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A Handful of Excellent Sandbox Games


As I wrote last week, the “sandbox Euro” of Feudum is a handsome but troubled youngster. It’s got some great ideas, a slick sense of style, and knows it’s clever. But maybe that’s the problem. For everything it does right, it comes parcel with two exceptions, fussy rules, or instances where it stubbornly refuses to be streamlined.

Still, it’s hard to deny that this dizzying blend of movement puzzle, player-driven feudal holdings, and market manipulation taps into something desirable. The freedom of a sandbox game can be intoxicating, trusting players to pursue their goals with unusual latitude. Where most games offer an intensely curated experience, it’s a joy to be set loose within a set of systems and trusted to sink or swim, boom or bust.

So, as an alternative for those who might be thirsting after something a little more open-ended than usual, what follows are a bunch of my favorite sandbox-style games, ranked in order of their ascending complexity.

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Tell ‘Em I Ain’t Comin’ Back


If I were to place myself on the Firefly/Serenity Bias Scale™, I’d be a firm 7 — a far cry from the “biased against” minority down at the bottom, a bit above the “no bias whatsoever” score of 5, and not quite the eerie devotion of those who rate a 10.

I’m telling you this because the new Firefly board game, from the same designers behind last year’s lauded Spartacus: A Game of Blood & Treachery, has been landing quite a few positive reviews (and a couple negative ones too) on the basis of its nostalgia factor. Does that seem right to you? I mean, I think it seems perfectly fine, since the game is about emulating the feel and spirit of the television show and movie, but if you’re at all like me — as in, you roll your eyes ever so slightly at that twangy intro theme and some of the more out-of-place western affectations, and really could not give a flying hump about someone’s Summer Glau themed DeviantArt account — then maybe this is the review for you.

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