely wouldn’t have been birthed without crowdfunding. This is the very reason Kickstarter was lauded as a platform in the first place.

In another sense, however, it’s also a poster boy for why crowdfunded passion projects that stand well beyond the usual circles aren’t always everything they’re cracked up to be.

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Teensy Towns

note: no mice included

I’m not sure there’s a title that makes my eyelids droop more than Tiny Towns. The back of the box only deepens my fatigue. Colorful cubes, check. Little woodcut buildings, cute. A blank 4×4 grid for each player, groan. Pastoral scenes of golden farms and thatched granaries and unkempt almshouses — credit where it’s due, there’s a cure for insomnia here.

But as Socrates said, “Don’t judge a scroll by the gross animal veins in its parchment.” So too it is with Tiny Towns. Although this isn’t the sort of game that gets my heart pounding, it’s no soporific.

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I Drive

Tonally this game is more Italian Job than Drive, but I can't get Nightcall out of my head.

Getaway Driver would benefit from a soundtrack of frenetic jazz. Asymmetry is all the rage this year, but few games embrace it quite as wholeheartedly as Jeff Beck’s game of cat and mouse and cat and cat and cat — which seems dire until you realize that this particular mouse is riding five hundred horsepower and knows this city by heart. In other words, it’s free-form, kinetic, and apart from a few minor stutters, a real treat of asymmetric design.

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Shards of Holy Crap Infinite Damage

No idea what that dude's about, though.

One of the things I love most about this hobby is how it constantly surprises me, and not always grand, paradigm-shattering ways. Shards of Infinity is a perfect example. Deck-building as a mechanism has been done, and done, and done again so comprehensively that unless you slap a “hybrid” in front of there, I’m probably going to zone out. It’s about superpowered beings pummeling the snot out of each other? Oh. Snore.

It was the names Gary Arant and Justin Gary, creators of Ascension, that made me perk up enough to hear the elevator pitch. I’m glad I did. Because Shards of Infinity gets one thing totally right. Scratch that, it gets a lot of things totally right, but it gets one thing totally right that no other pure deck-builder has yet to get totally right. And the result is a quiet revolution, one of the baddest-ass pure DBGs I’ve played.

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The Expanse-ion

spacehat

I liked The Expanse. Quite a bit, actually. Now it has an expanse-ion called Doors and Corners. And although expanse-ions aren’t always as interesting to review — especially when they’re a pile of modules that you can add or ignore as you please — this is my comprehensive take on every single tidbit. Think of it like six micro-reviews, beginning with:

New Board: It’s more colorful, but the extra pop unfortunately makes the resource nodes a little harder to see. Then again, it’s more colorful. Final Score: That random spy from near the end of the first season of the TV series. You know, the guy played by the actor who was also Adam Jensen from the new Deus Ex games. As in, I could take it or leave it.

Variable Setup: Here’s my question: Why? I guess if you’re bored of the initial game’s setup, this lets you tinker with that. But the board state can change its mind so quickly and so radically that I don’t really see the appeal. Final Score: Dumb Jim Holden.

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Ghosts of the Moop

man oh man i hope my blurry pics come across as spooky and not crummy please oh please

Ghosts of the Moor — or Moorgeister in the original German, which sounds like a bodily function run awry — is a dice game collaboratively designed by Michael Kiesling and Wolfgang Kramer. It isn’t an amazing dice game, nor is it a game I’d easily recommend.

That said, it is significantly better than I expected. As in, a whole lot. And there’s one key reasons why.

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An Unmitigated Disastle

The asteroid chunk has a volcano on it? Well, yes, you'll have some growing pains in your new home.

Some folks arrange castle chambers for fun, others arrange castle chambers because they’re about to be smashed to bits by random catastrophes. The people of Disastles — disaster castles, don’t you know — fall into the latter category.

What a peculiar game. Let’s talk about why.

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Barbarossa’s Last Swim

Ah yes, the medieval pastime of "balance your helmeted forehead atop your pommel." Games were different then.

I have a thing for controversial games. If board games can be art in addition to mere product — which is a point I would heatedly defend — then they can also say something about the world around us. National identity, history, aesthetics, social justice, cultural assumptions; it’s all up for grabs. A lot of the time a game will even tell us something without particularly meaning to. Sometimes that thing is even more telling than its actual message.

When I heard that Seth Jaffee’s Crusaders: They Will Be Done had sparked some minor controversy, with complaints ranging from the tone-deafness of its setting to racial insensitivity, I had to get a look. After all, my background is in religious history, up to and including the actual crusades. I’m practically obligated to have an opinion on such things. It’s as reflexive as noshing on potato chips if they happen to be sitting in front of me. Which is why, going in, my assumption was that I’d find the game’s mechanisms compelling but its history uninsightful.

Imagine my surprise when Crusaders tipped my assumption on its head.

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