When I heard somebody mention that Andrea Mezzotero and Jerry Hawthorne’s BattleLands would be reminiscent of Condottiere, I was both thrilled (because Condottiere is a classic) and a bit apprehensive (because Condottiere is a classic). After all, the first rule of looking good is to stand alongside someone more vertically challenged than you. Which is why I tell everyone that the closest parallel to my forthcoming dice game is basically Bunco.
The good news is that there was no need to be worried. BattleLands may not be an instant classic, but it’s hardly a slouch.
It’s the Age of the Hybrid. Fair enough. Got a spare mechanism? Cram it in there. Shove something else to the side if you need to make room. When you’re finished, your deck-building set-collection roll-and-move dexterity game won’t only be named everybody’s game of the year, but game of the millennium, going down in history alongside Senet and Chess as the most likely to be extracted from a garbage dump by alien archaeologists.
Except here’s the thing: you’ve got to make it stick. Like stitching together body parts from a dozen “donors” to create a companion for Frankenstein’s Monster, your creation needs to walk and talk and probably shag. And none of that is happening without functioning ligaments and tendons and everything else that puts a body into motion and keeps it from sloughing apart after a handshake.
Want a negative example? There are few finer than Abomination: The Heir of Frankenstein.
Did you know that Brock Poulsen and Dan Thurot originally bonded over their shared love of Plaid Hat Games’ Summoner Wars? It’s true. Which is why this month’s Two Minds About… is such a meeting of the minds. Welcome to Super Punch Fighter, one of the latest titles from Plaid Hat.
Brock: Tabletop gamers are an opinionated bunch. Ask a group of us our favorite things about the hobby, and you’re likely to hear a lot of tactile answers: The riffle of a deck of cards. A well-written rulebook. The fresh cardboard smell of a new game.
Occasionally, though, this celebration gets weaponized as proof that board games are better than video games. It’s a silly war for which the stakes could simply not be lower. Yet Super Punch Fighter, from Robert Klotz and Plaid Hat Games, tries to bring peace to those warring factions.
Dan: Because it’s a board game of a video game of a fighting game?
Brock: Right. So maybe they’re bringing pain, rather than peace? You’ve reviewed a few fighting games on Space-Biff, including BattleCON and my personal favorite, EXCEED. What do you think are key factors to make a brawler successful?
Despite containing enough minor problems to fuel an entire convoy of nitpickers, Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game did the impossible by making me care about the zombie apocalypse. Scratch that — it made me care about my family of ragtag survivors. I cared enough to support their pill addiction, or reconstitute an entire library of books, or sometimes burn the very colony that had accepted us with open arms. All that zombie stuff was just the backdrop to its all-too-human tale of greed and selflessness. The real focus was always squarely on the people. It’s surprising how many zombie games don’t get that right.
Now there’s a new Crossroads game by the name of Gen7. At least it claims to be the heir to Dead of Winter’s throne. Other than a few patchy scraps of heraldry, I’m not convinced.
I’ve played Overwatch for all of fifteen minutes, and still they were enough to peg Guardians as an imitator. From the colorful roster of characters to the powerful “ultimate” abilities, this thing practically screams “I didn’t even try to get the license.”
You know what? I don’t care. Seriously, not a jot. Nor a tittle. And I’m unsure why anybody else should, either. Despite one or two hitches, this thing is a sublime location-grabber, and it deserves more attention.
When writing about Crystal Clans earlier this year, I pointed out that this was a system with a lot to prove. It was fiendishly clever the way it bounced initiative between players, not to mention how it marched to a killer tempo and boasted some cool ideas about unit and hand management. But deck construction and a solid roster of factions were still to be seen. Even more unenviably, the specter of Summoner Wars lingered over the whole thing. Was it possible for Plaid Hat to deliver a tactical card game when they’d already perfected the formula just a few years earlier?
Well, the first four expansion decks are out. Let’s see if they allay any of those concerns.
With the benefit of hindsight, City of Remnants was a bit of a mess. Crud, it was a mess even without hindsight. Somewhere between the tile-laying, alien-killing, and drug-peddling, it was brimming with cool ideas. Unfortunately, they were held together with bouncy glue. The resultant skyscraper towered high, but also tended to sway precariously. Needed more blurp.
Wait — blurp?
That’s right. Blurp. Neon Gods is a remake of City of Remnants, minus the mess and plus ten points of charisma. And it has more blurp than you can shake a sneeze at.
Every so often, along comes a board game so perfectly silly, so wonderfully bombastic, so altogether joyous, that how could it fail? Like Starship Samurai. This thing is a Saturday morning cartoon realized in cardboard. Gigantic mechs socking each other in the rivets, warring clans courted and spurned, and fighter craft glittering between the stars. Surely it isn’t possible that such a thing could be a painful unmemorable slog that happens to contain some reasonably pretty miniature robots?
I have a great fondness for Summoner Wars. Six years ago it became my most-played game of all time, prompting me to assemble custom tuckboxes for each of its factions, pen over twenty articles both here and elsewhere, and at one point I even designed a custom faction based on Central European serfdom and manor-dwelling therianthropes. No, you can’t see it.
That said, Summoner Wars had a few problems, many of which only became apparent over time. Its units grew more complicated and text-heavy with each new set, pro-level strategies became increasingly counter-intuitive to ordinary play, and it never sat right with me that one of its premier opening strategies was to cannibalize your own units.
Crystal Clans, from Summoner Wars designer Colby Dauch, plus J. Arthur Ellis and Andrea Mezzotero, in many ways plays like an antidote to some of that game’s biggest errors. But is it enough? Let’s figure that out together.