For all those who watched The Two Towers and thought they could do a better job of defending Helm’s Deep — and all those of us who were black-hearted enough to think the same thing but in favor of the Uruk-hai — the sparkled-up second edition of Stronghold is your game. It’s got humans. Orcs. A desperate battle to either hold out until the eighth hour or claim the fortress before reinforcements arrive. The only real difference is that both sides are competent.
The pedigree of the new 51st State: Master Set is a little odd, what with it being a dirtied-down version of Imperial Settlers, which was itself a prettied-up version of the original 51st State. Out with the brain-slamming hieroglyphics, out with the gamiest rules, and in with what just might be the cleanest presentation of post-apocalyptic living out there. Like many other fans of 51st State, I was skeptical that this new edition would be able to hold an acetylene candle to the original. So what’s the verdict?
There’s something to be said for brazenly occupying a niche nobody knew needed filling. For example, I was entirely unaware of my subliminal desire to outfit my own pirate ship with cartoon characters and kamikaze monkeys, agonize over lengths of rope and barrels of rum to afford the favor of the Pirate King back in port, and conduct naval warfare by chucking big handfuls of dice into a box — and then having their positions represent the chaos of battle.
I wasn’t aware I wanted this. Ignacy Trzewiczek was; and thus Rattle, Battle, Grab the Loot took its niche by storm.
It was announced back in January that The Witcher would soon be transformed into cardboard form courtesy of an alliance between Fantasy Flight Games and Ignacy Trzewiczek, famed designer of Imperial Settlers, 51st State, Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island, and The Convoy. For fans of The Witcher, it was quite a bit like when Geralt of Rivia teamed up with Siegfried of Denesle to take down the rogue Grand Master of the Order of the Flaming Rose.
For the uninitiated, that was a pretty cool moment. Best bromance ever, at least until Geralt teamed up with Vernon Roche in the sequel. Sniffle.
And no, I’m not crying about the bromances. I’m man enough to admit these are tears — but this time, the thing bringing water to my eyes is the fact that The Witcher Adventure Game simply doesn’t live up to its legacy.
A couple weeks back, I reviewed a family of games from Ignacy Trzewiczek by the name of 51st State, and mentioned that a new implementation of that system was forthcoming. Now it’s here, and a mere glimpse of the original trio’s artwork should provide sufficient indication that Imperial Settlers is going in an entirely different direction. For one thing, the sun shines in this universe. People smile. There’s not quite as much cannibalism.
Is that a good thing? Well, okay, for the inhabitants of Imperial Settlers, sure, of course it’s better. But how about for the rest of us?
I love post-apocalyptic stuff. Mostly because I’d be a pro at surviving the wasteland. Sure, sure, everybody says that. But I really would. Why? Because I’ve planned it all out, see. I’ve got my— well, more on that some other time. A man’s gotta have some mystery to him, you know?
For now, let’s talk about 51st State, a trio of games by one of my favorite designers, Ignacy Trzewiczek of Portal Games, set in the same blasted North American landscape as Neuroshima Hex and The Convoy (which was one of the best two-player games of 2013). This trilogy carries all the staples of the genre: scarce resources, harsh conditions, frumpy mutants… but even so, they manage to create their own vision of the world after the fall. Let’s take a look at all three!
Ahoy there! I’m filling in for Dan today. He told me that this “Alone Time” thing is a series about boardgames you can play by yourself, and there’s none better qualified to tell you about the solitary life than I, Robin Crusoe, of York, mariner, who lived one and ten days, all alone on an uninhabited island on the coast of America, near the mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; having been cast on shore by shipwreck, wherein all the men perished (ha!), with an account how I was at last strangely delivered by pirates. It’s pretty damn gripping, really.
Before we begin my amazing tale, Dan left me some notes to share with you. Let’s see here… something about an Ignacy Trzewiczek, who made a game about a convoy that Dan liked… best cooperative and solo game of the year… something like that. Sorry, the ink got damp on my last adventure. Sounds like it was boring anyway.
With that dull stuff out of the way, let’s talk about my adventure!
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.