There’s something fishy going on with Mountains of Madness, and I’m not talking about the Innsmouth look. Rather, it’s the sort of game that seems determined to pull in multiple directions at once. On the one hand, it proposes a serious take on H.P. Lovecraft’s most recognizable work, complete with eerie illustrations, a map that promises that unknowable mysteries will be unveiled upon summiting its highest peak, and not even one disproportionately attractive librarian toting a tommy gun.
On the other hand, it’s also a real-time puzzle game that makes you speak with a foreign accent, pet a neighbor’s face, and stand on your chair. Which is to say, it’s got a tonal problem the way Lovecraft had a compare-nonwhites-to-animals problem.
Dungeon diving doesn’t have to be an ordeal. In fact, Welcome to the Dungeon pitches the act of spelunking ancient tombs as almost whimsical, heroes marching into the murky depths at the slightest fit of pique, their lives spent with hardly a care other than for your amusement.
And somehow, it works. Hoo boy, does it ever.
Real-time games hold a special place in my heart, mostly because many of my best gaming memories revolve around the absolutely bonkers Space Alert. My family played through the campaign mode from the expansion, and even bought my dad a captain’s shirt one Christmas. “Listen up,” he’d say at the beginning of each run. “Emilie, you’re taking care of energy? Son, you’re going right? Somerset, left? Who’s going to jiggle the computer mouse? Remember to say if you need cards.” Then we’d press play on the CD player and proceed to panic like a chicken with its head, legs, and wings chopped off and rearranged at random.
Suffice it to say, Zombie 15′, which pits a pack of fifteen-year-old kids against a zombie horde, with only fifteen minutes to escape each of its fifteen scenarios, sounded exactly like my sort of thing.
I almost passed over Titanium Wars just because its name is so doltish. Apparently, in the far reaches of the distant future, folks have discovered a powerful new source of nearly-limitless energy… and named it titanium, just for the sake of double-booking a fairly specific word. As though titanium’s day job as Atomic Number 22 just wasn’t making ends meet or something.
Notwithstanding the minor detail that pretty much anything would have made for a better title (my group kept reflexively calling it “Tiberium Wars,” which yes is already taken but shows how easy it would be to slot any old made-up sci-fi energy name in there and call it a day), it turns out Titanium Wars is a surprisingly good negotiation game. I’ll explain below.
Ignacy Trzewiczek is best known for two things: one, he’s the only boardgame designer alive today whose name is harder to pronounce than Vlaada Chvátil’s (I think. It’s not like I can pronounce either of them); and two, his clockwork brain is responsible for a few recent hits like Prêt-à-Porter, 51st State, and the upcoming Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island. When I heard that The Convoy was set in the same hard-bitten world as Neuroshima Hex, and that it used one of my favorite cardgame mechanics (horizontal area control!), I could neither eat nor drink until I had a copy in my hands. Was my excitement justified? Find out below.