Sometimes a single idea elevates an entire design. Take Fabio Lopiano’s Merv: The Heart of the Silk Road, for instance. Viewed from a distance, it might look like a boilerplate modern euro design, crammed full of bells, whistles, and intersecting means of accumulating points. It isn’t until you dig into its heart that the truth becomes apparent. It’s still a boilerplate modern euro crammed with bells and whistles. But it’s a boilerplate modern euro with one heck of an action selection system.
Peer Sylvester’s The King Is Dead has some history to it. First appearing as König von Siam, then as an Arthurian version in The King Is Dead, and now as a second edition with a more historical flair, it’s been reprinted often enough to be considered a modern classic. Perhaps more importantly, traces of its DNA can be found in other games’ genealogy.
And it’s easy to see why.
In my review of Trevor Benjamin and David Thompson’s Undaunted: Normandy, I noted that it could be the beginning of something truly special. To some degree, that original box already contained plenty of special in its own right. Where I had expected deck-building and squad tactics to make an uncomfortable pairing, Undaunted nudged them together like old friends. The rules were streamlined, the decisions meaningful, the odds of landing a shot were long but not too long, and if it occasionally became a little too tit for tat in its exchange of fire, well, I’m sure there were plenty of infantrymen outside Caen who felt the same way.
Undaunted: North Africa is Benjamin and Thompson’s second take on the Undaunted franchise, and I couldn’t be more pleased that they’ve opened a second front. From the very first mission, it’s apparent that this is an improvement in nearly every regard.
You might recall a game from last year by the name of War Chest. Designed by Trevor Benjamin and David Thompson, War Chest was lavishly produced but fell prey to the same problem that plagues many modern abstract games. Namely, it lost sight of the joys of outmaneuvering an opponent by focusing too heavily on attritional tit for tat.
Undaunted: Normandy, by the same design duo, also tends to dwell on matters of attrition. In some ways it feels like an exploration of the same design space, despite differences of setting and even the lion’s share of its underlying systems. Here is another game by Benjamin and Thompson that features a flexible but finite pool of units, which might eventually become so depleted that they’re left sitting on the board with nothing to do but absorb another hit.
But here’s the thing — Undaunted: Normandy works. In fact, it’s a masterclass in how to put attrition front and center without strangling a game’s momentum.
Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is a wonderful and (appropriately) strange novel, its meandering plot belying an uncommon thematic density. It never goes quite where you’d expect — an effect supported by footnotes that lend the air of a recovered manuscript — and you can hardly turn the page without encountering one idea subtly folding into another. Englishness versus otherness. The tension between madness and reason. The thin line between friendship and rivalry.
Now it’s a board game. And it’s a terrible shame that apparently nobody involved with this adaptation seems to have read the novel very closely.
For about the span of three minutes, I thought I might be in love with Wildlands. It had everything to do with a particular sequence. And I’d love to tell you about the precise moment of my infatuation.
There’s an utterly wonderful idea nestled at the heart of Cryptid. For far too long cryptozoology has been dismissed and discredited by more “serious” scientists. But you know something is out there. Yeti, Bigfoot, Nessie, the Pope Lick Monster… something. Problem is, all your buddies from the message board are also on the trail. It’s a race, then, every rival cryptozoologist determined to capture more than grainy footage of obvious rubber-masked imposters. Real proof this time.
As a concept, it’s lovely. Too bad the actual cryptids are as absent as any real-life hunt for Mothman.
Want to know the best thing about all these Reiner Knizia reprints? It’s that somebody else is doing the hard work of curating the good doctor’s 500+ games. Rather than picking through every last trifle, experiment, and flub, they’re all being sorted for the brightest, smartest, and most fulfilling of Knizia’s catalog.
The latest in this spree of curated Knizias — remade with gorgeous art by Osprey Games — is High Society. And much like its namesake, it’s elite, holier-than-thou, and oh so catty.
There’s an undeniable romance to the notion of finding a long-lost city in the middle of an inhospitable landscape. It’s the sort of thing that caused men like Percy Fawcett to wager — and ultimately lose — his life in pursuit of Z in the deepest reaches of the Brazilian Amazon. To brave dangers, starvation, the uncertain meetings with the indigenous, and to arrive battered and thinned yet alive at the foot of a monumental geographic discovery; it almost sounds worth the risk. And I’m the sort who avoids taking my daughter to the park.
The Lost Expedition is only loosely based on Fawcett’s doomed expedition, instead opting to capture the broad strokes of perilous exploration. And unlike its source material, it’s a success.