When it comes to board game settings, I’m about as energized by the appearance of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu as by anything featuring zombies — as in, yeah, they’re overdone, but at least they’re easy to design around. Just as zombies provide baked-in behavior (walk and bite, walk and bite), the presence of Cthulhu & Co. means you know what you’re getting yourself into. Hooded cultists, the coastal hamlets of New England, encroaching madness, and the Arkham that isn’t associated with Batman. It’s thematic shorthand for “watch your health and sanity meters.”
It might be possible to say that Fate of the Elder Gods does the setting a service by letting you don the robes of the cultists themselves as you strive to summon your chosen mind-flaying monster, but it’s hardly the first to do so. Instead, we’ll have to settle for celebrating the fact that it’s a surprisingly good screw-your-buddies affair.
At first blush, Spirit Island looks achingly familiar. A tropical island lush with multiple colorful regions, ranging across jungles and mountains and wetlands and deserts. Why, that’s nearly as many as in The Settlers of Catan! What’s more, here are some lily-white explorers, a few towns, even the occasional city. Every so often a crude grass hut interrupts the landscape. The only things missing are some roads and sheep cards. Throw in an economic engine and some bleating about chivalry and, baby, you’ve got a Euro going.
That’s where Spirit Island turns a hard left. Turns out you aren’t the settlers at all. Rather, you’re the indigenous spirits trying to shake off their white-man burden before you can say “smallpox.” Whether that means scaring them silly or burning all those cities to the ground, whatever gets the job done.
But that’s the window dressing. Spirit Island is more than some mildly socially-aware theming. It’s also el banana grande.
Now that Stranger Things and Ready Player One are all the rage, it seems the ’80s are finally having their heyday. Take Lazer Ryderz, for example. Here’s a game that’s basically the light cycles from Tron.
That’s it. Were you expecting me to say more about it?
Bad little boys are laid on the tracks,
— lashed in place with rusted old chains —
locomotives splitting clean as an axe,
when sent by grandma to the isle of trains.
That’s what old gran used to sing to me as a young child. Ever since, I’ve had a peculiar paranoia of islands packed with trains. Who put these evil trains on an island? Why are they so mean to lost children? Were these the little engines that couldn’t? I used to stay up nights pondering the answers to these questions. So when the card game version of Isle of Trains fell into my hands, it was a good four months before I got up the courage to play it. Turns out, it’s a perfectly pleasant hand-management game. Huh!
LAST TIME (SC #134) (you should read this before continuing), Absolute Zero of the Freedom Five was joined by the solar-powered Ra and the mysterious Haka to find and destroy Baron Blade’s Terralunar Impulsion Beam. The good Baron had the decency to establish his base camp amidst the ruins of Atlantis, off the coast of Madagascar, which made for pretty easy pickings for our unlikely squad of heroes. Unfortunately, the moment the Beam was deactivated (and the world saved, incidentally), Baron Blade himself showed up with one heck of a grudge. Already weakened by their attack on the Baron’s camp, our heroes sure are in dire straits, in…
Sentinel Comics #135: Hero… to Zero!
LAST TIME (SC #133) Legacy had led the Freedom Five to finally uncover Baron Blade’s plot to use lost Atlantean technology to power his Terralunar Impulsion Beam. Unfortunately, this left four of the Freedom Five halfway around the world and unable to make it to Atlantis before the dastardly beam’s activation (loyal readers will recall that Tachyon’s super-speed had been temporarily lost along with her memories back in SC #124). With Visionary and the Inhuman Tempest lost in space and time thanks to Grand Warlord Voss (SC #130), and with Fanatic trapped in an alternate reality of Omnitron’s creation (SC #125), the task has fallen to Absolute Zero to lead a team of unlikely allies to save the world in…
Sentinel Comics #134: The Blade of Atlantis!