I have a pet theory that board games are great at enabling humorous moments but terrible at comedy. Humorous moments are singular: a joke, a misstep, a callback. Comedy is sustained. That makes it harder because even a single flub can ruin the whole thing. Ever played a party game that was funny for a few minutes but quickly grew dull? Or something like Munchkin, with the occasional cutesy card but agonizing gameplay? It’s one thing to provide prompts and let players riff. Another entirely to keep the humor coming. There’s a reason funny games are usually short. They exist to enable humorous moments, not real comedy.
Hence my personal metric: It isn’t enough to be funny. A great comedy board game has to be funny even when you’re losing. By that metric, Matt Eklund’s Stationfall is the latest addition to my personal pantheon of games that never fail to make me laugh.
The Pax Series has always been a treasure trove for those who could spend their entire night clicking on blue words in Wikipedia. It might be the impact of Mormon timber on Mexican politics, Bukharan Jews upsetting the commercial balance of Afghanistan, Isabella of Castile’s nuptials unleashing her noted repressiveness, or how Immanuel Kant’s lofty ideals don’t ship much beef when it comes to the practical business of manumitting slaves. These are more than names on cards. They’re gameplay effects, watersheds, even inside jokes. History’s peculiarities as a box of toys, as a magnifying glass, as a polemic, as a gentle ribbing.
With Matt Eklund’s Pax Transhumanity trading the historical for the speculative, it seemed natural to ask whether it could retain its sense of wonder, reverence, and playfulness for the triumphs and foibles of the past. Turns out, there was no cause for doubt. The strengths of the series are not only present, but emphasized, resulting in one of the most important science-fiction board games ever crafted. And it has everything to do with how it uses those cards to tell unexpected — and even profound — stories about where our species might go from here.