What a difference a change of paint makes. Well, a change of paint plus a number of quality-of-life improvements, careful mechanical adjustments, and a near-total user interface overhaul.
Grant Rodiek’s SPQF was a treat, a Disney’s Robin Hood approach to deck-building and empire-building. Despite some jagged edges, it made a name for itself as one of the best games of 2018. But that’s old news. After some development with the folks at Leder Games, SPQF has been nipped, tucked, and fine-tuned into Fort. Quite the metamorphosis — and an improvement in nearly every regard.
There’s something about Grant Rodiek’s most recent designs that’s equally bold and foolhardy. Bold, because he’s willing to toy with our preconceptions about tried-and-true game systems to an extreme that most designers would balk at. And foolhardy for, well, pretty much the same reason. Whether you’re drafting somebody else’s cards in Solstice/Imperius or fumbling with the blind wagers and multi-use cards of Five Ravens, you can wager green money that his games will see you doing something familiar in an entirely unfamiliar way.
Enter SPQF. It’s a history pun, standing for the Senatus Populusque Forest — while gleefully disregarding that a Latin forest doesn’t begin with “F.” And it’s a Disney’s Robin Hood’s take on deck- and civilization-building with a Rodiek twist: cute animals, familiar concepts, and one bear of a first play.
While Grant Rodiek is possibly best known for Cry Havoc, it’s his smaller games that stand out as the purest expression of his design ethos. With offerings like Hocus and Solstice — the latter of which was one of the most devious games of last year — Rodiek seems determined to present slick, carefully tested, and, perhaps most importantly, interesting games, often with a footprint smaller than an actual footprint.
Enter Five Ravens. This is Rodiek’s newest game, and it’s easily one of his best yet.
After the iterative cleverness of Cry Havoc, which entrusted its players with the command of four highly distinctive factions, I’d gladly play almost anything designed by Grant Rodiek. Hence the initial allure of Solstice. Unlike Cry Havoc, however, Solstice would be a small production. No significant asymmetry, no mini sculpts, no fist-pumping Trogs. Just a fast-playing, hard-hitting, no-prisoners card game.
And hoo boy, is it devious.