Ark Nova, designed by Matthias Wigge and so widely acclaimed that it’s been distributed by literally one dozen publishers, is easiest to describe via amalgamation. There’s the sprawling market of Vlaada Chvátil’s Through the Ages, the escalator of five action cards from James Kniffen’s Civilization: A New Dawn, and the vaguely aggravating card draws of Jacob Fryxelius’s Terraforming Mars.
It’s wildly popular. I think I know why.
Yesterday we looked at Amabel Holland’s Trans-Siberian Railroad, a cube rails game so stuffed with ideas it had a serious case of stomach cramps. Published only two years later, Iberian Gauge tinkers in similar spaces. This time, however, its appetite and gaze are simpatico.
Longtime readers may recall that I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to location-grabbing horizontal area control games, a.k.a. Battle a-Line-ks, a.k.a. Schotten-tots. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Why, none other than titles such as Omen: A Reign of War, Haven, and Air, Land, & Sea, all of which put their own spin on this simplest of genres.
Now I have a fourth favorite: Carlo Bortolini’s Riftforce. The trouble is that its spin is best expressed via numbers.
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.
Did you know that Ireland’s track gauge isn’t very common? 1,600mm. That’s rare, apparently. Not that you’d know it from Tom Russell’s Irish Gauge. Some games fill you in on what they’re about. Scratch that, most games. Some go the extra mile by holding forth on the ancient lineages of their elves. Irish Gauge doesn’t warrant a paragraph. Not even a blurb in the rulebook. The back of the box says something about puffs of black smoke and braking steam — real scene-setting stuff — but nothing about why Ireland requires such wide tracks. You’d think that’d be an American thing.
Not that it matters. If Irish Gauge is presenting one of Russell’s systemic arguments, it’s silent on the topic. Instead, this is a design of sharp edges and barbed hooks. And it peels its way under the skin with only a single sheet of rules.
A game about investigating the President of the United States for obstruction of justice? How far-fetched.
I have a theory that the hallmark of a heavy economic game is the ability to take out a loan. Not just any loan, mind you. This isn’t some family loan, a hand-wavey Pay me back when you get the chance, son. No, this is the loan a banker makes when he’s got you over a barrel with one hand and is clutching your short hairs with the other. The sort of loan that makes you wonder why you decided to lay track instead of becoming a financier.
Pipeline lets you take out such loans. The first time will wring a gasp-worthy 33% interest out of you, and each additional loan compounds from there. By the fifth visit to Mr. Manager, Sir, you’ll be required to pay back 400% of what you borrowed. Not that you’ll need five loans. But the option is there, tantalizing like an apple in the Garden of Eden.
Does Pipeline live up to its allure? For a while, sure.
I don’t usually assign scores, but The Estates deserves zero stars. That’s right. Zero. As in nothing. Even harsher, I’ll award its predecessor, the decade-old Neue Heimat, negative eight points. Just for being German. Yeah, I went there.
But here’s the thing: when it comes to The Estates, that’s a stupendously flattering score. Come on down and I’ll explain why.