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Foucault in the Woodland, Part Three: Devouring Your Children

Famous nudist Michel Foucault.

It was the Genevan journalist Jacques Mallet du Pan who wrote the famous phrase, “Like Saturn, the Revolution devours its children.” Writing in 1793, the year of King Louis XVI’s execution and the establishment of the First French Republic, du Pan was a proponent of the juste milieu, a “middle way” between autocratic and republican impulses. Considered both hopelessly naïve and tragically Cassandran, he died in exile in 1800, having watched his adoptive country pass through the Reign of Terror and into the hands of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Over the past two installments, we’ve investigated how Cole Wehrle’s Root leverages the philosophies of Michel Foucault to tell a fable about power and control. Today, we’re putting those tools to use.

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Foucault in the Woodland, Part Two: All That Power

Foucault's theories about the power of the typically powerless are really about the stunning beauty of baldness.

Right when he thought he was out, Michel Foucault wandered straight back into the woodland. Silly Foucault. Something tells me it won’t be the last time.

Speaking of last times, in the first part of our series on the Foucauldian assumptions behind Cole Wehrle’s Root, we introduced the concept of biopower. The very short version is that the suits on the game’s cards and clearings might feel like mere components, but they really represent the majority population that’s the font of all power in the woodland. In order to win, every faction must use different methods to control and expend them.

But that’s going to have to wait. Today we’re talking about the big picture. What is the central conflict in Root, and what can we learn from it?

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Foucault in the Woodland, Part One: The Small Folk

"Wait, Foucault is behind the whole thing?" "Always was." /.jpg of astronaut shooting another astronaut

Most people would agree that Cole Wehrle did something magnificent with Root. As a game, it’s no mean feat, a sandbox where any number of truly asymmetric factions can interact with surprising fluidity. But that sandbox only scratches the surface. Root is also the most Foucauldian examination of power dynamics ever put to cardboard.

Does that matter? Well, it depends. To somebody looking to ransack a few of the Marquise’s sawmills, maybe not. But as a historical and cultural artifact, Root speaks to so much more than its folksy anthropomorphs might lead you to believe. In this series, we’re going to talk about why.

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Oaf

So far, the only identifiable characteristic of games by Leder is that they all have four-letter titles. Might I humbly recommend POOP for their next blockbuster?

Oath is Cole Wehrle’s most off-putting game yet. I mean that affectionately. I also don’t anticipate everybody will feel the same way. Riding high on the goodwill generated by Root and Pax Pamir — and dressed up in Kyle Ferrin’s affable illustrative style — this sure is a beaut for something Wehrle called a “hate letter” to the civilization genre. Would it be rude to accuse such an attractive package of false advertising? Because Oath is so determined to make its audience reconsider their assumptions that it sometimes feels like it’s asking too much.

Sometimes. The rest of the time, I’m glad it asks so much.

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Rhüt: The Marauder Expansion

Apparently March's theme is Me Writing About Stuff On Crowdfunding Right Now.

I get nervous every time Root gets bigger. It’s the knock-on effect of so many boxes, so many factions, so many little details to keep straight. In contrast with some folks, my experiences with Root have grown more interesting as everybody at the table masters the intricacies of its many sides. Every addition jeopardizes that smoothness. Even if the effect is only temporary, that’s one more chance that I’ll step away and never muster the will to return.

So it’s good news that the Marauder Expansion is less about expansion than about streamlining.

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Grant Rodiek Presents: Fart

Yes, we call it Fart every time we talk about it. That seems appropriate to me. Dan at eight years old would have laughed his tummy sore.

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.

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Space-Cast! #5. Arguments with Cole

KISS KISS KISS KISS

You’ve probably heard of Cole Wehrle. But have you heard Cole Wehrle arguing? On today’s episode of the Space-Biff! Space-Cast!, join Dan and Cole as we talk about argument and simulation in board games, explore a few deeply accusatory questions about second editions, and settle the conundrum of how Rome fell. Or did it?

Listen over here or download here. Timestamps can be found after the jump.

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Five Generations: A Look at Oath

Our people have always been here, according to some. But only some. Don't listen to the honey dripped in your ears. There's no shortage of folk who'll talk foolishness — that the six tribes were descended from sextuplets born of a river so high in the mountains it near meets the sky; that their children were fated together from the moment the cord was cut; that together, we, the children of their children's children, form a union inseparable. A Commonwealth. There's that word. Commonwealth. Its meaning is as old as stones. Older even than some of the legends. But legends are stories that grew too big for their skirts. I'm a history man. We speak only stories that are true. Even when we lie. Especially then.

History is a funny thing. Ask yourself, what era do you live in? The modern age? Postmodern? Information? The Holocene, more specifically the Meghalayan? Or will the historians of far-flung generations assign a designation that doesn’t capture any of the details you personally associate with this moment? Everything our culture has accomplished, compressed by distance and necessity, into the Aluminum Age. At long last, the dead of the Bronze Age will nod in satisfaction at our diminishment.

When I spoke to Cole Wehrle about Oath, he called it a “hate letter” to civilization games and legacy games. It’s easy to see why. Like digging the fragments of a lost civilization from the compacted mass of an ancient trash heap, there are fragments to be found, shards and sherds, enough to make out an unmistakable imprint or two. Oath is a civilization game, but not like any you’ve played before. And it’s also a legacy game, but even less familiar. This is what I think about it. This is also the story of my first six plays. I hope you’ll soon understand why they’re the same thing.

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More Vaster, Less Vastish

I love the warlock DESCENDING ON A CLOUD OF FARTS

What I most appreciated about Vast: The Crystal Caverns was its improbable intermarriage of two ideas. The first was its dungeon, generated in roguelike fashion from a generous stack of tiles, producing a sprawling cavern filled with perils and plunder. The other idea was deep, even idolatrous asymmetry. Far more than the possibility of the multiple heroes offered by so many other dungeon crawls. Rather, it was an all-inclusive medley of characters and play styles. The knight versus the dragon, but also the sneaky thief, a pack of suicidal goblins, and even the haunted cavern itself, all working at cross-purposes.

Just as Vast beget Root, Cole Wehrle’s more approachable take on rabid asymmetry, so too does Patrick Leder’s Vast: The Mysterious Manor emerge from a paradigm established by Root. Which is really just a fancy-pants way of saying that this is a kinder, friendlier Vast — when it comes to learning the rules, at least.

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Putting Down Roots (Again)

"I got no ROOTS" the Lizard bellows, annoying everyone at the table.

Root is mighty cool. I wrote as much last week. But that was before trying my hand at everything offered by its first expansion, Riverfolk. What follows are my thoughts on every last additional ingredient it tosses into Root’s already-potent stew of factions. Like so:

Card Holders: These are card holders. If you don’t know how you feel about card holders, then you don’t know anything at all.

Got it? Great. Let’s do this.

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