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.
Ah, yes, those social deduction dollars. Even a company like Plaid Hat cannot resist their allure.
Crossfire — and we aren’t talking about that silly 1970s ultimate challenge commercial, nor the Shadowrun game — is the sort of title that’s going to have to justify its seat at the high table, especially now that higher-profile offerings like Secrets have wet their pants in public. Social deduction is tough, and for a genre about pulling the wool over your friends’ eyes, it seems there’s not much chance of fooling players into embracing a lesser option.
But here’s the weird thing. For a game that doesn’t even seem like it even wants to succeed, I’m actually a tiny bit enamored with this one.
Dead of Winter was one of the best games of 2014. For one thing, it managed to weave a zombie yarn that didn’t feel stale, but beyond that it was also about as good as narrative-driven games get, full of deception and hidden motives, the nagging threat of betrayal, and plenty of do-or-die moments that could make or break the most stalwart colony of survivors. It was good stuff.
The Long Night isn’t just any old expansion. It’s right there on the box: nothing else required, stand-alone, everything you need to play. In essence, it’s Dead of Winter plus more, with any significant duplicate matter vacuumed out so that those who own the original game will find a reason to return to relive what is largely the same game. Perfect for new players and old-timers alike — or is it? In a package so packed to the rafters with stuff, let’s take a look at what The Long Night is really all about.
A specter is haunting card games — the specter of Magic: The Gathering. It’s an inescapable, all-consuming glutton, and it leaves hardly any room at your friendly local game shop, just a few leftover tables at the rear. But perhaps, just perhaps, Magic will one day be vanquished. Maybe somebody will come along and beat it at its own game, and we will cheer and celebrate and share candied yams and forever be as one, for all men are brothers. And then, years later, we will complain about how beloved this usurper is, and how universally available, and how it only leaves us the tables with the most pronounced corn dog stains, and we will look back on the days of Magic as those of a golden age.
Sadly, Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn is probably not the title that will unseat the king. Though that has nothing to do with how awesome it is.
Just thinking off the top of my head, I can count on my left hand the number of board games about stealth. And that’s after the freak wood chipper accident of 2011.
Point is, while there are loads of games out there that feature hidden or obfuscated information, there are precious few about remaining unseen entirely. Fewer still about being a lady with robotic spider appendages hiding from an enormous dog-man and some dude who can tell the future. Welcome to Specter Ops.
In Summoner Wars: Alliances, this battle has been brewing for a while now — two battles, actually, now that I think about it. Sure, it’s the fight between the Deep Benders, which I suspect is a sort of yoga squat, and the Sand Cloaks, which sounds bonkers itchy. Just shake them out, y’know? And stop tracking all that sand all over the carpet.
More importantly, it’s the fight between Somerset and Dan. A fight that will leave only one of us left standing. Or at least a fight that will break our stalemate.