Blog Archives

When Fire Met Stone

Notice how both sides use two-pronged symbols. Yet another signifier that they are more alike than they are different.

From Troy to Stalingrad, there’s nothing quite as gripping as the stakes and drama of a good siege. Sieges seem like the perfect setting for a board game, with their limited parameters and clear-cut victory conditions. Yet we don’t often see them given their due. In many cases, board game sieges are little more than countdown timers while armies elsewhere rush to reinforce besieged allies or outmaneuver their foes.

In stark contrast with other efforts, Fire & Stone: Siege of Vienna is possibly the best siege game I’ve played. We’ve seen the work of Robert DeLeskie before, first with The Wars of Marcus Aurelius and later Stilicho: Last of the Romans. But where those were sweeping epics, covering decades of zoomed-out politics, Fire & Stone covers two months of intense fighting between the Ottoman and Holy Roman Empires.

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The Jaunty Mattanza

a postcard of Sicily's famous burning manors Vespa tour

La Famiglia: The Great Mafia War, the latest design by Maximilian Maria Thiel, has caused a minor stir thanks to its subject matter, the Sicilian mafia wars of the 1980s. Sometimes called the Mattanza — the slaughter — this conflict claimed thousands of victims, including bystanders, police officers, and civil servants, and included acts of violence that crossed borders and oceans.

When it comes to board games, it’s hard to find a setting that will unsettle me. I’m less interested in a game’s proposition than its execution. Playing La Famiglia, however, it’s hard to escape the niggling feeling that this isn’t the most canny handling of a sensitive topic.

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Fluss und See: A Look at Weimar


Even as a prototype, Matthias Cramer’s Weimar is a sprawling work. Taking cues from Mark Herman’s Churchill and covering the entire span of the short-lived Weimar Republic, how could it not be? This is history that shaped everything about the following century. Few have bothered to learn anything about it.

Before we begin, it should be noted that I’ve played Weimar all of once. Normally my policy is three plays before I’ll write anything, even for previews. With only eleven days left on its crowdfunding clock, its six-hour playtime and four-player complement mean that won’t be possible. These thoughts are only halfway formulated. It’s entirely possible I’ll get something wrong. Still, I want to tell you about it.

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Terraforming Earth

Only an estimated 3,900 tigers remain in the wild.

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.

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When All the Good Routes Aragon…

Them: "Don't you ever get sick of using puns?" Me: "Navarre."

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.

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Sick Rift, Bro

What is a riftforce? Is it a strike team that hangs around rifts? A force that emanates from rifts? A rift-based form of compulsion?

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.

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The Cargo Isn’t All That’s Curious About It

Whimsy! Look, whimsy! OR IS IT?

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.

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Five-Foot-Three-Inch Gauge

It's appropriately green.

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.

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I Am Totes a Crook

With the aid of a cracked mirror, Nixon examines the inherent contradictions of personhood.

A game about investigating the President of the United States for obstruction of justice? How far-fetched.

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Laying Pipe


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.

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