Bernard Grzybowski’s Purple Haze, currently funding on Gamefound for the next day or so, claims to be “an immersive story-creation campaign game for 1 to 4 players that drops you into the heart of darkness: Vietnam, 1967.”
As buzzwordy an introduction as that is, it’s all true on a technical level. It’s a game. It’s immersive. It openly asks its players to take its icon-laden framework and breathe the life of a personal story into its vacant lungs. Yes, smart-ass, it plays with 1 to 4 players.
More than that, though, as I’ve been playing it over the past couple of weeks, I can’t help but think there’s a better descriptor. Purple Haze is all of those things. It is also a neon-lit warning sign about how difficult it can be to make a game about serious subject matter.
Here’s something that will sound like an obvious truism to some and opaque to others: the decision space of a board game is derived from its restrictions, not its permissiveness.
Hold up, Morpheus, what do you mean by that? Well, I mean that nothing is permitted until the rules explicitly announce that something is possible. Anything else would be require a ten-volume rulebook, because unless somebody spelled out instructions to the contrary, you could do anything you wanted at any time — which, incidentally, is pretty much how my friend Geoff plays board games. Since that’s untenable for anybody who hasn’t resigned themselves to repeatedly explaining that, no, you cannot teleport across the map and demolish all my armies with one action, the clearest rules start from scratch. Here are the phases. Here’s what it means to move. Here are the steps you follow every time you undertake an action. Nothing exists beyond that framework.
Europe Divided, designed by David Thompson and Chris Marling, is a fascinating look at what happens when you break the rules until they hardly matter.
You’ve probably heard that old joke about what happens when Bernard Montgomery, Omar Bradley, and George Patton walk into a bar, spot a gorgeous woman at the back, and undertake a contest for her affections. No? Well, it goes something like this: Patton goes straight for her and starts bragging about the size of his detachment, Montgomery chats up the other ladies in the room in hopes of making the primary objective jealous, and Bradley sits around feeling inferior. Who gets the girl? Well, nobody does, at least not by Christmas 1944.
Very few military rivalries have been so romanticized (or even so outright trumped-up) as the one between Patton and Montgomery, and sometimes Bradley gets slotted in there too. With the release of 1944: Race to the Rhine, you can finally live your dreams of proving once and for all that [insert chosen general] could have proven himself better than [insert rival] by crossing the Rhine and ending the war, if only you’d been there to lend your insight.