Cairn or Cairn’t?
I’m always befuddled when somebody asks if a higher-count title will work with only two people. Say, Christian Martinez’s excellent Inis or its expansion. Friend, let me stop you there. Don’t you already have the entire world at your fingertips? Aren’t you drowning in two-player games? Isn’t 2p your most competed-for count? It’s certainly mine. I can barely play the best two-player games, let alone those that are merely good.
Cairn is a two-player game. By Christian Martinez. Two facts that stand in diametric opposition in the tug-of-war for my interest. Let’s see how it fares.
One of the things I always look for with an expansion is whether it feels like an expansion. No, that isn’t meant to be a tautological nightmare. Rather, my hope is always that an expansion will integrate into the base game in such a way that it feels seamless, without snags or snake’s hands. Since Inis has been one of my favorite dudes-on-a-map games for the past three years, I was eager to see whether the five modules of its expansion were up to the task. And hey, if they turned out to be duds, at least I got to play more Inis. Did I mention that I’m a big fan of Inis?
Here’s the good news: Seasons of Inis scores a venerable four out of five. And although one of its modules doesn’t fit quite as fluidly as the rest, it isn’t any slouch, either.
The Dry-Erase Smudge Marks the Spot
Tim Curry has been captured! His treasure lies buried somewhere on the island. Gonzo, Rizzo the Rat, and that bemulleted blonde kid — professional pirates all, a real festival of conviviality — are racing to figure out Tim Curry’s clues and unearth the gold. That’s right, it’s Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, a book that I’ve absolutely read. And in cardboard form, it may feature fewer musical numbers than the original, but it’s also a sublime deduction game.
Most of the time, anyway.
There were precisely two problems with last year’s firecracker-in-a-tin-can Captain Sonar. One, it benefited from a crew of at least six people to staff its dueling submarines, and was further improved by a full complement of eight. And two, it was the direct opposite of a good meditation session. It could get so hairy it was almost a cure for balding.
Sonar — sans the Captain — is Matagot’s gesture of reconciliation toward those who suffered post-traumatic stress as a result of their time at the scope, helm, engine room, and torpedo tube. In theory, it’s the same grand sub-hunting action, but for two or four players and at a much more relaxed pace. The question, then, is whether Sonar represents a dry-erase The Hunt for Red October — or is it more akin to Down Periscope?
Sini in Reverse
The best things about Inis have almost nothing to do with its Celtic-Irish mythology. Almost. Much like how the best things about Cyclades and Kemet — both of which are also dudes-on-a-map games from Matagot — have almost nothing to do with their Greek or Egyptian mythologies.
In fact, at first glance Inis doesn’t seem like your usual dudes-on-a-map affair at all. It’s got dudes, sure. And a map. And the dudes are on the map. But when it comes right down to it, this is a game about king-making that features a whole lot of actual king-making. And in this rare case, that’s a great thing.
Dive, Evade, Scrawl, Erase
There’s something special about real-time games. Whether it’s the team-on-team action of Space Cadets: Dice Duel, the brisk cooperation of Meteor or FUSE, or the nigh-impossible machinations of current reigning champion Space Alert, nothing gets the heart drumming like a game where minutes count. Where seconds count. Stripped out is the freedom to analyze or negotiate or stall. Gone is the mathy higher brain function that dominates so many games. All that remains is panic and reflex.
Captain Sonar grasps what makes real-time games such a thrill. And, calling it right now, it’s not only one of the best real-time games ever made, it’s also one of the best games. Full stop.
Dear Matagot, publisher of Ultimate Warriorz:
Did you see what I did with the title of this article? How I — sans talent or creativity — transformed “games” into “gamez”? Did you feel a shudder of professional contempt when you saw that? Was the breath sucked from your lungs in a paroxysm of disdain? Did you seriously contemplate depositing some hate mailz into my inbox?
Now you know how I feel whenever I play Ultimate Warriorz. No matter how great the game itself is, I will never ever be able to unsee that inverted S. Please use the correct spelling of words from now on. Misspelling is not cute. It is not fun. It is not whimsical. On the contrary, it’s worse than genocide.
Feign Inferiority, Encourage Arrogance
He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot, will be victorious.
If you are far from the enemy, make him believe you are near.
When in doubt, attack Geoff.
All excellent advice. Truly, Sun Tzu was wise in the art of war.
C3K is K4Me
I don’t believe there’s anyone alive in the world of board games who’s managed to corner the Awesome Light Wargame With Badass Mythological Miniatures niche so well as Matagot, as evidenced by Cyclades being one of the best games of 2009 and Kemet knocking everyone’s socks off in 2013. Proof, and more proof (at least for the Kemet half of that claim).
Now Matagot has put out an expansion aimed at anyone who owns both of those masterpieces. It’s C3K, or the Creatures Crossover Cyclades/Kemet expansion, and it’s… well, let’s take a look.
Today I’m going to tell you about a board game that’s about as close to genius as a board game can get, while also being so straightforward that you’ll be upending the box thinking you missed a traitor mechanic or something — you know, the complicated part. It’s called Kemet, from the same company that put out the very admirable Cyclades a while back, and if your entertainment budget only permits you to buy one game over the next couple months, and if the folks in your gaming group can tolerate getting angry — I’m talking simmering, dagger-glaring, evening-ruining pissed off — then you can’t do much better than this one.
Let me show you why.