I suffer from panic attacks and poor health.
How’s that for an opener? I’m normally reserved about sharing personal details like that. But there it is: I’ve suffered from health complications my entire life, a handful of which have necessitated serious corrective surgeries and lengthy periods of recovery. Heading Forward, the solitaire game designed by John du Bois, makes sharing those details easier, or at least less frightening. Maybe those are the same thing. Empathy isn’t the first emotion I would expect to feel when playing a board game, but this demonstrates exactly how to express something deeply personal via a handful of cards and some punchboard spoons.
I’ve always been jealous of people who could transform knotted shoelaces into elaborate cat’s cradles. Or, frankly, people who could tie their shoes without them coming undone five minutes later. There’s a reason I’m a socks-in-Birkenstocks kind of guy.
Amabel Holland’s Eyelet is a game for those folks. For me, it’s closer to therapy.
Nearly seventeen hundred years ago, a bunch of theology nerds were called together to answer one simple question: what is the nature of God? Their answer has shaped the way we’ve thought about the divine ever since. That’s the topic of Amabel Holland’s Nicaea, plus an irreverent twist or two. Today, Amabel joins us to chat about orthodoxy, heresy, and the politicking that happened in between the extremes all those years ago.
Ecumenical councils aren’t exactly the topic everybody stays awake for, but there’s a good chance you’ve heard of the Council of Nicaea. Flush with success after unifying the Roman Empire, the Emperor Constantine had made himself the patron of Christianity, a major turnaround after the persecutions of Emperor Diocletian only a decade earlier. But Constantine’s fledgling religious program faced one major problem: rumblings of controversy in Alexandria over the nature of Christ. To avert potential embarrassment — or worse, schism — Constantine convened his council in 325 CE, leading to the first sweeping statement of orthodoxy in Christian canon.
That’s the part you probably know. Less publicized is the base political nature of the outcome, all those long-held and supposedly sincere doctrinal positions wilting in the face of the Council’s pronouncements. Although the attending bishops began almost evenly split, in the end only three out of three hundred refused to side with the majority and retain their privileges and positions. A miracle, perhaps. Or maybe, just maybe, ambition and cowardice played as much a role as they always do.
So begins Amabel Holland’s Nicaea, an irreverent, boisterous, and gleefully blasphemous assault on the entire concept of orthodoxy. Expect some ruffled feathers and you won’t be disappointed.
It isn’t possible to discuss Tom Russell’s The Vote without invoking her earlier design This Guilty Land. In part because they both make use of the same game system, a masterclass of functionality that demands periodic trips back to the rulebook, though in fairness this year’s outing putters along more smoothly, less opaquely, and buoyed by a tighter narrative arc.
If only the similarities stopped there. Instead, the lion’s share are more thematic, and by extension more somber. This Guilty Land was designed to evoke frustration. With its systems, yes, but also with the injustices permitted by those systems — and worse, enabled by them. Features rather than bugs. In Russell’s hands, the gridlock that prevented emancipation is the same gridlock that prevented women’s suffrage. Which is a long way of saying that The Vote is a streamlined and more playable version of its former self. But as a metatextual continuation of This Guilty Land, it’s far more than that.
In a few days, Hollandspiele will be launching their annual holiday sale. True, I could provide recommendations. I could talk about how the games published by Tom and Mary Russell make consistent appearances during Best Week. I could talk about how it’s important to support independent publishers.
But I won’t.
Because instead I’m going to review some of the freebie games that Tom and Mary have included over the past couple of years — and the one they’ll be including this year. Oh yes.
Poor Rome. No matter how many centuries fly by, her problems remain the same. When last we spied the immortal city — or at least the version found in Robert DeLeskie’s solo wargame Wars of Marcus Aurelius — the Marcomanni, Quadi, and Iazyges were harassing the frontiers. Now it’s the Goths, Vandals, and an upstart general named Constantine III who’s decided he’d rather call the shots for a change. Thank goodness for loyal half-barbarian Stilicho, ready to defend the young Emperor Honorius from all comers.
Today on the Space-Biff! Space-Cast!, Dan is joined by Tom Russell, who answers questions about his controversial title This Guilty Land, discusses research and responsibility in crafting board games, and answers the two most difficult questions of them all: what is your favorite dinosaur, and what is art?
Today marks the 500th anniversary of the conclusion of the 1520 summit between King Henry VIII of England and King Francis I of France. The purpose of this summit was nothing less than the leveraging of the scales of power in Europe. Long story short, Francis was the sovereign of one of two European superpowers — the other being Charles V of the Hapsburg Empire — and as such, he hoped to recruit the up-and-coming Henry VIII as an ally. Instead, they feasted and jousted and showed off fancy clothes for over two weeks, caused the site in Balingham to be named Camp du Drap d’Or, and, after frittering away unthinkable wealth, failed to produce an alliance when England hopped into bed with the Hapsburgs anyway.
Tom Russell’s The Field of the Cloth of Gold is an appropriate commemoration. Unlike the actual summit, this outing is a trifle, a game designed briskly and minimally. Yet its frivolousness is all the more fitting for the real event’s excesses, a chuckle at the peacocking its sovereigns would undertake in the name of an alliance that never materialized.
In other words, this is a wonderful send-up of the absurdities of Medieval gift-giving — and also point-salad game design. Different epochs, perfect bedfellows. And Russell has his tongue firmly embedded in his cheek as he officiates the marriage.
As the world is ravaged by toilet paper shortages, Dan Thurot is joined by Erin Lee Escobedo to discuss the ins and outs of tactical starvation in her game Meltwater, how its spiritual grandparents would make for history’s oddest couple, the artificiality of some of gaming’s biggest narrative choices, and the difficulty (but value) of conceding defeat. Cheery stuff for the second episode of the Space-Biff! Space-Cast!